A Colorado company uses an energy-efficient lighting system to cut costs in the shop.

New World Millworks installed T-5 fluorescent lighting in its shop to increase energy efficiency. The assembly area has more lighting fixtures than the machinery area (above) because workers who are sanding or doing joinery need more light to see greater detail.

Efficiency and productivity have become buzzwords in the industry, with many companies looking for ways to cut costs and streamline processes. Shop owners often look to equipment, employees or material flow to generate cost-saving methods, but an often overlooked area of the shop is lighting.

Although essential, lighting is usually not high on the list of priorities for a company, but Eric Peterson, CEO and owner of New World Millworks, used his company’s relocation two years ago to install a new lighting system and it has made a big difference.

According to Peterson, the company moved from a 30,000-square-foot building in Sedalia, CO, to a 100,000-square-foot facility in Castle Rock, CO. The move allowed the company to triple its output, adding more space for machinery and allowing for a better product flow.

With such a large building, Peterson says that one of his motivations for installing an energy-efficient lighting system, besides the company’s commitment to environmentally friendly practices, was the “energy bills.”

He worked with an electrician to design the new lighting system. Most electricians are knowledgeable about how much light is needed in a production shop and the most energy-efficient method of providing it, Peterson notes. It generally boils down to the shop owner asking a simple question about lighting efficiency.

After looking for the most efficient lighting system available, Peterson finally determined that for his company, T-5 fluorescent lighting was the most energy-efficient source obtainable “within a reasonable cost.”

Installing the Lights
First the electrician went to the old shop to determine the candlepower of that lighting system and to determine how much light was needed in various areas of the shop.

“For example, some of the machining areas didn’t require as much light as the assembly areas,” Peterson says. In the assembly area, workers are sanding and doing joinery work and need to see more detail.

“We established what the desired level of lighting would be and then based on the height of the fixtures and the output, we placed [the lamps] with various spacing so that we would get the extra light where it was needed and wouldn’t have too much light where it wasn’t necessary,” he adds.

Each lighting fixture was installed with an extra 10 feet of cabling. The benefit of adding the additional cabling was to provide the ability to move the lights “a little to the left or a little to the right,” if needed.

New World Millworks’ finishing features a number of T-5 fluorescent lights for the high detail work that is required. Also, the air makeup system in the paint booths have variable frequency drive motors.

More Shop Efficiencies
Peterson also was able to improve efficiency in other areas of the shop by using variable frequency drivers on certain machinery.

“Motors used to be basically on or off. And when they are on, they are running at full horsepower. With the variable frequency drive, the motor can start at a lower level and increase its power level according to the demands of the system,” Peterson says.

For example, New World Millworks’ dust collection system has a variable frequency drive. “As you turn on the machine and open the gates, more dust collection is required of the system, so the motor ramps up to accommodate that,” he explains. A system designed with a 75-horsepower motor is typically only running at 25-horsepower, because only a third of the machine is in use at one time.

“That is probably one of the biggest energy-saving systems that we have,” says Peterson.

New World’s finishing room also uses this technology. Depending upon the number of paint booths that are turned on, the air makeup system adjusts accordingly.

Future Energy Plans
Peterson’s environmental philosophy is basically composed of two components: 1) The desire to be responsible as a business to the environmental concerns that most people share. “Simple practices, such as turning out lights when you’re not using them and recycling all of your paper and recyclables, are simple things we do,” he says; and, 2) tempering those things that you should and want to do with what is economically viable. “We usually find that not only can we save some money over the long run but we also can feel good about doing it at the same time,” Peterson adds.

The company’s philosophy allows it to continuously look for areas to improve. Two other energy-efficient initiatives that the company is looking into include wind power and solar panels.

“One member of a network of peers (Eric Fetzer, Fetzer Architectural Woodwork; fetzersinc.com) put two small windmills on his property and he offsets all of his office and lighting with the windmills,” says Peterson. Fetzer installed the small windmills for approximately $10,000, according to Peterson.

“We are looking into that,” Peterson says. “We haven’t decided what size or how to fund it, although we are hoping for some good incentives to come out of this new administration.”

Good Advice
“We have the most energy-efficient utilization of power and the light that is needed,” Peterson says. “If you have an efficient fixture in the right place, it’s really as simple as that.”

His advice to other woodworkers is to “look for opportunities,” such as venting heat from the air compressor inside during the winter and outside during the summer. “Keep your eyes open for ways to do something a little bit different that makes sense environmentally,” he adds.

What is a T-5 Light?
T-5 lamps are a recent innovation to the fluorescent lighting family and have grown in popularity in the United States. According to a study by the Lighting Research Center, a part of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, T-5 lamps are 5/8 inches in diameter and are approximately 40 percent smaller than standard T-8 fluorescent lighting.

T-5 high output (HO) lamps provide more lamp light than standard T-8 lamps. Because ambient temperature affects lighting efficiency, standard T-5 lamps generally provide the same lighting at 77 degrees, but once the lamps reach 95 degrees, the standard T-5 produces a higher light output, according to the study. Plus, T-5 and T-5 HO are more likely to maintain a higher light output over the lifetime of the lamps.

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