Kondex CorporationThis is the second in a series of member company success story profiles AEM will feature throughout 2021. 

When it comes time to invest in something new or cutting-edge, the best course of action is often to start small and be able to convince yourself – and others – of a big payoff in the long run.

For AEM member company Kondex Corporation, the decision to upgrade all existing high-output fluorescent light fixtures at the company’s Lomira, Wisconsin-based plant and warehouse to LED fixtures did not come lightly. Now, however, after years of research, testing and a phased approach to investment and implementation, the manufacturer of cutting and wear-resistant components is experiencing incredible cost savings and consuming significantly less power to light its facility.

“We were able to get buy-in from everyone and were able to prove our recommendation to invest in LED fixtures would provide the results we expected,” said Kondex’s Manager of Manufacturing Engineering Jim Bernhardt. “We started slow, took our time with it, were convinced our efforts would pay off, and then we just went ahead and executed the plan over several years – and it has really paid off.”

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Early Work Yields Mixed Results

It was no secret that fluorescent light fixtures are often “a maintenance nightmare,” as Bernhardt described. And, since Kondex’s plant and warehouse contain more than 500 light fixtures, it quickly became clear to company officials that a potential investment in LED lighting would – at the very least – pay dividends from a maintenance reduction standpoint.

“We found ourselves constantly replacing fluorescent lights,” he said. “And since 2016, we haven’t had to replace a single LED fixture. There’s been basically zero maintenance since we made the switch.”

According to Bernhardt, Kondex officials first began looking into LED technology as a means to light its facility almost a decade ago, but their initial efforts yielded mixed results.

“Early on, when I first started investigating it, I wanted to ensure that the glossy brochures received from LED manufacturers matched actual fixture output,” said Bernhardt. “Because everything sounded great, and we were committed to trying to reduce our energy costs.”

Bernhardt then participated in a couple of seminars to help him better understand what he should be looking for when evaluating LED fixtures. The company eventually brought in light fixtures from a few different manufacturers to test. Bernhardt placed an amp meter on each of the fixtures, ran tests for a couple of weeks, and then reviewed the data. He found:

  • The information related to the performance and potential cost savings of the LED fixtures was either overstated, incorrect or both.
  • The LED fixtures being tested were actually consuming a comparable amount of power to that of their fluorescent counterparts.


 “We found ourselves constantly replacing fluorescent lights,” he said. “And since 2016, we haven’t had to replace a single LED fixture. There’s been basically zero maintenance since we made the switch.” -- Kondex Corporation Manager of Manufacturing Engineering Jim Bernhardt

Finding Success

A few years later, in 2016, Bernhardt and Kondex circled back on LED technology and decided to bring in another fixture to test. Upon finding energy consumption claims were accurate, the company decided to proceed with a test installation in one of its warehouses.

By that time, Bernhardt noted, the cost of LED fixtures had really plummeted. In addition, Kondex officials liked what they saw from the data they collected in terms of energy and cost savings. The company then moved forward with an installation of 68 fixtures in a warehouse area where there wasn’t a continuous flow of traffic.

“With motion sensors, it provided a significant reduction of energy and was less than a two-year payback,” said Bernhardt. “Actually, about a year, because the lighting is off most of the time, thanks in large part to daylight harvesting from floor-to-ceiling windows.”

The success of the project emboldened Kondex officials, who found another LED fixture manufacturer that offered an even better price point and greater performance than the company received with the initial 68. The company promptly bought 73 and installed them in the plant.

“And of course, in those areas, we decided not to use motion detection,” said Bernhardt. “So, when we moved into the plant, the return on investment was still very good. Instead of being 1.1 years, it was around two years, which is arguably a very aggressive return on investment.”

Lastly, the company placed orders for 215 and 55 additional fixtures, with the goal of illuminating 180,000 square feet of plant and warehouse space.

“We’re about 99.9% LED light fixtures here at Kondex,” said Bernhardt, noting Kondex also installed LED lights in its facility sign, office areas, conference rooms and parking lot.”

Future Efforts and Lessons Learned

KondexDespite the success of the company’s various projects related to LED lighting, Kondex isn’t resting on its laurels. The company is planning to replace some of its older equipment with more energy-efficient options and has investigated ways in which it could improve its power factor to more effectively use the electricity it consumes.

All in all, Bernhardt said he’s learned a lot of lessons from his efforts in upgrading the company’s light fixtures. Most notably, he said, there is always a lot of work to be done when it comes to evaluating potential investments related to energy efficiency. And, because there can be skepticism from project stakeholders, it’s critical for organizations to be willing to start small and be able to visually demonstrate and document their savings.

“Measure what you start with, and start small before scaling up from there,” he continued. “But you have to get buy-in from everyone and ensure that what you’re recommending actually performs the way you expect it will. If you try and do too much, chances are it’ll be very disruptive.”

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