Ask the Expert: What goes into managing an LED lighting retrofit?

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LED lighting retrofits can have a significant impact on the energy efficiency, energy spend, and overall light levels for commercial and industrial facilities. And when you begin the process of calculating the energy savings your building will gain from an LED upgrade, you may see reductions over 80% and a project payback period less than 2 years. Sounds like an obvious investment!

However, the process of actually executing a lighting retrofit once design plans have been laid will often entail a variety of logistical challenges and installation obstacles that can severely impact your project ROI and the overall quality of your new lighting system.

And while hurdles and hang-ups accompany practically any retrofit project, having an experienced Project Manager that can put together a sound plan to track all of the moving pieces, thoroughly review the facility and design plans, source materials, anticipate installation challenges, and resolve issues quickly is essential to getting the most of your retrofit investment and seeing your new LED system come together as planned.

To help you get a snapshot of how a Project Manager plays a role in driving projects forward and ensuring installation success, we’ve pulled in one of PEC’s most experienced PM’s, Chris Johnson, Project Director at PEC, for a quick Q&A to share his expertise on the subject.

About your Expert

Chris Johnson, Project Director at PEC

Chris Johnson - PEC Project DirectorChris understands what it takes for a business to reach its goals. An East Coast transplant, he has worked in operations, supply chain management, and personnel logistics. He knows that the key to success lies in the ability to communicate a path forward – from the contractor to the customer.

Chris has a knack for identifying inefficiencies and finding solutions. He is excited about PEC’s commitment to providing energy efficient lighting solutions and is passionate about making a positive impact in the world.

Q: What is the role of the Project Manager in an LED Lighting upgrade?

A: As part of our process at PEC, each LED retrofit starts with an energy audit performed by a PEC Sales Engineer (SE). During these audits, the SE will tour the customer’s facility to assess the current lighting system in place, which includes counting the total number of fixtures, recording each different type of fixture, documenting the type of lighting technology being used, measuring the current light levels of each fixture (measured in foot candles), and mapping where each fixture is positioned.

Following the initial energy audit, the Sales Engineer will then walk the customer through their findings, learn more about their business, and understand the activities happening throughout the facility. The SE will then take that information to identify the best solution based to decrease energy consumption, increase project incentives, and shorten the project payback period — all while providing a solution that either meets customer needs or exceeds the current light levels.

Once a customer agrees to a design proposal, that’s when our PM team steps in. Our role is to take the Sales Engineer’s concept proposal and turn it into reality — handling the installation end-to-end for the customer. Our goal is to be the “easy button” for executing on the project and see that the retrofit gets completed as accurately, efficiently, and timely as possible, while minimizing disruptions to the day-to-day operations happening in the facility.

Q: At a high level, what is the process for managing an LED retrofit at PEC?

A: Once a customer has agreed to a project, give approval to proceed, and the proposal has been finalized, the PM team will begin prepping for our initial on-site visit of the facility. This prep work includes reviewing the finalized project proposal, project design, site photos, and the Sales Engineer’s audit notes, creating a preliminary material list and installation map, helping to ensure our audit goes smoothly and we are as prepared for the project as possible prior to being onsite.

We will also have a meeting with the SE to get as many details about the project as possible (which we call a DT or “download time”). 

Beginning with the PM audit

Once those initial plans have been laid, the PM team will perform our own facility audit to verify the SE’s audit and map out all the necessary installation details to create the finalized material list, installation map and installation schedule. This process typically flows with the following steps:

  1. An introduction is provided to the customer and the project is officially handed off from sales to project manager.
  2. The PM team meets on-site with the customer to review PEC’s process, timeline, expectations, what is in/out of scope, and to answer any questions.
  3. When pre-incentive inspections are required, we attempt to complete the walk while we are onsite to help guide the inspector.
  4. Afterwards, we map out every fixture that is in/out of scope, identifying how to mount, power, and control each fixture, voltages, determine if the fixtures chosen will work in the current application, and identify any installation challenges.
  5. We take pre-foot candle readings and photos to compare with post-foot candle readings to ensure we meet or exceed the customer’s expectations.
  6. We take as many notes and photos as possible so the build out of the project (material list & installation map) is as seamless as possible.
  7. We will also schedule multiple job walks with various electricians to ensure we find a team that fits our project, customer’s needs, and our budget
    This sometimes entails reaching out to dozens of contractors to find the perfect fit for the customer’s project

Moving towards installation following the audit

After our audit, we build out a material list, which is where we spec out custom part #’s and accessories to ensure we make the installation as easy as possible for our installers:

