The impact of light

The lighting in the industry production taking the example of Zumtobel

How important is good light for industrial production employees? Carina Buchholz, Lighting Application Manager, asks Mario Wintschnig, Head of Health & Age Management, this and other questions. The answer: it’s hugely important, of course, and is something that Zumtobel is not only aware of, but takes very seriously. It’s also why we continue to work on our Active Light approach. So, just how important is light? Read on to find out.

Carina Buchholz, Lighting Application Manager at Zumtobel, in conversation with Mario Wintschig, Head of Health & Age Management at Zumtobel Group, about the influence of light in the industry production. © Zumtobel
© Zumtobel

I seem to remember that you were an industrial applications product manager for many years – even back then, you were very interested in the potential impact of digitization and Industry 4.0 on lighting solutions. To what extent has your personal vision of the future for light in industry, which you outlined 15–20 years ago, now become a reality in production?

Mario Wintschnig: "Technology is still being used in industry, especially to automate processes and procedures. Its main goal is to reduce error frequency in process flows and costs. IoT technologies are used to optimise processes and plant operation. Paperless production is now standard – and input technologies are becoming increasingly streamlined.

This not only simplifies employee training requirements, it gives individuals more options, too. Industrial lighting has adapted to the new conditions. Today’s production and logistics halls look much brighter and more pleasant than they used to. Standard illuminance levels, factors such as glare limitation and quality of visibility are now the norm. This contributes significantly to employee well-being."

Have these milestones resulted in massive changes to the working environment at our production workplaces, including to lighting?

Mario Wintschnig: "Increasingly flexible working hours mean that working time arrangements can be adapted to suit individual employees, giving them more personal responsibility and autonomy. Models such as flexitime, working time accounts and even trust-based working hours are becoming increasingly common, with serious consequences for the boundaries between working and non-working life. In the long run, this leads to serious health problems and has an adverse effect on non-working life and leisure time – work becomes the dominant and sole purpose of life.

Work tools such as laptops or company smartphones are no longer used exclusively for business or private purposes. Using the internet on business hardware for online banking, ordering from Amazon or looking for your next holiday destination has long become standard. The blurring of boundaries between work and life is particularly apparent when people work from home. Employees are often unsure of when they are actually working for the company or not. The highly flexible working time models described above also contribute to working and non-working life becoming increasingly entwined."

Have these milestones resulted in massive changes to the working environment at our production workplaces, including to lighting?

Mario Wintschnig: Our industrial halls have long been better lit, more pleasant and brighter. However, additional work lighting will be required in the future. Why? 

Well, it’s now generally accepted that it is no longer productive to release older employees into early retirement. The longer retention of older workers is also something the European Union is concerned about. In order for this to be implemented, companies must first create the basic conditions and requirements for employees to be able, willing and allowed to work longer. And this also includes an increased need for light in order to support employees’ ability to work and well-being.

Together with the increasingly flexible working hours already mentioned, in future this will lead to light in industry – especially at production facilities with shift work models – having to adapt even more individually to the employees and their requirements at their workplace."

What does Zumtobel need lighting in production halls to do today? "In short, the following keywords are relevant: focus, well-being, error and accident prevention, ultimately long-lasting health – and especially the long-term preservation of sight." © Zumtobel

What does Zumtobel need lighting in production halls to do today?

Mario Wintschnig: "In short, the following keywords are relevant: focus, well-being, error and accident prevention, ultimately long-lasting health – and especially the long-term preservation of sight."

How can we offer people comprehensive support through our luminaires and control options? How do you assess this from your position in Health & Age Management? What differences do you see for young and older employees?

Mario Wintschnig: "Demographic trends will become a greater concern for us over the next 10 years in two respects. More and more people will continue working at the company for longer. Because older people need higher levels of lighting, this means that there should also be an individually controllable lighting solution for each workplace. Workplaces will be used more flexibly in the future, e.g. by temporary staff with a high change rate or as tandem workplaces for younger and older employees. The result: increasingly visual tasks in the work process will need individually adjustable lighting levels."

At Zumtobel, we have people working shifts at the same workplaces. The concept of human-centric lighting has shown that daylight and artificial light benefits human health, as demonstrated in nursing homes, hospitals and offices. We have also been involved with a workshop for people with disabilities.  However, the sector as a whole has so far done relatively little research on the lighting industry, even though light is ideal for supporting the body clock and thus also facilitating sleep, by balancing hormones during shift work. What are the reasons for this rather cautious commitment to research in the industry?

Mario Wintschnig: "In shift work, a distinction is made between permanent shifts (e.g. night shift) and rotating shifts (e.g. weekly rotation between early and late shifts). At Zumtobel, we use both systems.

Working night shifts only is less stressful for the body than alternating between early, late and night shifts. The changed sleep patterns caused by working early, late and night shifts leads to a reduction in performance and higher error rates among some employees. The very long time spent under artificial light therefore requires high levels of light. Age is another negative factor here. In a three-shift model, this leads to insufficient recovery times and increased sleep problems. Fatigue during shift work and free time often means employees resort to unhelpful coping strategies. Coffee, cigarettes and energy drinks are increasingly consumed. This has a rather short-term effect on the cardiovascular system, but represents a long-term health risk.

The proportion of older people should also not be forgotten. Although the number of older shift workers has already risen, the situation will continue to worsen. Older people’s insufficient ability to adapt to the sleep-wake rhythms of shift work puts a strain on them and the company, and will continue to be a challenge for companies when it comes to recruitment and assigning shifts. Additional lighting can no longer compensate for this effect. Nevertheless, studies in industrial applications are absolutely necessary."

From your perspective now, in 2019, will the tasks and focal points of health management at manufacturing companies change in the next 10 years and what influence will this have on the role of light in the workplace?

Mario Wintschnig: "Good quality light in sufficient quantities, individually adapted to the conditions at the workplace and the visual tasks and people in question are indispensable for the workplaces at any production facility."

What role does light play for you personally, i.e. in your life, and to what extent do you consciously deal with this topic at work and in your leisure time?

Mario Wintschnig: "For me personally, light is an extremely important element. On the one hand, I use light as a design element at home in order to relax after work. On the other hand, at the age of 58, my eyes need a lot more light to allow me to carry out any kind of focused work at all in my leisure time. My day is usually about 18 or 19 hours long. Unthinkable without the right light. Under water, I use light to get my bearings and to take photos that really capture all the colours and details. The intensity and uniformity of the light are crucial in getting the best results – photos that astound quite a few people."

The new production plant at the local production site. © Zumtobel