Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Digital Signage 101:Make sure you have the right tools for DS!

-Deacon Wardlow
The right tool is incredibly important and (unfortunately) there's rarely one tool to fix everything. Search for "digital signage tools" and a load of software and other options come up, but not much in the way of practical equipment to "get 'er done" when installing and/or servicing a Digital Signage system.

I get a lot of people asking me what the "go to" tool set is for Digital Signage and (to save a lot of repetition and help others) here's my general set of must-haves when I go to work on Digital Signage (whether it's an LED Sign, LCD interior, or other). This list is by no means exhaustive (and if you have something which would be helpful, drop me a line and I'll update the blog):

Tool Bag 
Should be about duffel bag size, wheels are a bonus - I've been locations where I've had to haul my tools to multiple locations at a single site and walked a few miles (total) and wheels are definitely a bonus on a day like that...

Power Tools
Mostly drill (impact or other) with (at least) 4 fully charged batteries and a charger - it's somewhat personal preference whether you go with Hilti, Milwaukee, Ryobi, or something else - the more expensive tools are worth the extra cash... A reciprocating saws-all can come in handy more often than you'd think... Metal and wood blades should be carried...

Flexible Drive Shaft Extension
This is for your power drill, having a flexible drive shaft extension gets the power in weird angle spots where nothing else will fit. Get this or resolve yourself to repetitive stress injury on your wrist...

(drill, allen, hex, get a multi-set for any situation) - you're going to lose them, buy a couple sets...

1/4" driver socket set (I'm American, so I avoid Metrics like the plague...)
I'm not sure how people get things in tight spaces, but this one tool has helped me immensely

General Tools (68 piece or better screwdriver set with ratcheting option)
You can buy kits for relatively low cost. The "three tool rule" generally applies to DS (Phillips, Flat Head Screw driver, Allen Wrench). Throw in a hammer, wrench, pliers (needle nose and oher), and you'll likely be in decent shape. Make sure your tools have a ratcheting option to save a lot of wrist work.

Power Meter/logger
I prefer the Fluke VR1710 - it's (literally) plug and play and excellent for most LED Sign power metering (more times than not, this meter has saved me and clients severe headaches and forced the public utility to fix power issues at a site which would have eventually "mysteriously" damaged an otherwise great LED Sign installation). Interior systems don't typically pull as much power as an outdoor LED Sign, it's always good to know how "clean" your power source is...

Voltage Meter
Great for checking power in/out.

Laptop Computer
Windows-based (it's generally compatible with most systems). Install any software from manufacturers you use or have an account for the sign available. VNC is a bonus (to remote into controllers). Make sure to include Cat 5 or 6 ethernet cable (terminated - 6' length and 100' length), power adapter, 4 port Intellinet (or other) ethernet switch, power strip, and backup battery. Having a laptop on hand will help you (and the tech support you're calling from a site) work past networking issues and get immediate access to a system which may need a little tweaking to integrate on a network which suddenly changed overnight when the IT person for the client decided to upgrade everything the day before you installed the LED Sign and/or the interior Digital Signage systems... You don't have to be a "hacker" just having a laptop is very helpful to the tech support person on the other side of the phone...

Ethernet Kit
1,000' spool of ethernet cable, termination ends, and a crimper w/stripper tool (ethernet cable is relatively simple to terminate).

Velcro and VHB
Velcro (dual-lock and/or tri-lock) and VHB (very high bond) tape helps put stuff in their place and keep them there.

Misc. cables and wirenuts
Different gauges of power wires, wirenuts (different sizes) and the stripper tool for quick fix on cables in a display.

Thermal Temp Sensor
Very helpful with LED and interior LCD systems to gauge the heat of a room, LED Display, and check wires to see where a particular wire might be hot.

Electrical tape, duct tape, and WD-40 (what do these three things NOT fix?)

Mobile Phone and/or MiFi (cellular modem/wireless internet hotspot)
Smartphone is best, especially if you can use it as a hotspot. If the phone can't be a hotspot - a cellular modem/MiFi is great. Bring a USB wifi adapter so you can put the sign controller on wireless through your hotspot for a quick connect if there's a need to bypass the local network for testing communications to a display...

Soldering Iron (butane) w/solder wick and solder
This isn't a "must have" but there've been many times where it's easier for me to solder a connection in the field to fix something I'd otherwise have to wait a week or more for to replace... even if only as a stop-gap (temporary fix), this can be a very valuable tool.

Ideally a handheld is useful, but a headlamp (or even better, safety goggle mounted LED lights) are really helpful as many locations require install & service work be done outside of regular hours and chances are good there won't be a nice bright source of light to work from unless you supply it yourself.

I use a Gerber, Leatherman is also awesome and incredibly useful for quick work. Whatever multi-tool you choose, don't go cheap. The cheap stuff will break on you when you most need it and that does not make for a good day...

Phone Numbers!
The go-to techs from a manufacturer (get their direct lines if you can), client contact info, basically the phone numbers (and emails) of anyone you might need to speak with when going out to a site.

Keys to the Kingdom
If installing a system which requires a special lock, please make sure the client tags the keys and gives them to someone who can be available outside of regular hours...

Please comment here or send questions or requests for information to Vantage LED has white paper resources and more educational material on the website (, 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.attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically noted.

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