How to optimize lighting systems for Steel Mills and Service Centers

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For mills and service centers, lighting systems continue to play a critical role in the success of the business, impacting energy spend, emission output, employee safety, and employee productivity.

Businesses that are able to successfully deploy a high-performing system that’s optimized for their unique facility needs have the opportunity to capture major wins for departments across the company, including:

  • Facility and plant management teams
  • EHS directors
  • ESG management teams
  • Maintenance teams
  • Finance and accounting
  • Leadership and executives
  • and not to mention… safer, happier employees!

This is why we constantly tout the mantra “good lighting is good for business” — because having an intelligent, long-lasting lighting system truly has the power to transform facilities and help all departments reach their top-priority goals.

But what does good lighting look like for these types of facilities? How do you know if your lighting system is “fully optimized”? How do you navigate some of the lighting challenges that are unique for these types of environments? (racking challenges, reflective surfaces, inconsistent light levels, long production hours creating maintenance challenges, and more).

While each facility has its own needs and goals, and there is an extensive list of ways to optimize lighting, this write up will cover a few key considerations for you to keep in mind when exploring a lighting improvement project.

But first… are you a member of MSCI?

If so, we have an upcoming webinar this Valentine’s Day covering this exact topic.

Come join PEC lighting experts Jason Sotira and Elias Gaynor — both experienced in scaling high-performing LED retrofits for fellow MSCI members like Reliance Steel — to get direct guidance and ask questions relevant for your top facility needs. Must be a member of the Metals Service Center Institute to register!

How mills and service centers can maximize impact and ROI from a lighting retrofit

Integrate long-lasting LED

One of the key evolutions that we’ve seen since the early 2000’s is the major technological advancements made in LED technology. LED, or Light Emitting Diode, is substantially more efficient than some of its predecessor technologies like incandescent, high intensity discharge of fluorescent because of its ability to transfer a significantly larger share of the energy it consumes into light, rather than heat. Incandescent bulbs, for example, waste approximately 90% of the energy they generate on heat.

Because these incumbent technologies waste so much energy on heat, it creates a number of challenges for maintenance and operations teams:

  • Higher maintenance expenses replacing bulbs with short lifespans
  • More stoppages and production interruptions because of bulb replacements
  • Dim, inconsistent light levels due to poor optics + dim (or dead) bulbs — leading to safety hazards
  • Disposal challenges for bulb technologies that contain harmful toxins like mercury (fluorescents and CFLs)

Facilities that transition to longer lasting LED can not only alleviate huge maintenance demands for bulb replacements, but also enjoy a significantly higher “bang for buck” with their energy consumption.

Here is a snapshot of the average lifespans for intelligently designed LED vs. incumbent technologies:


Find the best optics for the space

One of the most impactful ways that lighting design teams are able to create value is by getting the right amount of light to the ground while using the least amount of energy.

This is where lighting optics come in. A key advantage of LED fixtures is their improved ability to direct light to an area it is needed most. This advantage is especially important for mills and service centers, as racking, machinery, walkways, and other obstacles create challenges for getting high-quality light evenly distributed throughout space.

Let’s take a look at the racking example below. Here we can see how fixture optics allow the light to be effectively delivered all the way to the ground, allowing for both improved light levels and an optimized use of energy. Each of these fixtures uses the same amount of energy and produce the same amount of light:

Leverage photometrics to “try before you buy”

One of the great innovations in lighting technology is the ability to create retrofit design plans that will accurately forecast what results you can expect from your system post-installation — including both your expected energy savings and the new light levels.

