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LED Lighting Systems

From the simple to the sublime, from small to stupendous, LEDs are lighting up our world. Brenda Hodgson looks at some of the latest technology from this booming sector

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Zeta Specialist Lighting’s Light Guide Panel (LGP) was used to create visually appealing hoardings to help attract new homebuyers to Redrow’s Millfields development in Luton

The lights of our lives

It seems only a few years ago that LED lights made their first bright, twinkling appearance. Since then the technology has moved on apace, enabling the development of ever more sophisticated LED lighting systems and products that are almost as dazzling as the LEDs themselves. From simple light pockets to the brilliance of faux neon, LEDs have become a standard feature of a vast spectrum of signage solutions.

CL-NEON FLEX from Majert can be used for both internal and external lighting applications

Extolling the advantages of LED lighting, Marco Klan, marketing director at Majert, summarises the main benefits to be gained: “Compared with traditional neon and fluorescent lighting systems, LED systems offer distinct advantages in terms of greater environmental awareness and reduced installation and maintenance costs. LED systems have a much lower voltage requirement (typically in the region of 12V), thereby enabling a reduction in power consumption by as much as 70 percent. They are also easier to install and maintain, and invariably benefit from a higher level of technical support.”

However, Klan cautions that when sourcing a reliable supplier of LED systems, sign manufacturers should always opt for branded products of proven quality and reliability.

It is important always to avoid the temptation to use cheap unbranded products

“It is important always to avoid the temptation to use cheap unbranded products. These are invariably imported from the Far East, with no tangible technical support or immediate access to vital spare parts,” Klan observes.

“This results in serious operational problems, high product replacement costs and ultimately and most significantly dissatisfied customers.”

As one of the pioneering forces in the advancement of LED lighting technology, since 1999 Majert has developed and brought to market a wide range of products under its well-known CHIPLITE brand. All of the products are CE-marked and meet all relevant BS/EN safety and performance standards and certifications, including RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) certification, and a CE rating in accordance with the lighting devices standard BS/EN 55015. They also have an IP65 rating to BS/EN 60529 covering the sealing efficiency of electrical enclosures against the ingress of water, salt, dirt and other contaminants.

Majert has made important performance enhancements to virtually all of the twelve different CHIPLITE LED modules to dramatically enhance their lighting efficiency. For example, the lighting efficiency of the popular CL-XOL LED module has been increased from 40 to 58 lumens. Furthermore, this particular system can now accommodate up to 100 individual modules soldered in a continuous chain without the need for additional power input, thereby further reducing installation and operational costs.

Another significant development from Majert has been the addition of CL-NEON FLEX to its product portfolio.

“The distinguishing feature of this system is an ability to synthesise and simulate the power and special effects of neon but at a fraction of the cost. Furthermore, with an IP67 rating the system can be used for both internal and external lighting applications,” states Klan.

In the pocket

Light pockets have become a popular option for creating simple but effective displays. With the capability for both wall or suspension mounting, they have become a particular favourite for locations such as estate agents, where they enable window displays to be seen easily by day or night.

LED specialist, Manchester based Spectron LED designs, manufactures and supplies a wide range of LED solutions for sign-makers, to meet an infinite variety of individual signage applications.

With Spectron’s new design LED Pocket all the fixings have been relocated to the rear of the panel

A simple, but highly effective, product is Spectron’s new design LED Pocket, which benefits from reduced power with improved lumen output, providing what the company claims to be one of the brightest LED Pockets on the market.

All the fixings have been relocated to the rear of the panel so that they are hidden from view, creating a floating effect that highlights only the actual display image. The way it fixes to the cable has also been changed to allow removal of the panel without the need for any tools; replacing the graphic is simply done by inserting it into the pocket on the side of the panel and 12v powered lighting tracks are used to enable easy positioning.

Director Leo Lau explains: “Installation is simplified by using a lighting track made of aluminium and features two electrical copper conductors. The track can be installed to the ceiling or suspended using the appropriate suspension kit. Once installed, you can easily move our LED glass panel across the length of the track for the final adjustment.”

Four magnets on the back of the panel enable discreet fixing to Spectron’s specially designed cable connectors.

