Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Digital Signage Need to Know: China Manufacturing Stumbles

- Mike Prongue

Markets are very efficient and work towards a goal of squeezing every nickel until it excretes six pennies.

I’m my own player in the international coffee market. I control vast sums of annual coffee purchases- one cup per day, times 365 days per year. When Star Bucks came along I was amused but refused to enter into long-term purchase arrangements. Oh sure, the quality was there, but the price was too high. I then sought-out the local convenience store and began a relationship at 33% the cost of Star Bucks for great coffee and a wide assortment of coffee services. But the price went up and now I buy coffee in bulk (2 lb can) and make it myself at a very low labor rate- free.

Five years ago when I entered the LED sign industry, the “Gold Rush” of opportunity was perceived as being China by many LED distributors. The good old USA will seek out what they think is the biggest “bang for the buck” as will any other country. As the Chinese Dragon matured however, conditions changed, as they always do, and these perceived efficiencies began to decline.

China was no longer El Dorado, the lost city of gold and many people were starting to look behind the proverbial curtain.

As our economic recovery slowly plods along here in the USA, perhaps at what some say is the “new normal” of 2% GDP increase, it is the rebound of the manufacturing sector that is helping to push these numbers. It has added nearly a half-million jobs since January 2010. A distinct slowdown off offshoring has occurred. For the electronics market, offshoring has slowed to a trickle.


Offshoring is broadly defined as substituting foreign factors of production for domestic goods and services then importing them. Things are produced where their opportunity costs are lower.

·        With China’s economy growing year on year, the ensuing cost of labor is increasing as it has done in the economy of every evolving country. At the turn of the century, 13 years ago, the wage rate of China was 25% that of the USA. With wage inflation at approximately 12.8% in China, it does not take many years to close that gap! This means that the difference in salaries, compared to our domestic talent, is shrinking. This drives up the cost of an LED sign made in China.

·        Labor productivity is tied closely to the labor rate. Last year when I attended LED China in Guangzhou, I saw this first hand. Upon visiting a Chinese LED manufacturing facility I was appalled to see so many people doing what would be a single job in the USA. And, at least anecdotally it seemed that while their labor rate was lower, it took a lot more of them to do the job. So just how much of a true value exists here versus trying to keep everyone employed?

·        Offshoring has become a “dirty word” as the US economy struggles. Even if the maximum efficiencies existed to deliver a superior product as a lower price, the stigma associated with offshoring translates into “lost American jobs” and “Anti-America”. Conversely, trying to bring jobs back to America is regarded as patriotic and “the right thing to do”. America lost over 1,000,000 jobs that can be attributed to the direct-effect of offshoring to low-cost China.

·        The Chinese currency, the RMB, has risen 40% in real terms against the US dollar since 2005. There are many ways to look at this and much controversy over the impact. Safe to say, simply said, price pressure is being felt on all goods purchased from China. How much exactly is up for argument- depending on your economics training and interest level. What it does for US manufacturers is make their LED signs more price competitive as the price of Chinese goods rise.

·        Producing a product thousands of miles away from the end-user creates a vast array of other costs. Transportation costs rise as the freight rates rise with the recovery of the global shipping industry. Fuel costs fluctuate with the price of oil. There is a cost associated with the language barrier and the time zone differential. Political costs of unforeseen events associated with the “Wild Wild West” reality of China. Shipping delays and dangers on the open sea; quality issues of Chinese LED signs; supporting documentation for end-users;  authentic NRTL registration related to NEC conformance; potential tariff increases; cost of shipping parts (money and time), are all detriments to the continued growth of the Chinese LED sign business.

The USA on-shoring manufacturing phenom is not a myth. Jobs are coming back to the USA, perhaps not in an avalanche but at a steady pace. Changing global conditions are beginning to erode the Chinese advantages that it has enjoyed for at least a decade now.

