Industrial automation technology is revolutionizing manufacturing processes, driving significant gains in productivity and profitability. And, while most companies tend to focus on production-based automation innovations, these often necessitate a wide range of plant-wide technologies that most facilities aren’t equipped for, which adds to the cost of implementation.

Upgrading to smart, networked LED lighting to support an automation program is one of the simplest, most affordable ways to achieve overall plant efficiency. Not only will facilties enjoy the well-documented benfits of LED lighting—dramatically reduced electricity consumption, lower energy bills, durability in harsh environments and virtually zero lighting maintenance compared to conventional HID lighting sources—but, when implemented as part of plant-wide program, LEDs also offer significant automation and productivity gains in their own right. Here are just a few industrial automation challenges that smart LED lighting networks can overcome to enhance automation and efficiency.

  1. Lack of integration across industrial automation solutions. Integrating building systems into a singular automation solution can be a challenge, especially when some crucial elements, such as the lighting network, seem outside the purview of the industry standard automation solutions. However, the newest generation of smart lighting solutions are now compatible with industrial automation and building management solutions, providing complete visibility over the entire lighting network in a single dashboard management console. This integration makes it easy to see which fixtures are nearing the end of their useful life to plan proactive replacements, as well as establish programmed on/off cycles to maximize energy efficiency. This visibility greatly simplifies energy management, security monitoring and maintenance, bringing this critical plant-wide system into the fold, enhancing the ROI of both the automation and lighting systems.
  2. Lack of customization. One of the fears many organizations have is that automation equals standardization—that everything must operate according to some prescribed script and building managers will have no control. In fact, a smart lighting network enables programming of custom operational functions that can help reduce energy usage and environmental impact. The ability to integrate sensors to control the lights for maximum efficiency is a primary customization option. Programming custom on/off schedules that meet your facilities’ specific needs and implementing occupancy and daylight harvesting sensors with automatic dimming that capitalize on ambient light allows any facility to design a lighting plan that’s just right for their operations. This can minimize burn time while also prioritizing the need to maintain a safe, well-lit environment. And, once the programming and sensors are in place, the network takes care of itself for complete lighting automation.
  3. Lack of site-wide environment visibility. In facilities where environmental conditions like temperature, humidity and particulate concentration, or even inventory and raw material tracking, are crucial, keeping tabs on these conditions can be a challenge. Smart LED lighting networks can help with this by multitasking to enable monitoring for these factors. Because they use Wi-Fi to communicate with the building management console and with sensors for occupancy and daylight harvesting, facilities can leverage this built-in communication network to install other types of sensors for environmental conditions or visual sensors to track inventory or raw materials. This provides complete site-wide visbility, both literally and figuratively, adding significant value to the lighting network and helping to automate tracking and monitoring of multiple conditions without the addition of other complex systems.
  4. Poor connectivity or dead zones. Industrial automation depends heavily on reliable connectivity across the facility, but often the necessary IT infrastructure is not in place to support the integration. The built-in Wi-Fi connectivity of smart LED lighting solutions can serve as a backhaul data network that allows facilities to use the lights themselves to connect other systems, collecting and carrying data from operational and automation systems back to the management console. This can dramatically reduce the need to run extensive cabling or add to IT burden in accommodating an automation upgrade. Of course, those same Wi-Fi boosters incorporated inside the LED fixtures can extend signal reach and eliminate dead zones for virtually any type of communications throughout a facility.
  5. Demand response hinders production. In many parts of the country, electric utility providers have implemented demand response programs whereby industrial customers are required to reduce energy consumption on demand in the event of a peak power load. This often requires equipment shutdowns and a direct impact on production. But, with a smart LED lighting network in place, the system can be configured for automated demand response: non-essential lights are programmed to dim and/or turn off completely (where it can be done safely) to reduce overall facility consumption as dictated by the utility. This means facilities can meet their demand response mandates with little to no impact on production and with minimal hands-on effort—simply establish the ADR programming up front and the system automatically handles the procedure when the alert is issued from the utility company.

Implementing an advanced industrial automation solution offers significant advantages for any facility, but it can be a challenge without the right infrastructure, which typically requires significant investment to achieve. By implementing a smart LED lighting network, facilities can enhance overall plant efficiency through automation, save management time and reduce the need for other expenditures by leveraging the lighting network to perform other tasks—all that, in addition to the the energy and maintenance savings. As a result, smart LED lighting can maximize plant efficiency to improve productivity and profitability.

About the Author

Rizwan Ahmad is the Vice President of Technology at Dialight Corporation. Rizwan has more than a decade of experience in controls/monitoring and holds several patents. He is responsible for leading the development of Dialight’s high-efficiency and longer life power supplies and lighting products.