Enhancing efficiency in industrial and manufacturing facilities: Electrical, power and lighting

From high-tech automation to energy-saving lighting and HVAC systems, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to warehouses and factories

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer September 27, 2019


Jason Danielson 

Stanley Consultants 

As an electrical specialist, Danielson has worked on low-voltage electrical design and special systems for industrial facilities, municipal government and federal government projects. His experience encompasses designing LED lighting and lighting control systems, low-voltage power, security, communication, surveillance, access control and fire alarm systems. 

Justin M. Harvey, PE, LEED AP BD+C 

Henderson Engineers 

As Associate/Warehouse and Distribution Practice Director, Harvey leads the company’s team on large-scale facility design to maximize supply chains for high-profile retailers. As a teenager, he was encouraged by a teacher who told him he had the skills to become a talented architectural engineer. 

Doug Sandridge, PE 

RTM Engineering 

Sandridge, principal, comes to RTM from Concord West, an engineering firm specializing in design, construction and management services that the firm acquired in June. His portfolio includes a number of liquor distilleries and international projects.

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

Harvey: Given the size of these types of projects, it’s typical to have multiple meters for several tenants grouped together on the side of the building. Each electrical utility has different standards that must be adhered to and some are more stringent than others. These requirements will affect the design and the cost based on the responsibilities dictated to the owner by the utility provider.  

Regularly, generators are required on these projects, so it’s up to the engineer to coordinate with the owner to determine backup capacity, what equipment is being backed up and the physical size of this equipment on the site plan.  

Sandridge: Yes  efficient motors and alternative power sources. 

CSE: What types of unusual standby, emergency or backup power systems have you specified for such facilities? 

Harvey: Depending on the size of backup being requested by the owner or tenant, diesel or natural gas generators are standard backup options. Larger services may require multiple generators and extra paralleling gear to ensure enough capacity in a backup situation. This additional equipment typically has a large footprint that needs to be coordinated with the rest of the disciplines for physical space and utilities. 

CSE: What are some of the challenges when designing high-voltage power systems in industrial/manufacturing facility and warehouse projects? 

Sandridge: These include knowing arc flash and Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements. 

CSE: How are such projects designed to ensure that the infrastructure can handle new, high-density manufacturing and process equipment now and in the future? 

Harvey: It’s a constant balance during design to accommodate what the owner needs for their systems now and in the future and what they have available to spend right now. Typically, that that looks like designing the head end of the service for the ultimate future capacity while minimizing the branch circuits and infrastructure for the future equipment to the bare minimum necessary at the present time, without having to incur cost for destructive demolition/renovation in the future.  

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

Harvey: Highbay lighting is typical in these facilities, which is atypical in other projects. These lights are located 30 to 45 feet in the air, typically close to roof membranes that have reduced envelopes due to cost constraints. These fixtures need to be robust enough to withstand the increased temperatures near the roof in a nonconditioned warehouse, while still providing the required lumen output at the floor for the workers picking product from the high pile storage racks.  

CSE: 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? 

Harvey: Communication through regular meetings, email coordination and/or phone calls is key. Henderson strives to have personnel available to take calls and answer questions in a timely manner and when necessary, drop what we’re doing to meet at an office or on-site to discuss design or installation issues. We enjoy partnering with industry friends on projects, as we find that this opens these lines of communication, which means better project designs in the long run.  

CSE: What kind of lighting designs have you incorporated into an industrial/manufacturing facility or warehouse project, either for energy efficiency or to increase the occupant’s experience?  

Danielson: The lighting design depends on the height and type of the facility and the layout of shelving, equipment and other obstructions, but LED lights are almost always used in my designs. If we have narrow aisles, we may opt for continuous linear fixtures. If it’s more open and a taller ceiling, we would consider highbay round lights.  

Assuming ASHRAE 90.1-2013 applies, controls could include all or some of the following: occupancy sensors, daylight sensors, bi-level lighting (partial on to 50%, manual on to full output), automatic partial or full off or scheduled off. Some other considerations include the environment. If it’s hazardousrated for explosive gases or dust, we’d want to specify hazardousrated fixtures. If it’s likely there will be a lot of dust, we would consider specifying fixtures with a dust shedding cone or cover on top to prevent dust build up that can clog the large heatsinks of highbay LED fixtures. Some dust can be flammable and cause chainreaction explosions if it were to catch fire from an overheated fixture. 

Harvey: Realistically, high-bay LED fixtures are a must to meet the needs of the currently adopted energy codes while maintaining the maximum/minimum values of illumination to meet the egress requirements set forth by the adopted building codes. With the various distributions and fixture types that are available now and that have gone through the vetting process with the brand name manufacturers, the options continue to increase, while the cost continues to decrease. With their advantages across all aspects of design, it’s tough to justify other light sources when starting a new warehouse or manufacturing facility project.  

CSE: When designing lighting systems for these types of structures, what design factors are being requested? Are there any particular technical advantages that are or need to be considered? 

Harvey: It’s important to understand how the spaces are going to be used because the controls need to match those needs. This will help the employees within the space, as well as save money on energy costs over the life of the building. If skylights are present within these projects, daylighting controls and zones will affect the layout and controls of light fixtures in these areas.  

It’s also critical to have the layout of the warehouse itself, from the racking placement and heights to the routing of the processing systems and the lighting requirements necessary for the employees to operate these systems efficiently and profitably. All of this information needs to be discussed and obtained by the engineers from the rest of the design team as early in the project as possible.