I think that the USA would benefit from having its factory workers employed right here at home, making a high-quality LED sign product that end-users and business customers can utilize to promote their business. They say that “nothing lasts forever” and in the case of the rise of China manufacturing this proverb can’t come true fast enough!

These comments belong to me, Mike Prongue, and do not reflect the views, opinions, hopes or dreams of anyone else, anywhere else and this includes Vantage LED. I appreciate your constructive opinion which may be sent to me at michael@vantageled.com. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Digital Signage Need to Know: System monitoring obstacles and options

-Deacon Wardlow
My first car was a 1981 Ford Escort. The car was far from new and I learned about auto maintenance the hard way (one car component and paycheck at a time). The saving grace was the warning light on the dash. When I saw something light up, it was time for another repair. For the longest time, I wished my DS (Digital Signage) systems had a similar simple warning/alert on the dash BEFORE something happened...

Diagnostics on DS solutions have gotten better over the years. Third party software has helped a lot with this. Many companies build diagnostics into their systems where the system will alert a client if something isn't playing and make sure there's a place-holder bit of content in the interim. Some systems even go so far as to report what the problem is and what's failed. Here are a few techniques people use for System monitoring:

Eyes on the Prize:
Many systems use a digital camera which is often on a network. This requires someone to physically be checking-in on the system periodically. So long as the camera and network connection are functioning, this is a fairly reliable way to check-in on systems, but they require someone to take a look. The person viewing the system may not be aware of what content is running and a system may be stuck on a single piece/frame of content when it's supposed to be running multiple frames/sequences. The system is only as good as the operator.

Third Party Applications:
On the IT (Information Technology End) there are loads of software to monitor networks and various systems running on the network itself (my favorite software is Nagios for this). On the localized-end of things (for single computers or simple networks) people have relied on LogMeIn, TeamViewer, AMMY Admin and other systems which allow you to put a host monitor on a computer/player which will tell you if the player is active or inactive and often has features which allow you to power-cycle a system remotely or remote-in to the system to find out what's going on. While this is great for general monitoring, these primarily only notify you when something has occured, they're not very pro-active and don't typically have options to dig deeper into secondary components for reporting (i.e. telling you if the display itself is on/off and if the network is mapped/running). Again, the system here is only as good as the operator as it requires someone to check the list of active players/systems and verify things are working as they should. Just because the player is running, doesn't mean the display is up and working...

Hardware/firmware Diagnostics:
These are reportables built into the system itself. Often this is available on the higher-end DS systems though many component manufacturers are stepping up and creating reportables for their systems which kick back to a main server or source to tell if everything is okay or not. This is the most ideal solution as these systems not only report on active status, but often keep a running log of performance so a person can get history on an issue; has power gone out repeatedly at a particular location? Is the issue with a single component periodically failing or several components? When did the system go down and how long has it been inactive? Newer systems are also giving pro-active reports which show when a critical component (i.e. an AC-to-DC converter/power supply is drawing too much or pushing too little power to the system which indicates the component requires a check or replacement BEFORE failure.

When you're checking with manufacturers of systems, see what they've put into the dash for a warning system. The dash warning system on my old car saved me from a lot of long walks to a garage or from being stranded in the badlands (before the days of cell phones). Similarly, a solid reporting/monitoring system can save end-users and your company A LOT of headaches and often avoid problems before they arise. Make sure the manufacturer you're dealing with has some sort of system monitoring to light the way when problems arise (or before they happen) so you're not left in the dark.

*I invite you to comment here and/or email me directly with requests at deacon@vantageled.com. Vantage LED has white paper resources and more educational material on the website (http://www.vantageled.com), please check it out when you have a moment. Note 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 noted.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

LED Signage Sales: Better is Better, Always!

- Mike Prongue

Sometimes my craziest comments for this blog congeal from routine day-to-day challenges and observations. Regardless, when the subject turns to “better product” and “better service” and the drum is banged to the same old beat, it's easy for the message to becomes a “Wahh Wahh Wahh” of adult-speak from the old Charlie Brown cartoon.

