Meir Gur-Lavi, an Israeli-born American with a laconic sense of humor, affixes a hairnet to his head and leads his guests into a suburban Atlanta warehouse brimming with the fragrant aromas of fermented dough and caramelized sugar.
Gur-Lavi runs the 50,000-square-foot DC of The Engelman's Bakery, a wholesale baker of breads and rolls founded in Atlanta in 1983 by Sammy Engelman and his sister Miriam, who is also Gur-Lavi's wife. In 1997, the company relocated to the gritty suburb of Norcross, Ga., where the Engelmans and Gur-Lavi built the DC that today sits adjacent to its corporate offices.
Gur-Lavi oversees a beehive of floor activity that functions virtually 24-7. But his newest pride and joy—and what he considers one of the company's better investments—sits some 30 feet above, embedded in the ceiling.
In the early fall of 2011, Engelman's replaced the approximately 200 metal halide lighting fixtures in its warehouse with an advanced form of "induction" lighting called "Optieo." The lights were developed by Intelligent Energy Optimizers LLC (IEO), a Norcross firm founded in 2006 by Nadav Sivan, an Israeli-born mechanical engineer and inventor. Sivan is IEO's president, CEO, and majority investor.
The lights, which are also found in Engelman's temperature-controlled areas, cost the company about $100,000 for the project design and material installation. Yet it expects to recoup its entire investment by the end of the first quarter of 2013, according to Gur-Lavi.
Gur-Lavi extends his arm in the direction of a forklift driver who steers his vehicle away from a spot on the floor, at which time an energy-saving motion sensor built into the fixture automatically prompts the light above the driver to shut off.
The lighting upgrade "is one of the best things we've done," he said.
Such comments are music to the ears of Sivan, who has been inventing things for more than 30 years. In the case of Optieo, he has developed technology to advance the use of an established commodity, namely the induction light, already considered the most economical and environmentally friendly lighting available in the marketplace.
The result, he says, is an innovative lighting design that provides longer, more efficient, and maintenance-free illumination while emitting less heat and wattage.
IEO said the lights can run 100,000 hours without being changed, providing a facility that operates nearly round-the-clock with 12 years of useful life per bulb. By contrast, today's typical industrial light has a 20,000-hour bulb life, according to IEO.
IEO said on its website that a 24/7 DC operator using 100 400-watt metal halide lights in its facility can save $21,300 a year in lighting, material, and labor costs by switching to the Optieo system. This translates into an 80 percent savings over traditional metal halide lighting for a typical facility operating around-the-clock, according to the company.
Beyond the electricity cost-savings, the longer bulb life means less time and expense involved in stopping operations so a worker can mount a ladder to change, re-ballast, and re-lump a fixture, Sivan said.
The bulb runs at 85 degrees Fahrenheit—much cooler than the 138- to 380-degree temperatures of most industrial lighting, according to the IEO website.
In developing the Optieo lighting, Sivan used the basic principle of "magnetic induction," which is the process of using magnetic fields, rather than a spark, to ignite the bulb. He enhanced the quality of the bulbs by using amalgam—a solid-state mercury compound once commonplace in tooth cavity fillings—which, when the bulb is off, accumulates in a small vial attached to the tube, allowing for full regeneration.
Sivan then improved the bulb's internal components in order to create a more efficient illumination, reduce power consumption, and ensure a totally "green" disposal process. He also enhanced the ballasts and simplified the electronics to assure the bulb's longer life span and modified the light's reflectors so the illumination shines directly on the floor and isn't wasted as "glare" inside the bulb. This extends the bulb's life by producing less wattage and creates a more aesthetically pleasing work environment, he said.
"We took the standard induction light and improved it," Sivan said in an interview in his Norcross office.
IEO assembles its products in Norcross and Tampa, Fla., and sells into five continents. In the United States, it gets more bang for its marketing buck in states like New York and California that have high electricity costs compared with other regions. These states also have more attractive tax benefits to encourage companies to invest in energy-efficient equipment and technology.
Currently, Sivan focuses more of his time on manufacturing facilities that operate around the clock or close to it. That's because manufacturers, unlike warehouse operators, are engaged in production and can ill afford to have downtime while workers scurry around to swap out light bulbs.
Sivan also acts as a consultant, performing a detailed analysis of a customer's site and suggesting ways to improve efficiency and sustainability before any physical work is done.
Though IEO is in its sixth year, Optieo didn't hit the market until 2009. Since then, IEO's growth has been rapid. The company's 2011 sales jumped to $2.5 million from $500,000 the year before. As for 2012, sales are on track to hit $5 million by year's end, Sivan projected.
With efficiency and sustainability essentially ruling today's supply chain buying habits and with government incentives providing an ample tailwind, Sivan can't suppress a small smile when he talks about the future for his type of industrial lighting.
"The market," he said, "is phenomenal."