Dec. 29 2006 11:30 AM

If your print/mail finishing operation occupies the same location that it did 10 or 15 years ago, there's a good chance that your lighting resources are inadequate for your current needs or unnecessarily expensive or perhaps both.


Why? Because of change. Over the past decade or so, virtually every print/mail finishing center has added or upgraded processing equipment to keep pace with increasing volumes or to accommodate new or evolving applications.


But very few have updated their lighting plans or resources to compensate for the new equipment or work flows or to capitalize on recent innovations in lighting technology that can provide more light, and even better light, at a lower cost.


The culprit, according to many print/mail finishing managers, is simply the need to keep pace with the daily demands of production. Upgraded or even new processing equipment is acquired whenever it is needed. But it is often deployed haphazardly and especially without regard to the adequacy of overhead lighting wherever space happens to be available at the time of acquisition.


As a result, a lighting plan that was perfectly adequate when it was initially designed becomes outdated as work activities evolve, and lighting resources remain stagnant. And soon costly problems that are related to productivity, quality, morale, safety and costs begin to crop up.


If you think your lighting may be out-of-date, here are some simple tips to consider as you work to identify the problem and develop a solution.


First, take a step back and look at your facility from a fresh perspective. Is the lighting bright and even throughout the center? Or are there shadows or areas where the lighting happens to be dim and uninviting?


A modern work place should be bright, attractive and productive. But too often, the lighting in print/mail finishing centers is inadequate. Poor lighting typically results in eye strain and fatigue, particularly for employees who work longer shifts or the second or third shifts when natural light may not be available.


Poor lighting can also contribute to high error rates as workers become tired, frustrated and make unnecessary mistakes. In some instances, the light required to perform a task safely and competently may be 80-foot candles. But only 25% of that level is actually available.


Components of Good Lighting

Three key components comprise any good lighting plan. You should review your facility against these components to see how your center matches up.


General lighting is the foundation of any lighting plan. General lighting refers to the overhead or ambient lighting conditions in a work place. Good general lighting creates a positive atmosphere for workers and the company.


Task lighting is the lighting that enables workers to successfully perform their assigned job functions. Good task lighting helps workers maintain high levels of productivity and accuracy and reduces costly errors. Even in the supposed "lights out" environment of an automated document factory, good task lighting is essential to monitor the performance of equipment, assure employee safety, quickly clear stoppages and replenish materials to keep throughput high.


Once you have an idea of your existing light levels and which work areas may need improvement, you should examine your existing lighting resources to determine which lamps or fixtures can be upgraded and if new or supplemental resources need to be installed.


However, it is not always a simple case of just substituting new or improved lamps or fixtures. In some instances, you can obtain the same level of light with fewer fixtures. You may want to lower the costs related to lighting. Or you may need to focus specialized light in critical inspection areas to reduce errors and boost productivity. The key is analyzing your current environment against the following criteria and then creating a custom-tailored solution.


Cost of Light

Many managers believe that the cost of light refers to the purchase price of the lamps. But the price of lamps is a just a small percentage of the total cost of light. The largest component is the cost of electrical power. Upgrading lighting with high-technology or energy-efficient lamps can dramatically reduce the cost of electricity and yield equivalent or even superior levels of light at the same time.


Quality of Light

This generally means good light levels or an even and well-lighted work space. Most managers don't realize it, but many lamps degrade over time, gradually yielding less light as they age. You can counter this problem by using lamps designed to yield as much as 90% or more of their initial light over their expected life. So your facility can remain bright, attractive and productive, even as the lamps age.


Long Life

Depending on ceiling height, the expected life of the lamp and other factors, the cost of labor to replace a burned-out lamp can exceed its initial purchase price. It can be more cost-effective and far less disruptive to production to install longer-life lamps whenever possible and avoid the costs related to replacement.


Light Color

The color of light can be an important factor in certain inspection functions. For example, special lamps can help assure that colors appear truer and more natural. So you may want to consider the color of light used in your print area, especially as more applications include the use of spot or full-color printing.


Return on Investment

Selecting the right lamp can possibly yield a 50% return in cost savings that's a payback of just two years in an era when Treasury Notes and CDs yield in the low single digits.


But the biggest payoff from investments in improved lighting may come from higher employee morale, better productivity, enhanced safety and fewer errors. Admittedly, these benefits are always harder to quantify because they can vary widely from site to site and even within a site. But they are always important considerations and well worth a modest investment in improved lighting.


George Linkletter is a marketing consultant who specializes in customer messaging. He has profiled more than 100 print/mail finishing centers. You are able to reach him via e-mail at The GE Corp. aided in the preparation of this article.