The primary concern of most facility managers considering LED lighting upgrades is cost – both upfront and operational. In fact, those are too often the only concerns – potential buyers either decide the energy savings are worth the higher price of new LED technology, or they decide otherwise and purchase lower-priced, dated fixtures.
While it’s true LEDs aren’t perfect for every facility or budget, there are a wealth of other features besides energy efficiency to consider. Businesses nearly always benefit from at least one of the secondary benefits of LED technology, such as long-life, reduced maintenance and durability.
Auto-body shops in particular have the potential to benefit greatly simply from the nature of LEDs’ light output. In short, high-quality LEDs appear far brighter than fluorescents.
Here’s where it gets tricky: take a look at spec sheets for an LED fixture and a typical four-bulb fluorescent fixture, and you’ll notice that both produce similar total lumens – the industry standard measurement of light output. So why are LEDs potentially so much brighter?
Unlike traditional bulbs, which disperse light in all directions, LEDs are a directional light source. That means all light produced by the fixtures are focused toward the work area (typically within a 120° arc), which creates brighter work stations, as well as fewer shadows and less wasted energy. Fluorescent bulbs on the other hand are 360-degree light source – they emit light up to the ceiling and out to the walls, neither of which helps technicians working on the ground.
As fluorescent bulbs age or become dirty, they lose even more brightness that can only be regained by constantly replacing bulbs, whereas high-end LEDs have a rated life of up to 150,000 – 17 years of 24-hour use.
The Illuminating Engineering Society recommends light levels of about 100' candles for auto repair shops. For comparison, the typical office building is 30' to 50' candles. Bright LED fixtures will allow auto shops to more easily reach 100' candles and beyond, as well as maintain that light level without constantly swapping bulbs.
The benefits of proper light levels in auto-body shops are obvious – better accuracy, improved productivity and more inviting spaces for customers.
Dim light from aging fluorescent fixtures at Auto Tech Collision Center made it almost impossible to perform accurate inspections or take photos for insurance reimbursement.
To get a good shot of collision damage and check the quality of repairs, technicians at the Marion, N.C., facility had to drive cars outside into the sunlight. That often meant moving two or three other cars out of the way first – and if a vehicle wasn’t drivable, employees had to push. Naturally, productivity suffered – every minute employee spent shuffling cars around was a minute repairs weren’t being performed.
“When the weather was overcast, there was no point trying to inspect it, inside or outside,” said Tanya Williams, office manager. “I’d say about half the time we weren’t getting good enough pictures for the insurance company, so we had to retake them. The problem was under the old lights, you could take a picture 20 different ways and still not get the dent to show up.”
Most businesses switch to LEDs for energy efficiency. However, when Auto Tech Collision Center switched, it was almost entirely based on the technology’s secondary benefits – namely, the LED fixture’s brightness and customizable, direct light output. Brighter, more direct light clearly shows warping, dents and dings, streamlining the insurance rebate process and eliminating the risk of a car being returned to a customer still damaged.
“It just made us a lot more efficient. That’s the best way to put it,” she said. “We can see dents and dings we couldn’t see before. The more accurate we are with our estimates and our repairs, the more efficient we are.”
The service drive at Glenn Hyundai Auto Mall in Lexington, Ky., didn’t create an ideal first impression for customers. Even though the space was kept immaculately clean, low light from the aging fluorescent fixtures left the space feeling dim and dreary. Making matters worse, bulbs constantly blew, darkening the facility and bringing work to a halt while technicians fetched a ladder and a new bulb.
“The lighting was so bad you couldn’t tell whether the car was clean or dirty, much less whether there were chips and scratches,” said Dean Petersen, operations director. “It was dark and dreary, like a rainy day in Seattle.”
The auto mall replaced the fluorescents with 15 high-bay LED fixtures. They knew the effect a bright, vibrant workspace has on customer and employee engagement – earlier in the year, they replaced all of their parking lot lights with brighter LEDs and saw an immediate increase in customers stopping in after dark.
The LEDs in the service drive allow employees to better spot problems with customers’ cars and eliminated the need to constantly swap bulbs. It also created a more inviting space; Glenn Hyundai recently held an event for new car owners in the service drive rather than moving cars around to make space in the showroom, as they had for years.
“We just turned on the lights and served a steak dinner to our customers with table cloths,” Petersen said. “We had 60 customers come out, and they were comfortable. They were in a place that felt inviting, not just a dreary old service department.”
All LEDs are not created equal. To get the most out of your lighting upgrade, seek out fixtures and companies that offer the following:
- DIODE PROTECTION - Auto shops are usually dirty, and contaminants like paint, dust and fumes aren’t good for electronics. LED fixtures should be equipped with covers that protect the diodes and circuit boards. The covers should also be easy to remove and clean to prevent dust buildup that can reduce visible light output.
- COLOR TEMPERATURE AND CRI - For accurate paint matching, search for fixtures with a color temperature of 5000K to 6000K and color rendering index (CRI) of 70 or more. Color temperature measures the color of the light, which is yellow-tinted on the low end and bluish on the high end. A color temperature of 5000 K is similar to natural light produced by the sun. CRI is simply the ability of a light to accurately render colors.
- MULTIPLE MOUNTING OPTIONS - Getting light exactly where it needs to go in an auto repair shop require several different mounting options. Overhead high-bay or low-bay fixtures are ideal for body and engine work, but they won’t help technicians see underneath a vehicle. Lighting upgrades should include a variety of options, including wall mounts, column mounts and portable stands.
- DURABILITY - Auto lifts and low ceilings don’t always mix. If a shop has a ceiling height of 15 feet or lower, the owner should consider investing in fixtures that can stand to get hit by a truck every now and then. While LEDs are more generally more shock resistant than glass bulbs, many LED fixtures are made of flimsy sheet metal. Look for durable aluminum fixtures that offer maximum protection.
- HEAT REMOVAL - Repair shops typically aren’t air conditioned. Heat is the enemy of LEDs – the better the fixture can dissipate heat, the longer it will last. Search for fixtures with large heat sinks and compare the average-rated life of fixtures. Fixtures with effective heat sinks are much more likely to reach the industry maximum rated life of 150,000.
- OCCUPANCY SENSORS - Unlike metal halide lamps, LEDs don’t require time to warm up. And, unlike fluorescents, turning LEDs on and off regularly won’t cause the light to fail early. Occupancy sensors guarantee the lights only operate when they’re needed, which will save energy without negatively affecting productivity or fixture life.
- REBATES - Energy companies want facilities to use more efficient lights, so many providers are incentivizing upgrades with rebates. Energy rebates can cover from 10 to 50 percent of a project’s costs when switching from an older or inefficient system. To maximize the investment and lower the upfront cost, search for a lighting company that offers free rebate administration, but keep in mind, rebates aren’t always guaranteed.
A BRIGHT FUTURE
To maximize their investment, facilities should study all the benefits and drawbacks of each type of fixture, include all the stakeholders in the conversation, and consult with lighting companies that have well-educated sales personnel, engineers and installers on staff. A well-lit auto-body shop will pay off beyond upfront and energy costs.
Josh Kegley is a writer for Big Ass Light. Headquartered in Lexington, Ky., Big Ass Light is the sister company of Big Ass Fans. Big Ass Light manufactures, sells and installs industrial-grade LED fixtures for auto-body shops as well as the Garage Light for home shops.