That’s because everyone already knows  that “better is better”. It doesn’t take a NASA rocket scientist to see that a better warranty is clearly… “better”. But with “better” comes a bigger price and that is the 600 pound gorilla sitting in your customers showroom. Upon reflection, they are trying to beat the old adage of “pay me now, or pay me later” by going cheap. 

Many want to dismiss this old saying and believe that they can somehow “beat the system” and pay less and magically “get more” (magical thinking).

Let me give you the real-world mistake I made last week by “going cheap”.

“Honey,” my wife cried out,” The hot water seems kinda cool! Is it on?”

To me, this is one of the most dreaded phrases I can hear other than what my neighbor recently heard from his wife, “what does the oil light mean on the dash. Do you have to change the oil now?”

“Okay Dear,” I cried (literally) back to my wife, “It’s probably a heating element. I’ll go to Lowes tomorrow and get one. And since I’m taking it apart, I’ll replace both the lower and the upper heating elements!”

I could feel her sense of relief as I complied.  Thus began the odyssey of the hot water heater repair. It was an epic tale that included elves, and middle-earth dwellers and even a dwarf or two as I loaded up the mule cart and rolled off to the local home improvement store. 

My trip to Lowes netted two heating elements and a large metal “hex tool” to remove the old heater elements. The hex tool was hanging next to the heating elements in the plumbing department and I was happy to see it. It had a large 1.5” diameter and had a very deep socket to fit over the head of the heating element to unscrew it. I was unhappy that a simple stamped tool that cost 29 cents to make somewhere in Shenzhen, sold for $7.99. But it was an unusual tool and I felt it would suffice for my dirty job.

I don’t know about you, but nothing is easy for me.

The lower element was rusted tight and the Chinese-made hex socket was so imprecisely manufactured it nearly stripped the edges off the matching hex head of the heater element. I had managed to force the top heating element out with only a dislocated shoulder but the bottom element would not budge! Here is everything I tried over the next 2 hours:

  1. Drilled-out the hole on the hex socket where a screwdriver was inserted for leverage- then tried many larger screwdrivers and a couple steel rods that I had.
  2. Tried a plumber wrench on the hex socket.
  3. Cussed then prayed.
  4. Bloodied my knuckles.
  5. Got admonished for some expletive I uttered. Then I repeated 1-4 several more times.

The over-priced “piece of junk” hex socket wasted two hours, three band aids, a repeat trip to Lowes and a lot of knuckle skin and about a gallon or so of blood. Also the original $7.99 was wasted because the tool was worthless at any price.

I went back to Lowes, bought a ½” drive Kobalt breaker bar and a Kobalt deep 1.5” socket with a ½ inch drive- $35 and worth every darn nickel of it! So despite paying five times what I paid for the original hex socket, it was the best spent money of the week. I had thought I could get a “free lunch” earlier with the cheap tool.

Isn’t this like the business that buys a cheap LED sign, only to require at least one service call per month? Then after the indignity of someone paying thousands of dollars for service calls (either the customer or the sign company "eating" the charge) over the course of a year, the white coloration becomes pink and soon the brightness dims to “night only” viewing?

Those darn hex socket-like cheap LED signs are out there. They are heavily promoted by companies that I will not name. They are not worth the knuckle-busting and the return trip at any price.

 “Better” is definitely “better”. You must educate your customer why there is a difference and help many of them overcome their magical thinking that they'll be the lucky one percenter that buys a cheap LED display that actually works long-term. This is an industry-credibility issue in my opinion!

The hot water heater is fixed. My wife is happy. My knuckles are healing.  I paid my Visa charge. I have more quality tools in my tool box and I took the hex socket back to Lowes to get my $7.99 back.

Life is good.

