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    The connected warehouse is safe

    Scalable systems and the warehouse of the future, part 2


    In the first of this series of three articles, we talked about how scalable systems can help warehouses meet the challenges that face them now and in the future.

     

    Scalable systems can dissolve the barriers that prevent organizations from adopting connected technology. With the ability to add new functions on top of an already installed infrastructure, they can eliminate the need for burdensome capital renovation projects. Vendors who keep up with industry trends can help warehouse operators choose the right solutions from among the many that the market offers, and they can help ensure that whatever operators do purchase is integrated properly into the connected systems that they already have in place.

     

    In this second article of the series, we take a more human-level look at the virtues of scalable systems, examining how they can improve safety and well-being for warehouse employees.

    Planning for this pandemic—and the next


    Minimizing employee risk of contracting COVID-19 has been one of the most important duties facing warehouse operators and other decision-makers in industrial settings since March of 2019. Eventually, this particular pandemic will recede in the world's rear-view mirror. But businesses will want to be sure that they're better prepared for the next one—the potential for which unfortunately exists, according to health experts. Businesses like those in the warehouse sector, where remote working is not generally a possibility, have the most at risk and the most to gain from scalable systems and the IoT capabilities that those systems can deliver.

     

    Take air disinfection, which can make a tremendous difference in

    fighting an airborne respiratory virus like COVID-19, or surface decontamination, which could be instrumental in a future pandemic in which surface transmission plays a significant role. A smart lighting system can help in both cases by functioning as a platform for the deployment of disinfectant ultraviolet C (UV-C) light, which has startling germicidal powers. UV-C solutions from Signify, for example, eliminate 99 percent of microbes within 6 seconds. A smart lighting system can incorporate UV-C luminaires that can decontaminate the air in an office or other lit environment on a regular schedule, making it an almost completely microbe-free environment.

     

    UV-C light is harmful to human tissue, and so it needs to be deployed in a particular manner. Upper air disinfection is not problematic, because the UV-C luminaires can be directed upwards toward the ceiling and away from any people who might be using the space. Surface decontamination is another matter, as this can’t be done while people are present in the environment.

     

    Here the capabilities of a connected system can come into play. A connected lighting system can easily integrate occupancy sensors that either turn on the decontamination sequence when nobody is present, or can automatically halt the sequence if presence is detected. Integration with a security system can add another layer of protection, locking everybody out of the space for the short period of time during which disinfection is in progress.

     

    There are other ways in which a scalable industrial lighting system can help safeguard employees against transmissible diseases. Sensor-based systems can enforce social distancing rules by warning employees (via apps on their smartphones, for example) that a certain space is overcrowded, or by announcing that a certain area is off-limits until it empties out. Connected lighting systems can also support employee health via wayfinding features that direct workers walk to take specific routes through a facility—for example, to a series of specific exits at shift's end, ensuring that bottlenecks don't occur in any single location.

     

    Scalability can mean scaling down as well as scaling up. With software-based controls, it’s a simple change in settings to switch off the UV-C lighting when it’s no longer needed.

    Not just a decrease in accidents, but an increase in human health


    COVID-19 has been the most acute workplace safety issue in recent history, but it's not the only one. Safety is crucial in industrial settings, and worker well-being has been an issue in industry for years before the health crisis descended in early 2020. Simply put, reducing the number and severity of accidents is among the most important responsibilities that warehouse management faces.
     

    Lighting has a key role to play in safeguarding warehouse safety under normal operational conditions—day after day, month after month, year after year. Not incidentally, the attributes of lighting that promote safety also make workers more productive—and being productive in turn contributes to happiness and satisfaction of staff members.
     

    The most obvious key attribute of lighting is sufficiency of illumination, but other important attributes include uniformity, which minimizes shadowing and potentially confusing variations in perceived brightness; a lack of glare or flicker, both of which can cause eye strain, headaches, and other ill effects after long exposure; and high color rendering, which is especially important in warehouses that use color-coding or other color-based schemes to organize inventory.
     

    Boosting light levels by 200 lux (a little less than 19 fc) on the floor reduced accidents by 14% for one international logistics company. Another company cut accidents by 60% by deploying LED lighting that made hazards more visible. That same company also benefited from a 6% increase in task performance due to higher employee alertness.
     

    These are some of the safety- and well-being-related advantages that a well-designed lighting system can deliver without even deploying smart capabilities, but smart, software-based controls make it that much easier to adjust light levels in areas where the data indicates an insufficient level of light. Additionally, historical data collected via a connected lighting system on both the illuminated space and the system operations themselves can give warehouse managers valuable information on how lighting correlates with performance and safety, providing the insight needed to make important improvements in operations and employee well-being.
     

    Bio-adaptive, or circadian, lighting takes the well-being of workers one step further. Bio-adaptive lighting uses evidence-based lighting shows or “recipes” to support the proper functioning of the human circadian cycle—the innate biological “clock” that regulates the sleep/wake cycle and that has a profound effect on mood, alertness, relaxation, and other important elements of human health.
     

    A bio-adaptive lighting system can be programmed to provide more blue light early in the morning or at the beginning of a shift, for example, to promote maximum alertness among workers. It can then scale down blue light levels as afternoon turns to evening or toward the end of a shift, helping to transition to a more restful state conducive to relaxation and a good night’s sleep.
     

    Such bio-adaptive lighting has obvious applications in warehouse environments that receive no natural daylight, keeping workers attuned to circadian rhythms that are essential to high performance at work and sufficient rest at home. Smart lighting systems can also adapt to other conditions, supporting productivity and health in other ways.
     

    For example, in a warehouse with skylighting or other natural light sources, a smart lighting system can use daylight sensors to boost light levels to compensate for cloud cover. Or it could provide different light levels or color temperatures for different types of tasks in different situations—to support workers in different age groups or differing physical capacities, for example.
     

    Smart lighting systems can also automatically adjust to specific situations in the facility itself. A mostly empty warehouse aisle may require more light to illuminate its shadowy racks and bays than the aisle does when it is full of merchandise. A small detail, to be sure, but many such small details together can have a measurable effect on worker comfort and safety.

    A market differentiator for a new era


    Worker safety and well-being are intrinsically positive and can boost productivity, but they are also something else: a promise that organizations will have to make to their employees if they want to differentiate themselves in the market and hire the best people.

     

    Attracting and retaining productive employees is an especially important consideration in a logistics sector that the pandemic has made busier than ever. The struggle to find employees to fill open positions has been all over the news in the first half of 2021, and while there are many factors involved, employee safety and well-being are near the top of the list. Wages and commuting time are considerations, to be sure, but so are working conditions once employees are on the job. Comfort, well-being, a stellar safety record: these aren't just nice-to-haves, and they aren’t just internal matters for companies to deal with in private: they affect the wider society in which companies do business. Workers are right to demand safe and healthy workspaces. Connected lighting and other smart systems can help to create them.

    About the author

    Jonathan Weinert, IoT and Connected Lighting, Signify
    Award-winning writer Jonathan Weinert has been been researching and reporting on LED lighting, connected lighting, and the IoT since joining Signify in 2008. 

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