The strong magnets will prevent the panel coming off the cable, yet allow you to remove it easily should you require

“The strong magnets will prevent the panel coming off the cable yet allow you to remove it easily should you require,” continues Lau. “The same magnetic concept means that multiple panels can just as easily be fixed on a wall. Using a corresponding 12v power supply, the positive and negative are connected to each conductive metal strip to accept the glass front LED Pockets, providing a unique speedy and discreet fixing solution. Thanks to the toughened glass front, there is a gap on one edge of the panel which allows for print replacement; unlike acrylic the glass front will stay flat even in higher temperatures.

“Most importantly we have reduced the overall cost of the system, giving greater value for money,” Lau concludes.

Boxing it in LEDs have virtually superseded fluorescent and other forms of illumination for lightboxes, whether wall-mounted or free-standing, which has led to the potential for creating whole new ranges of products.

Unibox’s Neonist LED is used to great effect for Permira debt managers, with logo and lettering installed on this unusual mixed moss background

One of the most significant changes that Unibox has observed in LED illumination is the increasing requirement for flexibility of displays, and the company has risen to market demand with the development of its Kinetik LED Lightbox, which uses dynamic LEDs to augment fabric graphics.

“Kinetik is innovative – as proven by its patented technology, as it takes videos and animated graphics and translates them into a bespoke lighting sequence, displayed via programmable LEDs,” says Unibox managing director Nick Wraith. “And it’s a signal of where our industry is heading.”

Wraith continues: “The integration of technology is penetrating nearly every market, and ours is no different.

Retailers have to fight harder than ever to catch the attention of passive shoppers, who are often too busy looking at their phone to notice a display, and Kinetik offers the perfect amalgamation of eye-catching animation and high-quality illuminated graphics.”

Debenhams’ Oxford Street store features a window display spanning more than 20m

Recent work carried out for Debenhams provides an ideal example. Debenhams’ Oxford Street store is home to a window display spanning more than 20m, which was traditionally covered in temporary graphics and VM displays that were time-consuming to build, and ineffective in terms of catching the attention of passers-by.

After working with the Debenhams design team, Unibox introduced a custom specification of Kinetik.

“However, what made this installation particularly useful to Debenhams, was the long-term flexibility of the system,” explains Wraith. “We manufactured a custom track system for two individual Kinetik lightboxes, which sat directly in front of the 20m long display. This gave Debenhams’ VM team the ability to add new graphics and lighting sequences, alongside the freedom to move these to any part of the window.

“The benefit to sign-makers of innovations such as Kinetik, is that they can offer more value to clients than ever before,” Wraith stresses. “With animated displays like this in the growth stage within our markets, the ability to provide an animated display that is both attention-grabbing and flexible is sure to win clients over.”

In addition to the design and build of display products and systems for exhibition stand events, retail and commercial refits, graphic displays and many other applications, The Marketing Works regularly uses Unibox products as part of its offering.

Tom Sebastiano highlights in particular the flat-pack Maknetik Lightbox system: “LED Lighting within signage is now almost a necessity, which has resulted in a flood of illuminated signs entering the market over the last few years.

“Whilst the need for quality illuminated displays remains constant, innovation will come from lighting systems adapting to the needs of the industry. This often arises from challenges presented within existing systems, perfectly demonstrated by the development of the Magnetik Lightbox system.”

Sebastiano elaborates: “LED lightboxes are ideal for many applications, but their large nature means they’re not ideally suited to being used in temporary locations. This was the first aspect that was focused on during the development of Magnetik - creating a flat-pack lightbox that retained the high quality illumination of a standard lightbox.”

Off the grid 
The development of light sheets, panels and grids, with a range of specially designed matrices, has simplified the task of illuminated large areas of signage, from advertising to wayfinding, and all stops in between, especially when combined with solar powered options.

Wayfinding signage is currently a booming sector for LED lighting, according to Andy Clark, chief executive officer at Bright Green Technology.

“Sites such as airports and transit hubs require bright and consistently illuminated signage, so it’s little wonder that there has been a shift to using LEDs,” expands Clark. “The huge worldwide installed base is currently focused on upgrading from fluorescent tubes to LED systems that improve appearance, reduce maintenance and save energy.”

