Thursday, February 7, 2013

Digital Signage Need To Know: How an LED Sign Manufacturer's Approach to Design and Engineering Can Affect Installations

-Scott Hofheins

Other Topics in this Series

It takes a team of people to design, engineer and produce almost any product. By utilizing  the strengths of many, companies have been able to create some pretty cool products. LED Signs are no different. To make a quality sign, you need good engineers, good designers, and good production personnel. The end result is a reflection of the people who make the product, how well they communicated, and their preferences for how a product should work. In the end, the dealers and end-users see the results first hand, good or bad.

This is the first, in a series of articles about how different approaches can affect specific aspects of an LED Sign. This post will focus on sign installation and how the manufacturers engineering, design, and production can mean the difference between a 3 day ordeal, or a quick 1/2 day installation.

A small oversight in the initial design of a product can mean huge headaches for an installer, or end-user. Poor documentation can waste time and money on the job site. Over engineering can increase installation and service costs. Inadequate quality controls mean down time on broken signs, and immediate installation issues.

Simplicity is king. The best designs are simple, effective, and take the long term operation of a sign into account. Signs have to be serviceable but still maintain an efficient production build and sealed cabinet design. Component locations should be documented and easy to access. Structural features like mounting angle, or brackets should be standardized to allow installers to be well prepared before the sign ships. Data and electrical entry points should be easy to reach, and clearly marked. Anything that can be pre-connected to the sign should be, allowing the installer to focus on what they do best, fabricating structures and physically installing the sign.

If Simplicity is King, then Balance is Queen. Drawing a good balance between design factors is difficult. Some do it well, and others do not. If you fall too far on one side, you could have a sign that is extremely easy to service, but is always broken because the cabinet design is flawed. Or a sign that easy easy to install in one location, but difficult in another due to random changes in structural design.

This is a key component of a successful installation. Not only in terms of the actual install, but the planning stages as well. There are obvious problems with the many overseas manufacturers having little to no documentation, usually translated poorly. But I would like to focus on the less obvious issues when you are supplied documentation.

Relevance is key when talking about documentation for sign installation. Installers need to focus on their job, installing the sign. Over zealous technical writers can work against this goal with large in-depth manuals that are impressive at first glance, but are seldom used at an installation site. Installers need to get relevant information as quickly as possible, without having to sift through pages of technical information and legal statements to get there. A good on-site installation manual should be visual, quick to navigate, and easy to read.

In addition to traditional manuals, the sign itself should be labeled and clearly marked to guide an installer through the process. Communications, electrical and accessories should be pre-connected when possible, and any access points clearly labeled.

Engineering Approach
It’s important to be aware of a manufacturer's engineering approach.  Under-engineered products will have problems, but over-engineering has its own issues. Balance and simplicity are major factors, just like in the design. Overly complicated signs can decrease installation options increasing time and cost for your installation.

A good engineering method allows for scalability and innovation, while minimizing points of failure in the system. Sometimes its easy for engineers to get carried away with a certain aspect of their design, and end up causing problems in other areas because they weren’t looking the big picture.

Production and Quality Control
Standardized production is important to make sure each sign arrives on-site with everything that the installer expected from the shop drawings and other pre-production material. Component locations are where they should be, documentation is there,  and accessory devices are setup correctly and ready to plug and play.

Good quality control is assumed to be in place with every manufacturer, unfortunately this is not the case. There are many who see it as an afterthought and do not put as much emphasis on it as they should. Poor quality control will turn your installer, into a troubleshooter as they diagnose and try to fix a brand new sign. Although good signs can have issues after installation, these will be simple fixes, usually caused by shipping or the installation itself.

If there were such thing as a perfect LED sign, it would be powered by oxygen, use anti-gravity (no installation required!), have an infinite resolution, and cost...nothing. Unfortunately that’s not going to happen, but good manufacturers will strive to make there LED signs as easy as possible to install and support. They will have a balanced approach to design and engineering while keeping their eyes on the big picture, and always remember that the sign must work in the real world, not just on paper.


I hope this post has been informative and helpful. As usual, I welcome ALL constructive comments. Please feel free to comment and add anything I’ve missed, or additional tips you may have regarding this topic. Please visit for many other resources, white papers, and of course: Great looking LED Signs!

**All posts/thoughts/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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