The lighting industry is considered an essential contributing segment to the green economy of built environments. The real question is how can the Indian lighting industry extend this perception of a green economy? The design and manufacture of lighting products is portion of the lighting industry that can make a significant contribution towards extending this perception. However, this needs to quickly transition from a linear economy to a circular economy so as to mitigate this imbalance of declining natural resources and contribute towards a green economy. Linear economy has been identified with way too many problems such as disposal and wastage of lighting products with limited shelf life, which are discarded sometimes irresponsibly. Circular economy[i], on the other hand is where lighting products can be upgraded and reused, or the materials and parts can be returned for repurposing or recycling when the products come to the end of their lifetime. As the design and manufacture of LED lighting products becomes stronger and more coherent with regards to the green economy, it will create opportunities for research, product development, and new practice methods. This article reviews the current practices of K-Lite Industries – a Chennai-based Indian lighting manufacturer – as a case study for research, product development, and new practice methods towards a green economy.
K-Lite Industries has been in the business of manufacturing lighting products in India since 1977. With manufacturing units in Bhopal and Chennai, K-Lite places a lot of emphasis on designing and manufacturing LED lighting products that entail the following processes:
- Harvestability – being able to harvest renewable resources while creating the product
- Longevity – being able to create a long lasting product
- Modularity – being able to create a product with modular components
- Recyclability – being able to recycle a part or the entire product
- Reducibility – being able to reduce usage or wastage of materials while creating the product
- Repurposability – being able to find an alternate purpose for either a part or the entire product
- Reusability – being able to reuse either a part or the entire product
- Safety – being able to use non-hazardous and safe materials while creating the product
- Upgradability – being able to upgrade the product to an up-to-date technology
The step towards a green economy starts with the architectural design of all the K-Lite manufacturing units, which are installed with both rainwater and solar power harvesting systems.
Over 250 solar panels each rated 325 VA generate up to 550 kWh of electricity per day, while rainwater-harvesting facilities provide water for all the units thereby minimizing both the electricity and water loads on the local supply grids. Apart from this, the entire lighting systems in all units have been switched over to high-efficiency LED lighting coupled with precise optical control to minimise power consumption and ensure longer life of the lighting system.
Figure 2: South-facing solar panels installed on the rooftop of the K-Lite manufacturing units minimize electricity loads on the local grid supply. Photo courtesy: K-Lite Industries
The use of CAD and 3D printing techniques during the initial designing and prototyping stages of product development blend software with hardware technology to reduce and optimise the usage and wastage of raw materials. The production process uses high quality raw materials such as aluminium ingot ADC 12 Alloy (JIS) or marine-grade 316L stainless steel with low contents of copper and other hazardous heavy metals, thereby ensuring safer and longer lasting products. Shot blasting process is a method for removing corrosion or grease, and prepare the surface for painting or powder coating. This process eliminates the usage of harsh acids or chemicals to ensure no hazardous wastes are disposed off into the environment. Other processes such as powder coating also do not use any volatile organic compounds or toxic heavy metals. Plastic has been phased out completely with a “NO Plastic” policy as the manufacture and disposal of plastic can be a big issue for the environment.
Figure 3: The powder coating facility at K-Lite reuses and recycles any over-sprayed powders while ensuring no hazardous wastes are disposed off into the environment. Photo courtesy: K-Lite Industries
Figure 4: K-Lite aims to create LED products with future-proof modular components for easy service and upgrades. Photo courtesy: K-Lite Industries
The aim is to create LED lighting products with future-proof components that can be easily serviceable and upgradable to last longer with the option of transferring to future modes of wireless control technology. Modular components such as drivers and light engines are designed for easy maintenance and replacement, thereby extending overall product life. Through the process of reverse logistics products are accurately tagged to retrieve information on the history of spare parts used, which enables easy serviceability by selecting the right spare parts. Additionally, the products enable easy disassembly so that materials and components can be reused or recycled. The over sprayed powders in the powder coating process are also reused and recycled.
Figure 5: K-Lite ensures modular components like drivers and light engines are designed for easy maintenance and replacement. Photo courtesy: K-Lite Industries
Even the packing and shipping of all the K-Lite products is done in the most environmentally responsible manner by using completely recycled materials for packaging with the minimal use of plastic and Styrofoam. The only limitation found within the current manufacturing setup of K-Lite is the ability to repurpose a part or the entire product to its full potential. However, with a few more innovation steps in finding alternate purposes such as retrofitting can help overcome this limitation.
The ‘Green Development[i]‘ theme has identified six strategic pillars: climate change, resource saving and management, circular economy, environmental protection, ecosystem protection and recovery, water conservation and natural disaster prevention. The case study of K-Lite Industries has demonstrated that investments in methods, products and systems are certainly a way forward for the Indian lighting industry towards green development. However the essential pathway towards green economy[ii] also requires investment in people. Therefore K-Lite undertakes necessary leadership and skill development programs such as educational grants and scholarships for children from economically weaker sections so as to transform and uplift communities.
Another concept that is fast gaining currency within the lighting industry is that of Lighting as a Service[iii] (LaaS). This all-inclusive subscription-based business model removes financial hurdles and relieves clients of the hassles of maintenance, ownership and upfront investments. The pay as you go model covers maintenance, optimization, and service efforts as clients pay only for the light they use. The business model is geared at making LED lighting a much more affordable option by breaking the costs down into smaller parts over time. However the applicability of LaaS within the Indian context requires better legal strategies and policies in terms of insurance and security of the investments made by the lighting manufacturers.
Green economy certainly seems to become a especially with respect to the Indian lighting industry. However awareness about the green economy through educational initiatives is still required amongst key decision makers as well as the masses. This awareness drive is a long-term process requiring all stakeholders including the government to equally shoulder the responsibility.
Dr. Amardeep M. Dugar is a trained architect and a Ph.D. in architectural lighting from the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, who founded Lighting Research & Design as an advocacy towards design, education and research in lighting. He has over 18 years of experience in the field of sustainable lighting.