Bright Green Technology has completed many wayfinding projects around the world, including major upgrades of the signage lighting at two of the largest airports, Heathrow and Dubai

Bright Green Technology has completed many wayfinding projects around the world, including major upgrades of the signage lighting at two of the largest airport hubs, Heathrow and Dubai. The company has retrofitted thousands of wayfinding, check-in and advertising signs with its LED lighting systems such as Bright Green Matrix and Bright Green Grid. Designed for slim signage, these LED lighting systems ensure even light diffusion and can be set to specific pitch and colour temperatures, meaning the signs get the best and brightest illumination possible.

“The sheer scale of many transport hubs means the impact of LEDs is substantial,” maintains Clark. “In comparison to the preceding fluorescent tubes, Bright Green LED systems have delivered an energy saving of up to 70 percent; and the carbon reduction contributes significantly to achieving corporate or government targets.

One of the key benefits of installing LED systems for signage is that they practically eliminate ongoing maintenance, reflecting the needs of the busy, round-the-clock airport terminal.”

In recent projects, Bright Green Technology has specified future-proofed lighting control protocols such as DALI-enabled power supplies and IOT sensors, which improve passenger experience. These controls make it possible to dim or brighten lighting according to the flow of people in each area, which enhances the sign’s ability to communicate effectively, for example during an emergency.

“Wayfinding signage projects can be incredibly complex, so we take a consultative approach to analysing, designing and producing LED lighting and control systems. The experience we’ve gained helps us give clear, practical advice to our customers and provide ongoing support throughout a project,” concludes Clark.

Zeta Specialist Lighting is a UK-based developer and manufacturer of LED and solar powered lighting systems for a wide range of applications, from street lighting, amenity lighting, signage and commercial lighting, to the design and manufacture of complete solar lighting solutions.

Account manager, Kevin Batham, observes: “From Zeta’s perspective, our most innovative LED sign lighting systems are ones that combine flexible, robust, long lifetime, energy-efficient LED products such as the Zeta Light Guide Panel (LGP), with our in-house designed and developed solar-powered solutions.”

Solutions such as the Zeta Bespoke Solar Signage Kit for illuminating totems and monoliths, Solar Poster Case Kit and ECOLUX SOLAR trough lighting system are all popular choices with sign-makers. Zeta’s Energy Management System is at the core of its range of solar-powered LED lighting systems. The PS800 Controller which offers high efficiency, even in low sunlight conditions, optimises charge to ensure reliable, year-round performance.

“The system features a four-stage intelligent charger which maximises the power going to the batteries during the day,” elaborates Batham. “The system then cleverly manages the stored energy, regulating the amount of power consumed by the LEDs at night.

“The Zeta LGP is one of the most flexible and popular products we supply to the sign-making sector,” Batham affirms. “It is designed, machined and assembled in our Bicester production facility, which means our clients benefit from a fast turnaround, as well as the opportunity to access custom-made back lighting for a variety of applications including wayfinding, advertising poster cases, totems and monoliths.”

Manufactured from high quality acrylic, etched with a specially designed grid pattern that ensures optimum light spread and shadow free illumination, the LGP is available in bespoke sizes and both single and double-sided options.

“Our customers tell us that they are looking for plug and play solutions that offer a low cost to install, require little or no maintenance, and are ultra-reliable,” states Batham. “Solar-powered systems tick all of the boxes – they are quick and easy to install, can be used in new and retro-fit applications and remove the need to link into a mains connection. Importantly, the end client benefits from virtually maintenance free illuminated signage with no ongoing running costs.”

In a recent project, Zeta’s Bespoke Solar Signage Kit and Light Guide Panel enabled visual marketing solutions company, 4site Implementation, to illuminate signage at Countryside Properties’ brand-new village-style development, Marham Park at Bury St. Edmunds. The firm was commissioned to create totems at the development’s two entrances, as well as wayfinding signage within, to direct potential new homebuyers to the marketing suite and showhomes. However, with construction at the very early stages, there was no on-grid connection and the cost to dig and run cables would have run into tens of thousands of pounds. This meant that a solar-powered system was the only viable option. Zeta was, therefore, asked to recommend an intelligent long-lasting solution.

Using the Bespoke Solar Signage Kit and LGP in combination, 4site designed two 2.5m x 5m totems for the main entrance, and two further 2m x 4m totems sited within the development to direct visitors to Countryside Properties’ marketing suite.

Paul Brand, director at 4site comments: “This was a test site for us and both ourselves and our client are impressed with the results. The solutions are straightforward, easy to work with and install, and delivered the desired results. We are looking to do more with Zeta’s solar-powered systems.”

