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Light emitting diodes, or LEDs, are rapidly gaining popularity in many aspects of the lighting industry. But are they right for the manufacturing industry? LEDs are energy efficient, safe, and provide high quality light, however some field experts do not think they are ready to replace metal halide and fluorescent bulbs in factories. Others disagree, maintaining that the LEDs are suitable for certain niche applications, just not complete replacement of the more traditional bulbs. Others think LEDs have no place (yet) in manufacturing, as they're not ready to light high-bay and area lighting.
The differing opinions on the future of LEDs in manufacturing can be, at least partially explained by the fact that a manufacturing plant houses a myriad spaces, each with diverse lighting needs. The plant floor, inspection areas, warehouses, offices, docks, and parking lots all have different functions and therefore have different lighting requirements. While all of the industry experts agree that LEDs have some role in the future of manufacturing lighting, they do qualify that quality and safety should never be sacrificed in pursuit of lower electricity costs. They are also in agreement that the value of LEDs does extend well beyond just energy efficiency. The long life of LEDs make them nearly maintenance free and that's an aspect that is highly valued. Cold storage applications are one area where LEDs are especially suitable. The bulb's cool operation doesn't add thermal load, as do fluorescent and HID lights. In addition, LEDs have instant on/off switches that mean lights do not have to be left on when areas are not in use and they can be outfitted with occupancy sensors.
Currently, although a number of new LED high bay fixtures have been introduced specifically for manufacturing and warehouse lighting, it could be hard for many companies to justify the economics due to the high initial cost of replacing the fixtures in these areas. One reason for possibly retrofitting existing fluorescent systems with newer, energy saving, longer life fluorescent lamps and ballast systems would be to avoid having to replace all the existing fixtures. In addition, it would take a great deal of time to replace lighting fixtures, especially since the lighting is often in very high locations and rental equipment such as scissor lifts are required to reach them.
That being said, however, the longer lasting LEDs would have to be replaced much less frequently than existing lights, so though there would be an initial inconvenience, the benefits may outweigh the negatives on that one. The pure, white lighting of LEDs would provide more light and a clearer work environment and plant owners with industrial electrical meters would be pleased to know that the power factor of LEDs, which is a hidden cost savings, is 99 percent, much much higher than fluorescent lamps power factor of 55 percent.
Given that many plants operate 24 hours a day for 5 to 7 days per week, LED lighting can save time and money on maintenance over fluorescent systems, requiring attention only one third as often. The bulbs are also temperature tolerant and are available for the various required ambient temperatures in manufacturing environments, as well as offering protection against contaminants. There are pros and cons to using LED lights in the manufacturing industry, but it's likely that the benefits, at least in the near future, will outweigh the negative aspects.