The Failure of Fluorescents: Why Your Facility Needs an LED Lighting Upgrade


Fluorescent lighting has been a staple in commercial and industrial lighting for decades. Central to its appeal is the fact that, at the outset, it seems to be one of the most inexpensive sources of lighting. This makes it especially attractive when companies place a higher priority on investing in production equipment.


The problem is, while they might start out cheap, the ongoing maintenance of fluorescents makes them costly to operate over time. The fixtures and bulbs are delicate and prone to failure, and certainly not robust enough to stand up to the rigors of demanding industrial environments. In the long run, that makes these “inexpensive” fixtures some of the costliest to maintain.


Instead, modern industrial LED lighting is proving to be a much more economical, durable and efficient alternative to fluorescents, saving companies money, time and frustration for years to come. If your company is still relying on fluorescents, here’s why they are failing and how industrial LEDs provide a better alternative.


Fluorescents are fragile

Because of the multi-bulb design, most fluorescent fixtures in industrial environments are quite large, with a surface area that’s about four feet long and two feet wide in most cases. This large surface area collects a lot of dirt and debris and is at greater risk of being hit by moving equipment. The lenses often crack, exposing the delicate glass bulbs and increasing the risk of bulb failure. It’s simply not a robust system, especially in high-vibration environments.


In addition, the long fluorescent tubes are a challenge to store for replacement because they take up so much room, and because they’re extremely delicate, can be easily broken before they’re even installed. Broken bulbs are not only a waste of money, but they’re also a safety hazard, exposing workers to the risk of cuts or slipping hazards. Plus, they contain toxic chemicals, and when broken, expose anyone nearby to airborne heavy metals, which are then inhaled and can damage the lungs.


On the other hand, industrial LEDs are built for industrial applications. They have a much smaller fixture profile and, because they are solid-state devices with no delicate bulbs, they are more resistant to shock and vibration. This means they collect less dirt and debris, and with no delicate glass bulbs, they’re much more tolerant of harsh environments, including high-vibration areas.


Not to mention, because LED fixtures require no bulb changeout, there’s no need for bulb storage. This eliminates the risk and wasted money of broken bulbs, and frees up maintenance budget and storage space to be allocated for better use. 


Maintenance is never-ending

Because they’re so fragile, fluorescent fixtures require constant maintenance. T8 fixtures are rated for just 20,000 hours and that’s under ideal operating conditions. In fact, the light output of T8 bulbs starts to diminish immediately, slowly degrading over time, losing roughly 40 percent of initial output by the time it reaches 20,000 hours of service. This means changeout of fluorescent tubes is practically a non-stop activity in order to maintain safe light levels. In virtually every facility that uses T8 fixtures, there’s almost always one or even two lamps out in each fixture, and for those positioned over production equipment, changing out bulbs requires a production shutdown.


By contrast, modern industrial LEDs are essentially maintenance free, delivering reliable, long-lasting service for a decade or more. In fact, many of the leading manufacturers offer fixtures with an L70 rating of 150,000 hours—nearly 6X longer than T8s. And, that’s just the point at which we begin to see a noticeable decline in light output; LED fixtures can deliver substantial light output much longer. LED fixtures also deliver more evenly sustained lighting over their lifetime, whereas fluorescents peak and then steadily drop off over time. Because LEDs are solid-state fixtures, there are no delicate bulbs to break, virtually eliminating lighting maintenance over the course of the fixture’s decade-plus life.


Extreme temperatures are a problem

Fluorescent fixtures do not perform well in extreme heat or cold environments, causing them to fail even earlier than their rated 20,000 hours. Heat affects both the ballast and the lamp system, and by general rule of thumb, fluorescent fixture life is shortened one year for every degree over 90°F ambient temperature. They also don’t function well in the cold. At 40°F and below, the lamps struggle to stay lit, which causes the ends of the lamps to blacken and reduce light output.


Industrial LED fixtures have some of the widest ambient temperature tolerances of any industrial lighting source. With fixtures that can deliver optimal performance in temperatures ranging from -40°F to +149°F, LEDs are well suited for virtually any application, including refrigeration and freezer.


Fluorescents and controls don’t mix

Repeated on/off cycles will cause premature failure of fluorescent fixtures, as the restrike slowly degrades the bulb’s useful life and the ballast’s performance. For practical purposes, this means fluorescents are better left on 24/7. This not only wastes energy when the fixtures aren’t needed, but it also makes fluorescents incompatible with smart controls like occupancy and daylight harvesting sensors that can make facility lighting even more efficient. Dimming ballasts for fluorescents are cost prohibitive, and implementing daylight harvesting without a dimmer, results in a light that simply flickers off and on all day. This takes a tremendous toll on the system. In a six-lamp fixture, there could be multiple ballasts, which results in multiple weak points that can go bad, not to mention the drivers.


Modern LED industrial fixtures, on the other hand, are perfectly suited for controls integration. Restrike and repeated on/off cycles have virtually zero impact on fixture life and, unlike fluorescents, LED fixtures can be dimmed, making them ideal for daylight harvesting systems that allow facilities to take advantage of natural ambient light.


Fluorescents get an F for sustainability

Because of the frequent bulb and ballast changes required, the use of fluorescent fixtures results in a lot of waste to be disposed of on an annual basis. Because each bulb contains mercury, phosphorous and other rare earth minerals, they’re not recyclable and some states have set limits on the number of fluorescent tubes that can simply be thrown away over a certain time period. In excess of that limit requires disposal by a hazardous material handling specialist. This obviously adds to the cost of disposal, not to mention erodes sustainability efforts, which have become a top priority for many companies.


LED industrial fixtures are a much greener solution, contain zero hazardous materials and require no special handling. And, because of their superior long-life performance, there are also substantially fewer fixtures to dispose of, reducing overall waste. This, combined with the reduced energy consumption and lower pollution output, as a result, makes industrial LED fixtures a much more environmentally friendly alternative to fluorescents.


The difference is clear

The fact is that even though fluorescent fixtures may seem cheaper in the short term, their short lifespan, frequent maintenance, high energy use, and environmental risk make them an extremely costly choice. When evaluating lighting options, it’s critical to consider the total cost of ownership, not only in dollars and cents but also in time and effort.


Industrial LED fixtures far outperform fluorescents by providing a virtually worry-free lighting solution that can pay for itself in as little as three years thanks to electricity and maintenance savings—money that could be put toward more strategic and revenue-driving efforts. And, when the improved light quality, clarity, and output are figured into the equation, LEDs offer a much more attractive ROI with safety and savings that directly improve the bottom line.

Authored by: Luis Ramirez, COO of Dialight

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