These comments belong to me, Mike Prongue, and do not reflect the views, opinions, hopes or dreams of anyone else, anywhere else and this includes Vantage LED. I appreciate your constructive opinion which may be sent to me at michael@vantageled.com.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Digital Signage "Need to Know": Time and Temperature on LED Signs...to Be or Not to Be.

- Scott Hofheins

Showing the time and temperature on signs has been around since Luke Williams and his brother Chuck invented and installed the first “Time and Temperature Sign” at the Seattle First National Bank in the early 50’s. This was the beginning of the classic integration of time and temperature into bank signage in the United States. You can still see banks with these single purpose units to this day, always steady and never veering from their simple message.

Technology has increased exponentially since that time, and we now have full color, multipurpose LED displays capable of so much more. So why do people continue to use these signs to display time and temperature? Is there any real benefit these days?

Target Audience

It’s all about the target audience. Even in this world of weather apps and smart phones, there are still some benefit to displaying time and temperature, but only in the right market and application. Time and Temperature signs are still manufactured and can still be a nice addition to a traditional sign package, giving a little boost to the look of a project. But displaying time and temperature on a full fledged LED sign should only be done when there is a clear and direct benefit to your organization. Otherwise, it’s just wasted advertising space.

In the past, having a time and temperature unit was like having a megaphone saying “look at me, here is the time, temperature and a place to spend your money too!”. This evolved into single color LED signs with scrolling text, and then to multi-colored signs with text and simple graphics. This kind of default attention for your organization just for having an LED sign was significant. The content on the sign was equal to, if not secondary to the mere physical presence of the Time/Temp or LED display.

Content is King

However, as technology improves and the public is more exposed to the latest and greatest tech, the focus has shifted dramatically to the content of an LED sign. People expect an LED sign to give them immediate, dynamic information, like their smartphone or tablet. The “wow” doesn’t just come from an LED sign anymore, it comes from the actual media on the display.

You have to provide clear, concise and readable messages that a potential patron can absorb quickly and effectively. But this doesn’t mean that simple, one or two color text only messages are the way to go. The consumer wants it all! The message has to look colorful, crisp, dynamic, and provide the necessary information in one 6-8 second burst of greatness. The balance between information and beauty is what separates the good, from the great.
Time and Temperature?

That brings me back to Time and Temperature. It’s really about making sure you’re not using this feature just because it’s there. There are situations and markets where displaying time and temperature is very beneficial, like:

Schools and Churches
They both have a vested interest in getting people places on-time, but also have a need to advertise events and other information. Balance is important.

Manufacturing and Industrial
These applications appreciate “data” and the target group can benefit from this information.

Rural Areas and Town Centers
Many people in these areas like the convenience of getting the time and temp on there way to work or the market each day and take comfort in tradition.

Event and Directional Signage
Outdoor events and gatherings inherently have an increased value for the time and current temperature.

The Real Question

Unless you have a very clear target audience that will appreciate the time and temperature, you are better off using the space for content that advertises your organization or events directly. This is often overlooked because of our human tendency for traditional thought, and sometimes forget to take a second look and say, “does this really make sense?” That is the real question. Remember, you have a limited amount of time to get your information to the public; use it wisely.


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 www.vantageled.com 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.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Digital Signage "Need to Know": Parts and Labor doesn't always equal warranted repairs...

-Deacon Wardlow
In the world of digital signage (DS), we need to use a lot of tools. Sometimes it's a resource for sales or perhaps the one tool you need is a simple explanation on how a complex solution will fit the need. The biggest tool we (manufacturers, resellers, integrators, and end-users) really rely on is the guarantee. The promise, verbal or (ideally) written, which states whatever goes wrong, someone will come along to ensure it's made right.

