In any workspace, be it an office or an assembly/production area, lighting needs to be both flexible and efficient if it is to meet all of the criteria of end users. Rodger Henderson of Waldmann Lighting explains why freestanding direct/indirect lighting can provide the ideal solution in many situations
Flexibility in the workplace has now become integral to the majority of businesses and it's important the building services offer a comparable level of flexibility. In this way, the services are able to adapt to change and continue to deliver the required performance - ideally with a high level of energy efficiency.
This flexibility arises through several drivers. On a production line, for example, there may be a change of workflow to suit a new product line or to introduce greater efficiency. In offices, the increasing popularity of flexible working practices such as hot desking and home working have contributed to a more fluid environment where change is the norm.
With inflexible services, as are all too frequently found in many workplaces, the cost and disruption of reconfiguring services often proves prohibitive. The result is that no changes are made and the comfort and efficiency of the workplace are compromised.
For example, when a workplace is first laid out the lighting is often designed to suit that layout, which makes perfect sense. However, when that lighting is a fixed ceiling installation, any reconfiguration can be very disruptive as luminaires may need to be moved to different positions in the ceiling grid. This also leads to re-wiring work and very often the spatial relationship between luminaires and sensors changes so these need to be repositioned and/or reprogrammed. Much of this work will involve access to the ceiling void, so the space either has to be vacated or the works are carried out in evening at weekends. In a production facility, neither option will help to maintain productivity.
Even when the workspace doesn't change, an element of flexibility is required to address the different visual requirements of individuals - either because of natural variation in visual acuity or because they are performing tasks with different visual requirements.
For instance, in a conventional design with ceiling mounted lighting the luminaires are often controlled in groups, so that people are often forced to come to an agreement with their colleagues about light levels, rather than having control of their own lit environment. With the UK's ageing workforce, this is a growing problem as older people will have different lighting requirements from their younger colleagues.
Similarly, even if all of the staff had identical visual characteristics, their visual requirements would vary through the day as they switch between paper and screen based tasks or addressing tasks of varying complexity. For example, assembling enclosures in one section of a production line may be less visually demanding than wiring and soldering components into a printed circuit board.
Of course, some more sophisticated systems do offer a level of personal control within zones but users may be required to master a complex lighting management system, and this is still not as effective as providing control at an individual workstation level.
Failing to address the visual needs of the workforce can also have a negative impact on staff morale and, consequently, productivity. In fact, research carried out at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a leading establishment in workplace research, has shown that creating a user-friendly lighting configuration can achieve an increase in productivity of as much as 3%.
Addressing this situation requires a combination of flexible lighting at a local level and controls that are easy and intuitive to adjust. In spaces with normal ceiling heights, such as offices and many production/assembly areas, freestanding direct/indirect luminaires can address all of these requirements. And these are particularly effective in ‘cleaner' production/assembly areas with reflective walls and ceiling.
Indeed, in the rest of Europe the benefits of this approach have been recognised for many years but the concept has been slower to take off in the UK. However, thanks to the combination of flexibility and energy efficiency provided by freestanding lighting, interest is growing rapidly.
Such direct/indirect light fittings are positioned at floor level and can be provided as freestanding fittings adjacent to the furniture, or fittings attached to the furniture.
This approach uses the ceiling as an extensive reflector to create a bright and spacious feel in the space, and can therefore be an effective alternative to fixed ceiling lighting. It also corresponds to the greater emphasis placed on uplighting in best practice lighting designs, as determined by the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) in its Lighting Guide 7.
At the same time, the directional component can be controlled to adjust the level and direction of light incident on the work surface. In this way, the users can adjust the lighting to suit their tasks and personal preferences. Because of the location of the fitting, all of the operating controls and power displays are at working height for easy access and visibility.
Alternatively, freestanding lighting can be used in conjunction with separate task lighting, so the benefits of the uplighting are retained while the user has control of their individual lighting from the task lighting. In this case, complementary styles of the different fittings help to retain a consistent ‘family' feel to the lighting throughout the space.
Inevitably, freestanding lighting takes up some floor space and changes the view across an office space so it's also important to choose a compact design with a small footprint. It should also be aesthetically pleasing in its own right and in a style that that will blend with other furniture in the space. So freestanding lighting can not only improve the flexibility of the lighting installation, it can also enhance the aesthetics of the space through both its light distribution and its visual appearance.
In terms of the need for a flexible solution, as described above, clearly freestanding lighting is much easier to move around with the furniture - simply by picking it up and moving it. Similarly, furniture mounted lighting can be removed quickly and easily with just an Allen key and a screwdriver.
From the end user's point of view, it also enables the relocation of the lighting to be included as part of the general move of other ‘office furniture'. With fixed ceiling installations this would need to be set up in the facilities management systems as a separate job, so freestanding lighting also helps to reduce the administrative burden of moving people around.
Also, it is very easy to add freestanding lighting to an existing workspace, to enhance or complement the existing lighting. So, for example, the existing ceiling lighting could be dimmed or switched off when not required and then switched on to provide lower ambient light levels for cleaning.
However, leaving the control of the lighting to individuals has the potential to waste energy, as people will forget to switch the lighting off or down when they no longer need it. Using the latest light source and control technologies, freestanding lighting offers the same levels of control as a fixed lighting installation - such as daylight and occupancy control. These controls can ensure only occupied areas are lit and the lighting levels are automatically adjusted in relation to natural daylight.
As noted earlier, the spatial relationship between the lighting and any sensors used for control is also important and freestanding lighting can also have sensors incorporated into the fitting, with the added advantage that the sensor and the workstation retain their spatial relationship during any relocation. For example, if used with presence detection, the control can be very localised and set to switch lighting off when a single workstation is unoccupied.
In contrast, most occupancy control in open plan offices operates in zones so that the lighting for a group of workstations remains on when only one desk is in use. In addition, any reconfiguration of these controls in a fixed lighting installation can be costly and disruptive.
Freestanding lighting can also be used in conjunction with networked lighting management systems to provide centralised control and monitoring of luminaire performance.
A further cost of ownership benefit is the light sources are located within easy reach, so replacing them does not require specialist access equipment. It's also worth bearing in mind that fewer uplighters are required to light a space, compared to ceiling mounted lighting, resulting in fewer lamps to change, as well as lower power consumption.
When all of these factors are considered, it's clear the freestanding direct/indirect lighting has the potential to deliver the flexibility required for many modern workplaces. Just as importantly, in combining highly efficient light sources and controls with networking capabilities, this innovative lighting also helps to address the sustainability imperatives of most businesses.
For all of these reasons, there are now very strong arguments for considering the use of freestanding lighting from the early design stages of a new build or refurbishment project. It won't be the ideal choice for every situation but it has far greater potential than many people realise.