Like moths to a flame

The sheer brilliance of neon has always had the capacity to capture attention and attract customers like moths to a flame. However, thedifficulties associated with obtaining planning permission for traditional neon signage, with local authorities often expressing concerns about safety - particularly when it comes to external applications, together with the reluctance of some end-users to commit to what they perceive as a more costly option, have, almost inevitably, led to the development and introduction of a wide range of faux neon products onto a rapidly growing market.

It is a market for which Graeme Hoole, director at NeonPlus (part of Leeds-based The Sign Group), expresses great enthusiasm: “Lighting and LED technology has become more and more exciting over the last few years. The new LED components available are allowing real innovation in most areas of LED display, signage, decoration and visual merchandising.

In terms of the way the product can be used and the effects that can be achieved, NeonPlus faux neon and slimline illuminated letters give sign-makers the freedom to get creative with their offerings

“The NeonPlus product sets the trend in faux neon and slimline illuminated letters, in terms of the way the product can be used and the effects that you can achieve, and this allows us to offer options to suit different budgets, effects and timescales,” remarks Hoole. “It gives our customers, the sign-makers, the ultimate freedom to get creative with their offerings and to take advantage of our advice about how to achieve what is best for them and their client. As sign-makers get used to using this type of product, they get a really quick understanding of how best to use it, and come up with really stunning results.”

Just launched onto the market, the latest product in the NeonPlus range is the NP Slim. At only 20mm thick NP Slim is currently available with Pure White 6500K LED, but can be covered with any translucent vinyl to meet specific colour choices.

O Factoid: The first high-brightness blue LED was demonstrated by Shuji Nakamura of Nichia Corporation in 1994. The existence of blue LEDs and high-efficiency LEDs led to the development of the first ‘white LED’. Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Nakamura were later awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of the blue LED (Wikipedia). O

“We are a progressive company, always looking for new ways to make something, or new products we can manufacture, and lighting is very much integral to everything we do,” states Hoole.  “NeonPlus is the only product of its kind to be CE approved and championed by BSI. Other than that, it is one of the coolest sign/lighting products available,” he asserts.

In conclusion, Hoole urges caution when using bespoke finished lighting products: “The one thing we would recommend to customers is to ensure that they are buying from a reputable company, with a history of good quality and good service.”

Unibox has similarly looked at the issues surrounding traditional neon, as Wraith outlines: “With neon signage enjoying somewhat of a renaissance with both independent and multiple retailers alike, its retro appeal and bright colour rendition is undeniably eye-catching. However, neon is not without its problems; and in particular, its reputation for fragility, high-temperature performance, and specialist installation remains a headache.

An illuminated signage solution with all of the glamour of neon, but none of the shortcomings of last century’s technology

“So, we considered, what if there was a modern alternative? An illuminated signage solution with all of the glamour of neon, but none of the shortcomings of last century’s technology. The result is Neonist LED,” Wraith reveals.

Neonist LED is constructed from solid 30mm acrylic lettering, making it a robust product. Laser and CNC etching processes are used to create custom letters within which the LED is embedded.

“Bespoke designs can be translated with more accuracy and precision than ever before, meaning that branding never needs to be compromised. It’s now easier to retain the characteristic features of block and script fonts with CNC machinery translating intricate details directly from the graphic software used to develop logos, text and shapes,” summarises Wraith.

Applelec’s NeonLux LED Lettering range combines sophisticated construction techniques with an elegant finish

One of the latest additions to Applelec’s LED sign lighting systems is its NeonLux LED Lettering product, which offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for sign-makers, from installation to design flexibility.

Created in standardised block acrylic thicknesses of 25mm and 30mm, NeonLux is an extremely robust and durable LED system, making it suitable for eye level installation.

“The NeonLuxLED Lettering range is embedded with thermally managed LEDs, which not only provides maximum lifetime efficacy for the system, but creates bright and clear illumination without spotting,” says Applelec’s head of signage sales, Andy Armitage. “The thermally managed LEDs ensure the solution runs cool to the touch, which again enables NeonLux LED Lettering to be positioned safely at low level.” 

With the variety of products currently available on the market, it appears that whatever you want to create, there is an LED system to fit the bill, opening out a whole gamut of new opportunities for sign-makers.


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