Here’s how an experienced lighting design team like PEC uses this technology as part of a process to determine impact and ROI with precision:

  1. Conduct a thorough energy audit of existing system: Each project we take on, a PEC Sales Engineer will begin the process with a thorough, on-site energy audit of the customer’s existing lighting system. During this process, the Sales Engineer will walk the facility multiple times to document the current fixture technology, wattage, positioning, and amount of light produced (which is measured in “foot candles”). The Sales Engineer will also work with the facility teams to understand how the facility is used throughout each day to determine safe, IES recommended light levels need to carry out the activities.
  2. Verify energy usage with customer’s power bill: Following the energy audit, we will compare the measurement data gathered during the audit with the customer’s monthly power bill. This will let us accurately determine potential energy savings customers can expect to gain from a retrofit.
  3. Design the new system using photometric software: Following the analysis of the existing lighting system, the Sales Engineer will then re-create the facility lighting using advanced design software. In this process, we can actually create a 3D digital replica of your exact facility layout, apply heat mapping using the data gathered during the audit, and compare various fixtures + optics to determine the best components to optimize your lighting and energy use.

Task tune your light levels

To ensure the correct amount of light is provided for the activities (or tasks) that are performed in a specific area of the facility, lighting design teams will apply a technique called “task tuning”. Task tuning is especially important for steel mills and service centers because of the highly reflective materials that are moving throughout the facility that can create glares. If a certain facility zone is receiving too much light, this can cause consistency and visibility issues — leading to higher safety risks.

To determine what the “correct” amount of light is for a designated task or area, PEC Sales Engineers will work with your facility/plant management teams to understand the activities happening in the space, then apply IES recommended light levels to deliver the foot candles needed to best illuminate the area.

What does “good” look like?

YouTube video

Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co. — along with companies in the Reliance Steel family like EMJ and PDM Steel — were looking to resolve a number of challenges they were having with their existing lighting systems:

  • Challenges with dark areas between racks and highly reflective surfaces throughout their facilities
  • Excessive energy spend and maintenance costs as a result of powering an outdated system
  • They were looking to reduce wasted energy and their overall carbon footprint

To address each of these pain points, PEC worked with Reliance Steel to develop an efficient, high-performing, and scalable LED retrofit that could be deployed across a each of their highest-need facilities.

Here were the results:

  • 25 projects deployed across 12 states
  • $1,043,398 saved annually in energy spend and maintenance
  • 7,623,243 kWh displaced each year (equivalent to 5,955 tons of CO2)
  • $662,280 in utility incentive rebates collected and applied towards the project cost
  • Better, safer light levels for employees

Engineering impact and longevity with custom designs

As previously mentioned, one of our mantras at PEC is that good lighting is good for business. However, we have another mantra we use frequently as well:

Not all LED’s are created equal:

While facilities have the opportunity to improve their energy efficiency just by replacing their fluorescent or HPS lamps with LED, simple bulb swabs will only scratch the surface with the potential gains they garner from a lighting upgrade.

Overall, there are 3 key ways that lighting design teams can engineer value to improve the performance and ROI of lighting systems:

  1. Produce the right amount of light: Integrating LED’s into your lighting system doesn’t promise that the right amount of light, or “foot candles”, is getting to the area for the task at hand. Over-lighting or under-lighting spaces can create visibility challenges, leading to downfalls in both safety and productivity.
  2. Use the least amount of energy: Once determining the right amount of light that’s needed, incorporating the best fixtures on the market that can produce that light level using the least amount of energy will help you maximize your energy gains. PEC is proudly vendor agnostic, allowing us to source the best parts available for your facility needs, without limitations.
  3. Deploy long-lasting, high-quality fixtures: LED fixtures can vary greatly in overall life expectancy. For mills and service centers that have long operating hours (i.g. 24/7 or 24/5), incorporating fixtures that have a longer rated life expectancy can 3x+ the life of alternative LED fixtures and significantly reduce your annual maintenance expenses.
    • Example: many LED fixtures only have a life expectancy of 50,000 hours, while higher performing fixtures can have a life expectancy of 150,000 hours. In a 24/7 operational facility, that increases the expect life from 5.71 years to 17.12 years!

See how you could benefit from a turn-key LED retrofit

Steel manufacturing after lighting LED retrofit

Want to learn how you can benefit from a lighting upgrade? PEC is here to help.

Get started by sharing some of your information in the form below and receive a complimentary, on-site energy audit from a PEC Sales Engineer:

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