Technology makes people somewhat uneasy. When it's working properly, we're pleased and don't think about all the little +/- particles zipping around circuitry to make it work the way it's supposed to. When something goes wrong, it's rarely a simple fix. I recall seeing an owner's manual to an old Model T Ford my grandfather had on the ranch. in 10 pages the manual showed how any person could fix, repair and/or replace any part in the automobile using a small set of tools included with the car. Simple. These days, I can't even begin to guess where to start with some modern car repairs as a lot of it isn't a moving part, but rather the computer or some other piece of technology which nearly requires an engineering degree to really understand. Warranties are getting to be somewhat tricky these days as well...

Warranties shouldn't be complex. At their heart, they're simple. Something's broken? We'll fix it. Here's a basic breakdown of some warranty terms to watch for:

There's a big word which is buried deep in most warranty statements. Make sure to find out what the limitation is. With LED Signs, this often means the 5 year parts warranty DOES NOT cover the radio or other third-party components which the manufacturer sold you as someone else made it.

Parts and Labor:
This could easily be misconstrued (and has been repeatedly) as meaning parts and on-site service. Parts and labor simply mean the manufacturer will replace the part or repair it (in the factory). Depending on availability of parts, this could mean your DS solution could be down/out for a lot longer than a few hours or days... Make sure the manufacturer you're dealing with has depot parts (parts available in their factory) to send out so the end-user can be up/running as quickly as possible.

On-Site Service Warranty:
It's great when these are available. Find out if the warranty is underwritten or not (a warranty is no good if the company who sold it to you goes out of business). What protections are in place to ensure the warranty will be covered for the lifetime of the agreement and what remuneration is available (do you have to use the manufacturer's certified repair people or can you/your company be listed as the main service company)? Service is a cornerstone for relationships with the DS end-user and you don't want to lose out on an opportunity to work with the client, especially when something is going wrong and they need someone to come in and make it right ASAP.

Quick Questions to dig deeper:

1. What parts and repairs are covered by the warranty?
2. Are any expenses excluded from coverage?
3. Is the warranty just a promise or is it backed by a bond or insurance?
4. How long does the warranty last?
5. What has to be done to get a repair completed? (Check to see if the process is simple and straightforward or convoluted with a lot of hoops to jump through.)
6. Are there conditions or limitations on the warranty?
*Take a look at Scott Hofheins Blog on Warranties as well!

*For sign companies or resellers/integrators who do service, check to see how the remuneration is handled. Do they have a flat national rate or is the rate determined by location?

So much work is done on the front-end to turn opportunities into sales, make sure the back-end is covered or that great referral could turn into a nightmare...

*I invite you to comment here and/or email me directly with requests at deacon@vantageled.com. Vantage LED has white paper resources and more educational material on the website (http://www.vantageled.com), please check it out when you have a moment. Note 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 noted.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Digital Signage “Need To Know”: Exponential Growth for the LED Sign Industry?

“The basic goal-reaching principle is to understand that you go as far as you can see, and when you get there you will be able to see farther.” Zig Ziglar

There are so many quotes on being successful that an entire family of blogs could be written. The one I like the most is paraphrased “The hardest thing about being successful is continuing to be successful.”

Few people would question the impact that LED sign technology has made upon on-premise, and off-premise advertising. Further, timely information sharing by government agencies, transportation concerns and manufacturing (to name just a few) is facilitated by the LED sign. 

Business has been good, growth has been positive, technology has moved on and once tightly-wound, anti-LED sign communities are realizing that “there is nothing to fear, except fear itself,” as rules are relaxed allowing LED signs to be installed.

But where are we? No one knows for sure, but some think that the LED sign industry is ready for exponential growth. Could be, but to understand this phenom, we must know what exponential growth is.

Wikipedia describes exponential growth as “Exponential growth occurs when the growth rate of the value of a mathematical function is proportional to the function's current value.”

Simply said, the growth in the current period is proportional to the number of transactions in the most recent period. It is important to note that exponential growth can’t continue indefinitely as the number of customers on earth is exceeded. But for the near term- exponential growth is a good thing!

