Few sectors of commercial real estate will undergo as great a transformation in the coming years as the cold storage industry. Driven by e-commerce’s impact on online grocery sales and consumers’ unpredictable shopping habits, modern distribution practices have been transformed. That’s why cold food and beverage processors must maximize order volumes and patterns, as well as speed of delivery and warehouse space like never before.

The growth of online grocery sales is fueling the expansion of cold storage warehouses across the United States, anticipating a demand for up to 100 million square feet of industrial cold storage space over the next five years, according to a report from CBRE, Los Angeles.

The margin for error in warehouses is decreasing as demand grows, meaning executives can ill afford any disruption to operations. While lighting can be shifted down the list of importance for proficiency – behind aspects such as warehouse management systems (WMS), storage equipment and machinery – the right lighting can actually play a critical role in facilitating safety, productivity and cost-efficiency.

As distribution networks become increasingly complex, sophisticated LED lighting systems are, in turn, becoming important for warehouses that require effective illumination to facilitate the fast and efficient movement of goods through their warehouses. As a result, operation, engineering, production and logistics executives tasked with managing the efficient flow of a higher volume of inventory are turning to sophisticated LED lighting systems for an effective solution.

Improving safety

In most environments when the lights go out, it can be a minor inconvenience. In large-scale industrial facilities, which often comprise tall machinery, plant equipment and high racking areas, the potentially harmful impacts of not having appropriate emergency lighting in place are intensified.

Despite such environments raising unique safety concerns and requiring a more nuanced approach to illumination, emergency lighting has long been an afterthought for warehouse managers. Often emergency luminaires are installed and forgotten about, except during regularly scheduled monthly and annual testing, or even worse, in the event of an emergency situation such as a fire.

Given that data from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Washington, D.C., revealed there were 96,800 industrial fires, resulting in 145 fatalities, 1,550 inquiries and a loss of property in excess of $2 billion in 2016 alone (the latest year for which there is statistical data) – with that figure only rising – there remains a jaded attitude toward emergency illumination. Especially considering that most fire fatalities are the result of common fire code violations, such as blocked emergency exits, poor illumination, faulty fire alarms, smoke detectors and faulty fire equipment.

The positive news is, the latest generation of connected emergency LED fixtures and drivers integrate on-board intelligence by including built-in diagnostics and self-testing features. Automating the end-to-end process eradicates the process of walking the building, manually testing each individual emergency light and every emergency battery system and logging the results. This in turn makes it simpler to perform self-testing, diagnostics and full-cycle testing, as well as monitoring and logging the results, while at the same time reducing the possibility of fines for non-compliance.

What’s more, with a central monitoring and control system, smart lighting controls can be used to detect an emergency situation and reduce safety risks. To help prevent fire fatalities, smart, connected lighting systems can monitor building conditions, including checking for fire, smoke and toxic gasses, and be programmed to alert first responders and even direct occupants away from danger and toward safety.

Connecting luminaires into a common network, using a proven wireless communications protocol can also form a wider communications infrastructure for more advanced uses. For instance, by building a connected network of intelligent LED lighting components, you can handle broader sensor data from a wider group of systems, including HVAC, security and building automation systems (BAS) to facilitate a new level of building controls that makes facilities safer and easier to manage.

Cold storage lighting

As cold storage space continues to grow across North America, and indeed globally, investment in new delivery strategies and warehouse technologies endures as executives seek to improve operations. The adoption of industrial LED fixtures remains at the center of this development, as companies look to optimize lighting performance, as well as energy and cost efficiencies, particularly in traditionally difficult applications such as cold storage facilities.

Leading-edge LED lighting technologies and smart controls are transforming the way the industry approaches warehouse illumination. Not only are the next generation of lighting solutions positively impacting every aspect of a warehouse’s performance, from overhead costs to employee safety and ultimately the smoothness of day-to-day operations inside the facility, but they are also keeping pace with developments in the food and beverage market.