Grad students work with distribution center to lower electric bill

December 20, 2012 under CANR News

UD Grad students help D&S lower lighting billUniversity of Delaware graduate students Monali Phukan and Qiang Li worked this semester at a warehouse owned by D&S Warehousing Inc., a full service distribution center in the Newark area, in an effort to solve a logistical problem for the company.

After discussing options with Stephen Dawson, president of D&S, the two decided to look at the lighting system in one of the warehouses with a goal of creating a model to show how the company could lower that building’s monthly electric bill while at the same time increasing luminosity.

The project was part of a class taught by Kent Messer, associate professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics.

Phukan explained how she and Li, who are both master’s degree students in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, went about the project. “First we found out the current layout of the lights. That told us the type of lights used and how they were placed,” said Phukan, explaining that they turned off all the lights in the warehouse to gauge the brightness discrepancies between two different types of lights used there — T12 and T5 fluorescent lights.

“T12 uses 200 watts and T5 uses 216 watts. It might look like T12 is better than T5. However, the brightness experiment told us that T5 is twice as bright as a T12, which meant, we could provide 2.2 footcandles of light — as recommended by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) — using fewer T5s,” said Phukan.

Under the current setup, the warehouse’s electric bill is roughly $4,000 a month, about 30 percent of which is used up on lighting. Using the numbers crunched by Phukan and Li, the warehouse’s lighting bill would be reduced to $562 a month, a savings of nearly $800.

The annual savings in one 175,000-square-foot building is $9,600 per year.

In addition to lowering the monthly bill, utilizing the lights in this manner would also improve the lighting in the warehouse, making it easier for workers to see and to operate their equipment.

Dawson said that he had total faith in the numbers presented to him by the students because, unlike someone trying to sell him a product, the only motive the students had was to get a good grade. “The benefit of having UD students come out is it’s totally unbiased,” said Dawson. “There’s no agenda for these students other than doing well in school and understanding what they’re doing.”

He also noted that he was thrilled to see UD students engaged in the Newark community, taking the lessons they learned in the classroom and applying them to real world situations. “I think that this is a model of what should be done at the University. Getting people out into the environment, letting them do something that is real and concrete,” said Dawson. “This is something that’s tangible, that’s actually going to happen. This is not just theory; the work that they did was real work and it’s going to have real value.”

Steve Dawson with the studentsDawson stressed that the project centered on a real business issue that will result in real dollar savings.

While he raved about how the students’ research was going to help his company save on its monthly electric bill, Dawson was quick to point out that the study would have an equal impact in another vital area: employee safety.

“The benefits that aren’t showing up in here is that it’s going to increase safety and it’s going to reduce damage, and those are big concerns in warehousing and distribution,” said Dawson.

This isn’t the first time a student from Messer’s class has taken the knowledge learned in the classroom and applied it to the local community. In 2011, Priyanka Jain, helped the city of Newark optimize its trash collection routes.

Messer said that it is ultimately up to his students to decide what they are going to do with their final project but that he is always thrilled when they go out and help the local community. “In my classes, I encourage my students to extend their academic knowledge to address real world challenges,” he said.  Monali and Charlie’s work is an excellent example of situations that are beneficial for all involved.”

He added, “This example demonstrates the promise of UD and local business working together to both enhance the educational experience and improve the local economy. Not only does the proposed solution save D&S money, but the solution also is environmentally friendly as it will reduce its electricity consumption and help improve worker safety. It has been gratifying to see the excitement of the students be matched by the enthusiasm of D&S.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.