Greg Epp

Building Better Manufacturers

how to imporove shop lighting

The tale of two computer stores

When I was growing up, there were two competing computer stores: Computer City and Future Shop. Placed across the street from one another, they would directly compete for each others business. Both businesses offered the same computer related products and had similar customer service. Their pricing was comparable (at least I think it was). However, I couldn’t last five minutes inside Computer City. The lighting was white industrial lighting, which provided great visibility for everything in the store but I always felt a huge compulsion to leave. I couldn’t explain it, I hated being in there. Future Shop by comparison had soft mellow lighting, much like a dimly lit coffee shop on a cold December night. Very much like the one I’m sitting in right now. Why did future shop draw me in? Why did Computer City go out of business so quickly? It has to do with how important lighting is to human beings.

Why you should consider your shops lighting needs

Dark shop before proper lighting
thanks to Pacific Energy Concepts for the image

The truth is lighting is very important and it’s something given little attention by manufacturing companies in North America. We are going to dive into the science of why later in the blog but for another example let’s revisit my time working for Rotomaster, a turbocharger building facility. I was tasked with improving the grinding department. Or as Nick and Graham (my boss’s) instructed, “Greg, just make it sweet.” To paint you a picture, this department was the eyesore of the company. Coolant leaked from the machines into other departments. Parts were stacked all over the place, quality was at an all-time low and people had started using it as a dumping ground for other crap. To top it all off those working in the girding department liked their little pig pen just fine and didn’t like me showing up with ideas of improvement.

To make a long story short, one thing I did was add bright day, lights to the department, hanging them low from chains over each machine. There was an instant boost in visibility. It was easy now to see and read the micrometers needed to measure each component. This not only improved the quality of the parts but also dramatically increased production of the night shift operator. But why?

Lighting and the human body

There have been a number of studies that show lighting is directly related to our melatonin levels. Melatonin is the chemical that triggers our need to sleep. As the sun sets, melatonin is released and we start to get tired. Concentration and motivation seriously lack as you work your way towards sleep. People working on night shift or working in buildings with no natural light are at a serious disadvantage. One study found that office lighting of 100 candles is only 10% of the light found in the shade of a tree.

After adding proper shop lighting.


By boosting the level of lighting, our operator was producing less melatonin while on shift and, for all intents and purposes, was finally fully awake a work. After that, he consistently outperformed all other shifts including dayshift. It took more than just lights to improve this department, but I strongly feel you will not get a better return on investments with good lighting when improving a workspace.

Lighting in moderation        

Just as improving the lighting so our night shift operator could now see the dials on his micrometer and was no longer getting a melatonin release, you can just as easily overdo it as with Computer City. A harsh florescent environment can cause headaches and feel too artificial for comfort. Finding a balance is key and using natural light as much as possible can help. Having large glass windows around the manufacturing area or skylights will have the best results on morale and productivity. In North America, we tend to manufacture in tilt-up buildings which do not provide many options for natural lighting. Avoid this if at all possible or make sure you sufficiently light the space. Your shop should not have a dark and dingy feel to it.   If it does, it’s time to light it up!

Written by Greg Epp

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