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Feature

Sean Schuller, Dave Crane, and Ruthann Manlet show off new T8 fluorescent tube bulbs in 235 Nicholson Hall.

Sean Schuller, Dave Crane, and Ruthann Manlet show off the 30-watt T8 light bulbs in 235 Nicholson Hall, one of the classrooms to benefit from group relamping. The effect can be powerful. "Sometimes people think we painted the room," Schuller says.

Light on the subject

Changing bulbs in batches saves the U thousands

by Gayla Marty

Brief, Aug. 29, 2007

How many U employees does it take to change 20,000 light bulbs? A lot fewer than it used to. The Twin Cities campus will save more than $1.5 million over the next five years by changing light bulbs building by building instead of bulb by bulb, standardizing the type of bulb, and using bulbs that save more energy.

Everybody's happier. Faculty will almost never have to call Facilities Management because of a flickering or burned out bulb. Students will see presentations and take notes under high quality, even lighting.

Facilities Management crews can work more efficiently. They'll rarely have to break away from other work to rush off and change a single bulb. When they do change bulbs, they'll be sure to have the expertise and equipment on hand because they'll work in small teams.

"Group relamping is a win-win for everyone," says Ruthann Manlet, who supervises and coordinates Facilities Management (FM) crews. "Students, faculty, and staff benefit from higher quality lighting, and the University saves money."

Perhaps nobody's happier than Manlet, Dave Crane, and Sean Schuller. They're the three U employees who put their heads together and made the change happen.

Manlet knows that reacting to lighting issues disrupts FM's scheduled work and is labor intensive. Lighting issues continue to be the department's most frequently requested service in areas not yet relamped.

Crane, who works in the Office of Classroom Management, wants classrooms that support top-notch teaching and learning. He knows that bad lighting can be distracting, lower student and staff productivity, and give a bad impression. Proper lighting in classrooms enhances current and prospective students' impressions about their courses and the U.

"Three staff members with very different roles and responsibilities found a better way to change a light bulb and went the extra mile to see it tested and implemented," says President Bruininks. "Our staff, faculty, and students should always feel empowered and encouraged to explore new ideas and change things for the better."

Manlet and Crane remember first talking about "group relamping" in spring 2006. They knew that best practices were out there and that the U had made continuous improvement a top priority in every corner of its operations. They also knew the scale on the Twin Cities campus could mean significant savings of labor and energy.

So the partners decided to run a pilot project to test the viability. The pilot project involved 95 centrally scheduled classrooms in eight buildings on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis: Amundson, Appleby, Burton, Folwell, Ford, Lind, Peik, and Vincent--all on the east bank. Those classrooms seat nearly 4,000 students and contain 1,352 fluorescent lamp fixtures that hold 3,193 bulbs.

Relamping in the pilot project was completed between April and August 2006. All the old bulbs were recycled. And the pilot results were better than expected--for both lighting quality improvement and labor efficiency.

But Manlet and Crane didn't know just how significant the pilot results were. That's when Schuller entered the picture. He works in finance and accounting for University Services. With information gathered from Manlet, Crane, and lighting vendors, Schuller began to crunch the numbers. He was amazed by the totals.

A total of $46,000 was saved as the pilot expanded into all general-purpose classrooms. By July 1, about 10,000 bulbs had been placed in 240 classrooms that contain 16,000 student seats. On the strength of those results, group relamping is now expanding across the Twin Cities campus with projected cost savings to the U of about $500,000 per year.

Better bulbs plus labor savings

Moving from 32 to 30 watt bulbs alone meant a cost savings of 50 cents per bulb per year, a $112,000 savings when implemented campuswide. Added to that was the quality improvement by changing bulbs before they lose their efficiency.

"Just because a light is on doesn't mean it's generating the same amount of light as when it was installed," says Schuller. "A four-year-old bulb will use the same amount of electricity as a new bulb but generate considerably less light." Manufacturers can accurately predict the life of a bulb, including when luminosity begins to drop off sharply.

Then Schuller added estimated labor savings from changing bulbs in groups instead of one by one. The savings went well over $1 million in five years.

At the same time, Facilities Management's management and supervision time has been reduced. Maintenance planning, budgeting, and scheduling have improved. Teams finish ahead of schedule. One senior building and grounds worker told Manlet that the systematic process allowed workers greater efficiency, gaining the time to clean lamps and lenses thoroughly. Cleaning is a key to good lighting that often had to be sacrificed in the past. And FM staff experienced fewer lighting-related injuries.

From energy savings to quality of light

This isn't the first time the U has pursued cost and energy savings for lighting. The Twin Cities campus moved from T12 to T8 linear tube fluorescent lights in the early 1990s through a local partnership called UBEEP. But the focus has broadened.

Group relamping helps to promote the most comfortable and productive learning environments while simultaneously being more energy efficient.

Lamp flicker and inconsistent lighting can be distracting for faculty and students. Good lighting in classrooms promotes better learning through improved student mood, behavior, and concentration.

The overall color of light in any given room can have unexpected effects. Most classrooms used to have bulbs with a range of ages and assortment of hues, from bluish to yellow. Systematic relamping will help maintain visual comfort with consistent color, uniformity, and balanced brightness.

The team talked to different groups of users about the best lighting color. That led to the choice of 4100K lights--a well balanced white light between the cooler blue and hotter yellow. Criteria have been identified to improve decision-making about the choice of new lighting fixtures when buildings are built or renovated.

Group relamping not only brightens the whole room but gives it a uniform finish.

"There's really a 'wow' moment," says Crane. "It makes a difference."

"Sometimes people think we painted the room," Schuller adds.

Tip of the iceberg

A new phase of the project began July 1, when group relamping moved beyond classrooms into office buildings. Facilities Management began the process of collecting data about lighting needs and benefits for the spaces where thousands of staff and faculty work every day. Relamping in Mechanical Engineering will begin around Sept. 15.

"A great opportunity here is dialogue," says Crane. "For example, now we're looking at the lifespan of the ballasts that hold the bulbs. Group relamping is the just the tip of the continuous-improvement iceberg."

The trio's efforts have not gone unnoticed. The story has made its way into the State of the University address and presentations everywhere from Board of Regents meetings to new-faculty orientation.

"This is one example of what we mean by an exceptional organization: Three staff members with very different roles and responsibilities found a better way to change a light bulb and went the extra mile to see it tested and implemented," says President Bob Bruininks. "Our staff, faculty, and students should always feel empowered and encouraged to explore new ideas and change things for the better."


Read more about U of M continuous improvement projects in "Quality Fair generates big energy."