Why high-quality LED lighting is the secret to lower costs at ports

The advantages offered by LED lighting systems over the alternatives have become increasingly clear during the past decade. As LED technology has continued to improve, the already sizeable gap around issues such as quality and efficiency has become wider still. In every respect – from lifespan to running costs – LEDs simply outperform the competition.

In comparison with older lighting technologies, for example, LEDs can:

  • Improve a port’s lighting levels by more than 50%.
  • Reduce power consumption by as much as 70%.
  • Deliver better levels of uniformity and quality.

Nonetheless, the unfortunate reality is that a number of ports and sea terminals have yet to make the switch to LEDs. Perhaps deterred by the (assumed) cost of an upgrade, unable to find the breathing room needed to plan out their transition, or simply unaware of the benefits offered by modern lighting systems, many maritime facilities continue to rely on high-pressure sodium (HPS) and metal-halide lamps.

The overuse of these legacy lighting technologies can have serious financial ramifications. While they may appear to be better value in terms of upfront costs, outdated lighting systems use a greater amount of power and require maintenance more often than LED equivalents. As a result, ongoing running costs are normally far higher, particularly in light of recent increases in the price of power.

Cost is not the only concern when it comes to older lighting systems, however. Another major consideration surrounds the issue of productivity, something that is very quickly hampered when visibility falls below optimum levels. 

At ports, where adverse weather conditions and night working are common, high quality lighting is integral to effective working and safety alike. Output degradation is a major issue with older lighting technologies; the amount of light produced by a metal-halide lighting system typically drops by as much as a fifth in just the first six months, for instance.

Naturally, this has an onward impact on operational effectiveness, with the reduced visibility affecting crane operators and ground staff alike. Compounding this is the colour rendering performance of metal-halide and HPS solutions, which is again much poorer than with LEDs. This can make it harder for workers to tell the colour of labels and containers at a glance, thus slowing them down further.

Design considerations: accounting for maritime environments

While LED lighting can address all of the issues discussed above, that isn’t to say that all LED technologies are equal. A poorly designed or cheaply manufactured LED system will quickly negate any of the expected benefits, and can in fact create a host of new problems for ports.

One of the main factors at play here is build quality. Ports represent some of the world’s most taxing operating environments, and lighting solutions need to be able to withstand a range of external pressures as a result. Left unaddressed, high temperatures can cause components to fail, and excess salinity will quickly cause corrosion in unprotected luminaires.

As a result, port operators must be sure that they are investing in lighting systems that have the adequate safeguards against these environmental challenges. Midstream’s own luminaires, for example, feature a proprietary extruded heatsink. With its large surface area, this delivers a more effective level of heat dissipation compared to the die-cast equivalents normally used in lower-cost LED systems. 

Other additions – such as solar covers and white-painted luminaire bodies – help to reduce the impact of heat further still. From a salinity perspective, our luminaires are built with a 316 stainless steel chassis, which is inherently resistant to corrosion. 

In addition to seeking out LED systems that can withstand the specific circumstances of the maritime environment, operators should also ensure that the appropriate tests have been carried out. 

In our high-heat tests, we mandate zero air movement – ensuring that our luminaires experience the toughest possible conditions. For corrosion testing, we follow the ASTM B117 standard for salt spray testing. Here, the luminaires are coated in salt spray, left for several months, and then tested for any damage or defective components.

As exhaustive as these tests may be, they also provide us with the reassurance that we know exactly how a product will continue to perform under even the harshest conditions. These rigorous trials also help from an innovation perspective, ensuring that we have the right information with which to create future improvements and extend the lifespan of our solutions even further.

Short-term savings vs. long-term gain

Just as many ports can be tempted to stick with legacy lighting systems by virtue of their lower cost of entry, the same can be true of “cheaper” LED systems. While these options may be appealing for operators looking to minimise their initial outlay, the long term costs may actually end up being greater than if they had opted for a higher end alternative.

The major issue here is that low-cost LED systems tend to be built using cheaper components, and are subject to much lower standards of testing. At a port, where a system must endure conditions like those described above, these cut corners can soon result in repairs, replacements, and even the complete failure of a lighting solution.

As tempting as it may be to select a lighting system (whether LED or otherwise) based purely on the “out-of-the-box” price, the unique demands of maritime facilities mean that doing so will almost inevitably result in unexpected costs further down the line. These can range from ongoing incidental charges to a full refit should the worst occur.

While the initial cost of a high-quality LED system may be higher than others on offer, the savings and operational benefits that result actually make it significantly more cost-effective over the longer term. With a well-built, well-designed, and well-tested LED solution capable of paying for itself in less than 24 months, it’s the logical choice for operators that want to maximise performance while minimising cost.


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