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LED Lighting Systems

Although still a relatively new technology, LED lighting systems form a key part of many modern signage applications. Rob Fletcher speaks to the leading suppliers

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Majert supplied LED modules from its popular Chiplite range for use on this striking sign in Oslo, Norway

Shine a light

If you think about how many signage projects use LED lighting systems as part of their set-up, it is hard to believe that the technology has only come to fruition in recent years. LED lighting has come on leaps and bounds in such a short period of time and is now a key technology for many companies across the industry.

However, as is the case with many other forms of technology, the emergence of a popular solution such as LED lighting brings with it some dangers, mainly in the shape of low quality, less reliable products. Investment in quality solutions in this sector is just as important in this area of the market as it is others.
With this in mind, we have reached out to some of the leading manufacturers and suppliers in this sector to gain an insight into the technology, as well as find out more about some of the latest solutions on offer to the market and the benefits of using such technology in signage projects.
Living a longer life

One of the many respected companies active in this sector is Zeta Specialist Lighting, whose managing director, Adrian Dennis, asserts that as the price and performance of LEDs continues to improve, the use of conventional lighting technologies in signage is fast becoming redundant.

“LEDs are fast replacing traditional solutions due to their longer life and lower running costs, but over and above that, as they are available in a range of colour temperatures along with RGB options, they also provide scope for sign-makers to get creative and add value to their clients,” Dennis says.

The Bicester-based LED and solar-powered lighting specialist offers a host of LED sign lighting systems, all of which are manufactured at its own production facility. One of the latest products to come out of Zeta is an LED Light Guide Panel (LGP), a flexible, energy-efficient solution that the firm says can deliver optimum illumination across various signage applications such as wayfinding, advertising poster cases, totems and monoliths, and even road signs.

Zeta Specialist Lighting says its new LED Light Guide Panel delivers optimum illumination across a range signage applications such as wayfinding

Another popular choice from the firm is the Zeta Zig-Zag LED Strip. The design of the solution enables sign-makers to manipulate the lighting around corners. To demonstrate its abilities, Zeta gives the example of embedding LEDs into block acrylic letter applications, through which users can achieve sharp edges that you cannot get on a moulded letter.

“For sign-makers, ease of installation, low maintenance requirements and reliability are key and LEDs’ long-life, maintenance-free properties tick all the boxes,” Dennis says, adding: “However, it’s the combination of solar and LED technologies that is really leading the way in sign-lighting systems.”

With this in mind, Zeta can also provide solar-powered systems, such as the Zeta Bespoke Solar Signage Kit that can be used to illuminate totems and monoliths in areas where there is no easy access to mains power and where laying cabling is cost-prohibitive.

Zeta Specialist Lighting recently took part in a project at Wolverhampton University, where its solutions are now used to light up signage across the campus

Solar panels harness the sun’s energy during the day which is stored by the long life batteries. Zeta’s patented Energy Management System intelligently releases the stored energy, regulates the amount of power consumed by LEDs at night, and maximises the power going to the batteries during the day.

Quality over price

Zeta Specialist Lighting is also one of a host of leading names that has signed up to exhibit at the inaugural Signlink Live, which takes place from October 11th to 13th at the International Centre in Telford, alongside sister event The Print Show.

Due to feature alongside Zeta is The Sign Group, a trade manufacturer of bespoke signage. Ian Hoole, who oversees LED sales and finance, says the company has been dealing with illuminated signs for many years now and has built up a strong knowledge of LED technologies.

Hoole explains: “At The Sign Group, you are dealing with a company that produce illuminated signs for the trade and after many years of searching the LED world markets we know that the products we use work. With all this knowledge, nine years ago, we put the products we use in a trade web store Weloveleds.co.uk. Here, we can offer quality advice and products to solve the buyers’ problems, and as the market and quality of LEDs grow, we are growing with it.”

The Sign Group set up Weloveleds.co.uk to help customers gain access to LED products and access valuable advice about this form of technology

Leading on from this, Hoole outlines the importance of using quality and trusted LED technologies in signage work, explaining that quality must override price.

He expands: “Buying a cheaper product may come back and bite you; there is a reason why products are cheap. In a time when labour is expensive you do not want to be doing the job twice, so talk to your supplier explaining what you require in depth; if you feel that the advice is not quite right, talk to another. It is better to spend this time wisely: get it right the first time and the likelihood of problems later will be minimal.

Buying a cheaper product may come back and bite you; there is a reason why products are cheap

“You can pick up any trade magazine or look on the web to notice there are hundreds of suppliers out there who want your business—but don’t believe all you are told. There are big-name suppliers who, because they are well known, you would presume their product is good, which is not always the truth.

“Most of the world’s LEDs are made in China and the Far East under licence for the big names. So, consider this; we are all told that Chinese products are cheap and poor quality, but over the years, the Chinese manufacturing process has changed dramatically and many Chinese manufacturers now produce excellent products.”