  1. From our audit notes, we create an installation map that matches our material list to make it as clear as possible for our installers.
  2. We will then do another final review after building out the material list to go over any adjustments, differences or suggestions we have based off our audit.
  3. We then create an installation schedule to provide a general framework for our installers and customers. This includes working with our procurement team after finalizing the material list to understand lead times — allowing us to tentatively set the project start date with the customer and installers.
  4. Our material list includes area space’s, existing quantity, existing fixtures, proposed fixtures, proposed quantities, installation/wiring instructions, and the part #’s for the fixtures and accessories.
  5. Our itemized labor sheet is pulled from our material list, and provides our potential installers with area space’s, existing quantity, existing fixtures, proposed fixtures, proposed quantities, installation/wiring instructions, along with line items for lifts, permitting and recycling.
  6. This is done so we know much time/money our installers are budgeting for each fixture in each area space because we understand that the installation for different types of fixtures in different types of areas are going to take varying degrees of time, causing the cost per fixture to fluctuate throughout the facility. This provides us with an opportunity to negotiate based off our experience with the various types of fixtures and installation scenarios.
  7. We then order the material and request a delivery date to attempt to have all the material arrive at roughly the same time, and tentatively schedule the project kick-off with the customer and installer for 1-2 weeks after the delivery of all material.
  8. We follow up weekly to provide updates and reconfirm our schedule with our installers and customer.
  9. Once all the material arrives, a PM will arrive on-site to inventory and organize all the material.
  10. Either at the same time, or the week before the start date, we have a project kick off meeting with the installers and customer to review the project details, logistical questions, potential challenges, and any other questions that the customer or contractor has about the project to help ensure the project goes as smoothly as possible.
  11. We follow up weekly with updates to the customer and check in with and installer daily to track progress.
  12. At the end of the project, the PM will perform a completion walk to capture light level readings, take post-project photos, program fixtures, verify that all work within scope was completed, and identify if anything still needs to be addressed.
  13. The post incentive walk is also sometimes completed at this time as well.

At this point the project is complete, and if there are any warranties, our project coordinator will process the claim, get the replacement, and hire an installer to install the new fixture (PEC covers the labor for warranty items for the first year).

YouTube video
The PEC Project Management team helps Reliance Steel deploy retrofits in 25 facilities across 12 states, while minimizing disruptions to daily operations

Q: What are some of the space specific considerations in managing a commercial or industrial lighting upgrade?

A: There are several factors should be considered for any retrofit, each varying in complexity depending on the business and space the retrofit is being deployed in:

  • We need to consider when we can access certain areas, making sure we don’t interrupt (or minimize the interruption) of facility operations;
  • Identify any special equipment needed to access fixtures in challenging areas;
  • Ensure we have the PPE required in each area and adhere to any special safety requirements depending on the space (for example: in food production or over certain machines, tethers may required to ensure nothing falls into the food or machinery), and;
  • Prepare for the type of equipment is in the facility (if there are a lot of machines, surge protectors may be required due to voltage spike’s caused by machinery on the same panel).
  • Clearly identify and discuss all items in and out of scope.
  • Set clear expectations with our customers so they know exactly how the project will flow, along with how we will handle any situation that arises to ensure there are no surprises throughout the project.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges or hurdles Project Managers face during implementation?

There’s a wide array of hurdles that can pop-up during a retrofit. However, I’d say there are 3 key challenges that should be called out:

  1. Last minute adjustments to installation requirements (or adjustments during the project). This creates challenges for both the PM team and our installers because we have to pivot and adjust our installation plan after the planning has been completed.
  2. Voltages. On occasion, voltages will create challenges because the panels are not always extremely clear (our fixtures are voltage specific and need to be either 120-277 or 480, generally).
  3. Setting clear expectations: If we don’t discuss our process in detail — how we handle various situations, how we’re going to complete different installations, or what is in and out of scope — it leads to challenges or delays later in the project.

Q: What do you believe is the value PEC PM’s provide that may differ from alternative options?

A: Based on my past experience (and what I’ve heard from customers during a countless number of projects) what really seems to set PEC apart is our thoroughness, attention to detail, and handling of the process end-to-end. Our customers really seem to appreciate that we dedicate a lot of time up-front assessing the facility so that our fixture counts, design plans, and overall scope of work is as accurate as possible before kicking off installation. This has been an immense help in allowing projects to run smoothly and minimize the hang-ups we potentially face along the way.

I also think managing the entire project end-to-end is a huge value add to the customer. We have an entire team full of retrofit experience, as well as being incredibly knowledgeable about the materials we’re integrating into the new lighting design. This just makes the customer’s life easy and allows them to focus on their day-to-day responsibilities, rather than having to put everything on hold to focus on their lighting project.

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t callout our stellar customer service team. They truly go above and beyond to ensure the customer is happy with their project, their post-project needs are met, and they have an overall great experience working with us.

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