What are the considerations of exponential growth? What must be present for exponential growth to begin and to perpetuate?

First-Mover Advantage

Depending how one looks at First-Mover Advantage, either this factor exists in the LED sign industry 100%, or not at all. If you see the LED sign industry as a subset of the existing sign industry, and since signs have been around for thousands of years,  then clearly there is no way the First-Mover Advantage exists. 

If you see the LED sign industry as being a stand-alone industry, totally unique in many ways, with an offering that does not compare significantly to other elements of the conventional sign industry then the First Mover Advantage does exist.

I believe in the later with the analogy that a calculator is really not a manual adding machine any more than a LED sign is a Reader Board.

Product Innovation

The LED sign industry has been “knee-deep” in product innovation since its inception. These innovations do not exist to just be “cool” but rather to answer some consumer need: bright LEDs, longer life LEDs, faster processors, industrial PCs with solid state hard drives, virtual pixel technology, easy system use through simple software and more. Recently some industry plateauing of product innovation seems to have occurred. This is inevitable until a technological breakthrough occurs or consumers demand more from their investment and companies listen to their customer.

Trying to change the dynamic of how an LED sign can function through technology introduction was seen at the recent ISA Expo 2013 as user remote control of LED networks was realized using multiple platforms such as i-Pad, Android tablet, and laptop access using the ubiquitous “Cloud”. Also, conditional programming options for content display was another innovative idea seen that indicates innovation may be picking up.

Innovation will continue improving the LED sign product offering making it more simple, powerful and reliable. These enhancements will drive widespread acceptance, and that acceptance will drive down price as demand increases.

Financial Capital and Demand Changes

So much of our world is dependent and interconnected. So it follows that having sufficient capital must exist for technology changes to occur to drive consumer demand fast enough to create exponential growth.

Looking at the major players in the LED sign industry and the amount of capitalization that exists (domestic and international) it’s clear there's adequate funding to take the industry in any direction desired. But what comes first, investment in engineering and technology through adequate capitalization or explosive consumer demand? With capital investment in advanced machinery, engineering and production comes the newer product with the features and conveniences to create benefits apparent to the customer, increasing demand. 

Already in many markets LED signs are the expectation, not the exception. Further, like what happened in the Television industry, the grayscale LED sign (the black and white TV) is being antiquated by the RGB full-color LED sign (the color TV) as prices have been reduced.

The excitement does not seem to be coming from the “old guard” manufacturers in the LED sign industry as much as with newer companies, the younger companies that see a different future for the LED sign industry. Perhaps they see the LED sign as something other than a metal box with flashy lights and more of a robust data-oriented communications platform capable of a sophisticated functions, yet easy to control and master.

The automobile industry, the television industry, the VCR industry, the PC industry and the Cell Phone industry experienced exponential growth when the above 4 conditions occurred. Looking at a sales chart that reflects this exponential growth there is what appears to be a huge and instant sales explosion. What really happens is that the rate of growth just continues at the same rate from period to period. We are headed in that direction- now.

Are you ready for the exponential growth? When the critical mass of customers is reached, the need for an easy-to-use product is realized and the price/benefit relationship is resolved and the previously mentioned items are in-play the “race is on!”

Get your trucks warmed up, cause there’s “Gold in them LED signs!”

These comments belong to me, Mike Prongue, and do not reflect the views, opinions, hopes or dreams of anyone else, anywhere else and this includes Vantage LED. I appreciate your constructive opinion which may be sent to me at michael@vantageled.com. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

LED Sign Tech & Spec: Check The Power! Electrical Supply and Outdoor Digital Signage

-Scott Hofheins

Is the sign getting the correct power? This is one of the first questions I ask when an LED sign is exhibiting strange or seemingly random issues that normal troubleshooting cannot solve. Nine times out of ten the power is found to be the root cause. Unfortunately (in the past) I had to learn this the hard way, spending hours working on solutions that ultimately would fail due to bad power. This can be extremely frustrating for both the end user and the technician.