So how do you know if the LED product you need is good? Hoole says the process is an easy one, and encourages industry members to speak with their supplier and explain their requirements in order to identify the best solutions.

Hoole adds: “If you feel they are reading from a catalogue, you are buying from the wrong company. There are many off-the-shelf suppliers who have no experience in the products they sell so what they tell you is not necessarily correct.”

Safety first

Another company active in this sector is Majert, a specialist in LED lighting technology since its introduction in the late 1990s. Marco Klan, sales and marketing director at the Düsseldorf-based company, says that quality LED lighting systems offer “definite advantages” over traditional fluorescent and/or neon lighting systems, in terms of higher cost-effectiveness, environmental awareness, and performance.

Klan explains: “Compared with other lighting solutions, LED-generated systems operate at a low voltage—typically 12V. They are therefore much safer in use, are capable of reducing energy consumption by as much as 70 percent and enable a lifetime cycle of 50,000 hours, contingent upon the nature of the application and environmental factors such as ambient temperature.

“Furthermore, compared with cheaper LED lighting systems that can devalue brand ID awareness in signs and displays, higher-quality alternatives provide an image-enhancement capability to fully complement other corporate marketing strategies.”

Klan goes on to pick out some of the most popular solutions available through Majert, including the Chiplite range of LED lighting systems, which comprises a baseline of twelve different LED modules.

One of the more recent developments in this portfolio comes in the form of the new CL-FLEXO LED module for the earlier-expanded CL X series of modules. Klan says this new option now provides a “radically enhanced lighting solution” for illuminated lightbox installations, also picking out a specially developed optical lens with 170° lighting capability to enable shadow-free illumination of sign boxes as a key design feature of the module.

Majert recently unveiled its new CL-Flexo LED module for the CL X series of modules in its Chiplite solutions portfolio

Klan adds: “In common with all Chiplite LED modules, the CL-FLEXO LED model carries RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) certification and a CE rating in accordance with BS EN 55015. It is also IP65 rated to BS EN 60529 relating to sealing effectiveness on electrical enclosures against the ingress of dirt and water and other contaminants.

“Chiplite LED modules provide a wide choice of luminous flux, power consumption and optical efficiencies to accommodate virtually any lightbox, sign box, or illuminated sign tray lettering requirement.”

Confident investment

Meanwhile, Applelec receives plenty of demand from the industry for SloanLED products, which it distributes in the UK market, as well as its own ‘Luxury Letters’ feature. Andy Armitage, head of signage sales at Applelec, says that quality solutions such as those from Applelec and SloanLED will make all the difference when it comes to sign-making applications.

Armitage expands: “In the majority of cases, signs are not temporary installations, once they’ve been installed their new owner should be confident their investment will last. Selecting good quality illumination is one way to help guarantee the longevity of a sign whilst greatly reducing the sign’s energy consumption and future maintenance costs.

Nebula Creative used two rows of Sloan LED Poster Box 3 modules from Applelec to illuminate fabric lightboxes at the First Direct Arena in Leeds

“Cheaper LED products may work well for a period but their performance may be inconsistent. Numerous factors can affect LED degradation, cheaper LEDs tend to be less efficient due to their use of lower quality, poorly designed chips—covering everything from heat management to circuit board soldering. Such LEDs need to be driven harder to achieve adequate brightness, which leads to colour inconsistencies, a faster drop off in brightness and, ultimately, a higher failure rate.”

Armitage goes on to offer further details on the firm’s ‘Luxury Letters’ premium acrylic featuring embedded LEDs that provide “smooth and clear” illumination. Supplied with a two-year warranty, the letters are suitable for external and internal use, such as the reception desk at the recent Two Pancras Square development, where the finish of the letters was essential to the installation by Logic CP.

O Factoid: Nick Holonyak Jr. developed the first visible-spectrum light-emitting diode (LED) in 1962 while working for General Electric.  O

Focusing on the Sloan LED products available from Applelec, Armitage says the company is able to offer the full range of LED systems for signage. Modules such as Prism and the new Prism Mini are used in the fabricated signage and lettering manufactured by Applelec, while all modules can now be purchased in kit form—either individually or by the carton.

In addition, products such as LED neon border tubing system FlexiBrite and the PosterBOX 3 module for 3m-wide flex face lightboxes are on offer.

Applelec’s premium acrylic illuminated letters were used by Logic CP to decorate around a reception desk for a project at King’s Cross, London

After a brief examination of this sector of the industry, it is abundantly clear that there is plenty of excitement over not only the current products on the market, but also how far developers can push this technology to come up with new and innovative solutions for use in signage applications.

LED lighting is still quite a new technology and some members of the industry are still getting to grips with the benefits it can offer. However, having spoken with some of the most respected names in this sector, it seems that cost and energy savings are not the only plus points of LED lighting, with, as Armitage from Applelec says, “performance and reliability” also stand-out positives.

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