Thursday, December 20, 2012

Simple LED Sign Repair

“Anything that can possibly go wrong, does, usually at the worst possible time.”

-         Murphy’s Law

Rocket scientists at NASA believe this as gospel while others dismiss it as extraneous folklore.  But what if it is true? It sure seems like events conspire to ensure that “no good deed goes unpunished!”

Combine the hyped-up and misconstrued prediction by the Mayans regarding the end of the world this month with Murphy’s Law and imagine this scenario:

Your toy store, “Santa’s Toy Wonderland”, is running the biggest sale of the year this Friday, December 21st, 2012 and last night your team unloaded a tractor-trailer full of hot toys that every parent in town is desperately searching for. You have toys ranging from battery-powered fire engines that kids can race up and down the sidewalk on to the latest Wii console.  Santa himself would be impressed!

Your graphic designers just uploaded the new animation for your two-sided, full-color, 10’ x 6’, LED sign. Last night you tested the content, and it “popped!” It looked great and now, right now, you just arrived in the parking lot at 5AM on Friday morning and there is no image on the LED sign.

What do you do? What can you do? Can you do anything? Well, if you’re the owner of the LED display you can call the owner of the sign company who sold you the LED sign and wake him up at 5AM and tell him you are declaring an “LED Emergency”- perhaps the first ever in the LED sign industry.

Here are a few simple things that the sign company owner knows to make his problem solving easier:

  • The controlling software and hardware engineering is pretty impressive but the actual problem troubleshooting is fairly straightforward.

  • Almost all problems are either: A/C power source, computer on/off, cables, power supplies, or controller cards (of some type depending on brand and model).

  • LED signs are a matrix of lamps that comprise modules, a matrix of modules that comprise cabinets and a matrix of cabinets that make up the complete LED sign.

Knowing this, do not panic, even if you are the rookie LED sign repair technician- stay calm!

Is the entire LED sign off? Quality LED signs incorporate a controlling computer that must stay on constantly to “talk” to the LED sign. Is it on? Perhaps an evil elf in your shipping department turned your LED sign off last night, to give you a heart attack at this very moment! Check the main power switch. If it’s off, turn it on and see if the LED sign comes back on. Also, make sure the sign itself has not tripped a circuit breaker (or multiple circuit breakers depending on how it is wired). If one side is off and one side is on, it’s possible that an individual circuit breaker may control each side of the LED sign and only one breaker has tripped.

Does one side of the LED display appear “on” and the other side “off” with no condition described thus far present? Could be that a data controller (one unique data controller per side) is bad, or the cable sending data from the card is bad.

Do you have only a block of multiple LED modules out on one side? If so, a power supply which feeds a group of these LED modules may have failed.

Or, do you have just a row of LED modules that are off or that share a common lighting problem? If so you may have a bad LED module at the first feed point for that row. An IC chip could be bad on that first LED module.

Some troubleshooting strategies that your licensed LED sign technician will employ to narrow the problem search down include checking cables and connections, swapping LED modules and replacing damaged components. They will be careful and safe, and will always use their safety harness when working high.

But as a toy store owner, what can you do? If you are not a skilled technician getting involved in the actual repair can be costly and dangerous. Do what you can without getting hurt or making it worse:

·         Check your content scheduler. Has your ad expired? Perhaps it was scheduled to run just one day. If your scheduler doesn’t show current ads, expired ads, and ads currently playing you are missing out on a great feature! 

·         As previously stated, check for physical power interruptions to the LED display and also ensure that the software has not dimmed your display to zero nits. The LED display can be on but dimmed down to zero brightness.

·         Make that call to the installing sign company. During peak business times every hour that LED display is down is lost sales revenue. Call them right now.

Quality LED signs have surge suppression engineered into the product. If not, surge suppression should be added to the building’s electrical system. What this does is to “bleed off:” excessive voltage and current. Usually the culprit that damages sensitive electronics is over-current. When the power goes off and then comes back on, the voltage is low, and because Ohm’s law insists, the current is high. High current can damage electronics if a surge suppressor is not incorporated into the installation.

With LED signs, as with all electronics, lightning can be devastating. This is why every sign must be grounded to an earth ground (copper stake driven 6 feet into the ground). This may cause the lightning to follow the path of least resistance to the earth. Maybe this saves the LED display, maybe it does not.

Every LED display needs to be covered under the general liability insurance policy of the business to avoid catastrophic scenarios like fire and lightning.

Hopefully you, working with your local sign company and a supportive US manufacturer can get the LED sign back up and running to cause a stampede through your front door by noon! Not all sign companies are alike and not all signs are alike. Some seem to demand constant repair attention, while others run for years without service issues. Do your homework before buying and select wisely to make your purchase an “investment” rather than a “basket on the top of a pole” that you throw dollars into.

Remember that Murphy’s Law is a myth and the Mayan’s were speaking of the old calendar running out of pages. I hope.

Merry Christmas!

- Mike Prongue (with technical assistance from James Anderson)

**All posts, thoughts and writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically stated.

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