Basics of industrial, manufacturing facility design: Electrical, power and lighting

Industrial and manufacturing facilities have specialty electrical and lighting needs engineers must include in new or retrofit projects

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer September 29, 2020


  • Jaimie Ross Handscomb, PEng, Principal, Industrial Buildings, Stantec, Waterloo, Ontario
  • Steve J. Sovak, PE, Principal, Salas O’Brien, Chicago
  • Jeffrey R. Thomas, PE, CEM, CEA, GBE, CHC, Vice President, Lockwood Andrews & Newnam Inc. (LAN), Houston

Are there any issues unique to designing electrical/power systems for these types of facilities?

Jaimie Ross Handscomb: One of the more interesting processes within industrial buildings are the electrical systems. Unlike most facilities that may have one or two voltages, industrial facilitates tend to have a variety of systems requiring different voltages for the building and the equipment. The source of the equipment, the locations of the client’s facility and the flexibility of the facility all drive the need for various electrical systems.

Some of our manufacturing facilities use 600 volts, 480 volts, 208 volts and 120 volts for their electrical systems depending on the use. Primary mechanical systems for the building may be run on 600-volt systems, whereas the production equipment would run on 480 volts and the base building would have needs for 120 volts and 208 volts. Many of our large industrial maintenance facilities required various voltages for their systems.

Steve J. Sovak: Yes, design of power distribution facilities for and industrial project is unique from that of other types of facilities. Because the electrical power requirements are generally large in a manufacturing facility you would typically see high-voltage power distribution (4,160 volts or 12 kilovolts) as opposed to 120/208- and 277/480-volt systems. The switchgear in many cases is more similar to that of a utility company.

How does your team work with the architect, owner’s rep and other project team members so the electrical/power systems are flexible and sustainable?

Steve J. Sovak: The electrical systems for an industrial project are an integral part of the production line. They see a very visible location in the plant and as such are more flexible to changes in the requirements of the production equipment, unlike in a commercial buildout where the electrical distribution is hidden away in a closet. Such a visible location also aides in the maintenance effort. The gear is out in the plant where it can readily be serviced and maintained.

What are some key differences in electrical, lighting and power systems you might incorporate in this kind of facility, compared to other projects?

Steve J. Sovak: Industrial lighting is changing to more sustainable and energy efficient systems. Typically, due to the taller building heights of industrial buildings, lighting systems tended to be high-pressure sodium or metal halide. Commercial buildings have moved toward LED as the standard operating system. Industrial buildings are now making the changeover to fixtures with LED lamps as well.

What types of unusual standby, emergency or backup power systems have you specified for industrial and manufacturing facilities?

Steve J. Sovak: We have designed a number of cogeneration and combined heat and power systems at industrial and institutional facilities. These projects had the benefits of providing reliable standby power, lower electrical costs and energy savings due to heat recovery. The drawback to these projects is that typically they employed multiple natural gas drive engine generators or turbines, which are not desirable if the current goal is to reduce carbon emissions. One project we designed did have a nice feature to it. It was at the city of Appleton, Wis., wastewater treatment plant. We used gas-driven engines, but they were fueled with a blend of natural gas and digester gas from the wastewater treatment process. Plus, we recovered heat and produced hot water for heating from the generators.