Thermal (heat) management is critical to the longevity and continued high-level of performance for a message center. Manufacturers tend to deal with thermal management in a variety of ways:
- Heat sinks (metal spread out and “finned” to allow for heat to draw away from the LED and let passive/active airflow over the fins dissipate heat buildup
- MCPCB (Metal Core Printed Circuit Board) – a rare option due to increased expense
- Separation – a popular method, LEDs are separated from the circuit board using longer “legs” which allows for air flow to draw heat from the LED through the extended legs, unfortunately proper placement/setting of LEDs is difficult and can result in bad contacts which leave “dead pixels” on a sign.
All the above methods serve to draw heat away from the LED source thus keeping the LED relatively cool and ensuring the highest performance and longest life possible. With this in mind, here are LED killers to watch for on an LED module (also known as a driver/board):
1. ANY type of heavy/dark silicone coating on the back of an LED PCB (Printed Circuit Board: Silicone coatings have the benefit of reducing exposure to condensation which can oxidize metals, but it’s better to use a light conformal PCB coating. Heavy silicone coatings trap heat and don’t leave any place for the heat to be drawn away. Be wary of modules with “heat sinks” as the heat sinks often don’t have trace leads (metal pathways from the LED to the heat sink) and thus do not work to reduce heat on the overall module.
2. LEDs which have no louvered (shaded) protection: the louvers on a face plate for an LED module act like an umbrella at the beach. They serve a dual purpose of allowing LEDs to shine their brightest in daylight conditions while also giving them some protection from direct overhead sun exposure. If you see a face plate with exposed silicone, be especially wary. The silicone acts as a sealant to protect the LED module face from weather elements, but an exposed silicone coating is prone to UV (Ultra Violet) solar radiation which will crack the sealant and cause eventual exposure to the elements which will kill the module over time.
3. LED modules which are “fully enclosed” from the rear: Picture a medieval knight in full armor standing in the summer sun, that knight is likely more than a little warm. While the rear seal plating looks great on an LED module and it sounds good to have a “waterproof” LED module, the plating doesn’t ultimately protect the LED, it harms the LEDs in a module because heat has no source to vent off to. If the manufacturer is using a rear-face module, have them show you a cutaway or internal view to see how they’re drawing heat to the back plate. If they aren’t drawing heat from the LEDs to the back plate, they’re slowly killing your sign.
Ask the manufacturer how they protect your investment. How do they deal with heat in the message center? If they do any of the three “killers,” be VERY wary of investing your name, brand and reputation with them…
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