I hope to help save some time and effort for people with these issues by providing some common power issues that I've seen occur, and ways to recognize and avoid them altogether. We won’t go to in depth about how power works in general, but my earlier post about voltage and amperage, and Deacon’s post on “the silent killer” have additional information on this topic..

To start with, I have found it’s always good to verify the power immediately in the following situations:
  • If the sign is at a special event using portable power, like 208 VAC.  
  • If the sign is using a generator for power.
  • If the sign is blank, and you cannot communicate to it.
  • If the issues on the sign don’t “make sense” after normal troubleshooting procedures.
  • If the sign is on multiple circuits, and only certain sections of the sign are blank, corresponding to the circuits.
Voltage Drop
Any electrical installation Must take voltage drop into account. Electricity travels through wires (conductors) that have a certain amount of resistance. As the length of the wire increases, the Voltage will decrease. This will cause the sign to be under-powered, and will cause issues with the power supplies and internal components.

  • Long distances between sign, and the main source of power.
  • Sign or sign components reboot at seemingly random times.
  • Components work for a certain amount of time, but repeatedly fail.

System Voltage
Electrical devices are configured to work on certain voltage ranges and phases. Most devices in the US work on either 120 Volts or 230 Volts. Although devices can operate within a 10% range either way (ie 115 Volts or 220 Volts), they must stay within that tolerance or damage will occur. In most cases you cannot run an LED sign on 230 Volts that is setup for 120 Volts without major damage to the components and complete failure of the sign.

  • Sign powers on, but runs erratically.
  • Sign will not boot up after power on.
  • Issues with sign components that cannot be traced to a definite cause.

Wire Size
The wire size is extremely important to provide SAFE and adequate power to the sign. If the wire size is too small for the sign’s power requirements you can cause damage to the sign and the electrical system. Voltage drop will occur, and the amperage levels can cause the wire to overheat and melt.

  • Small extension cords, not meant for commercial or heavy duty use. This usually happens if the sign is hooked up for temporary power, or on mobile LED units.
  • Discolored or semi melted wires or connectors.
  • Significantly lower voltage measured at sign than at the main power source.

Breaker Amperage
LED Signs will pull a certain amount of amps, depending on the sign type and configuration. The breaker sizes need to be sufficient for this amperage, or the breakers will trip when the sign exceeds the breaker’s amperage rating.

Loose Connections
Electrical connections must be tight to function correctly. Loose connections usually occur during the initial installation, or service work done on the system. Temperature changes can affect these connections causing the sign to work in warm weather, but not in cold weather.

  • Power can be measured on the incoming side of the terminal, but no power registers on the sign side.
  • Sign works in warm weather, but not cold.

Main Power Source
Sometimes power can be interrupted from the main source to the sign. This can be caused by a break in the line itself or an issue with the power panel at the building, or sign.

  • Breakers are tripped at the sign or building.
  • Sign is completely blank on both sides and no communication can be established.

208 VAC System
I decided to do a special section on this. A 208 Volt system is NOT the same as a 230 Volt system. In most cases you will have issues with an LED sign that is configured for 230 Volts, on a 208 Volt system. Depending on how the 208 service is connected, your sign may initially work, but start to have a variety of issues in the long run. I've seen systems that were displaying issues that didn’t logically seem to have anything to do with power, but immediately were fixed when the power was corrected to a 230 Volt system.

It’s usually a safe bet that power is the issue when you have an LED sign from a trusted source with issues that you are unable to fix using reasonable troubleshooting methods. Power issues can create a wide variety of symptoms and can be very challenging to recognize immediately. Always keep power in mind as you troubleshoot an LED sign system. If you find yourself saying, “this just doesn't make sense”, it’s time to check the power.


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 www.vantageled.com 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.