LED As An Alternative
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SignLab from CADlink


LED As An Alternative

Electronic Signs have been around for almost fifty years. Most electronic signs were illuminated by incandescent lamps that got the job done, but not without its problems.

By Ramiro Vazquez

The lamps are expensive, have a limited lifespan and require a lot of costly maintenance and additional labor costs. A simple sign can consume as much as $600 a month worth of electricity, when a similar LED display consumes around 3% of what an incandescent display uses.

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  • What Is LED?
    LED stands for light-emitting diode. The technology has been in development since 1976. At first, LED only appeared in the form of red messages in a black field. By the 1980’s, it had evolved into a three-color offering providing red, yellow, green, amber or any combination of the three. LED’s went through its awkward growing phase until the 1990’s when LED’s came of age. The decade brought the first true color LED that proved the technology was suitable for video wall monitors. By the end of the decade LED had turned the video display industry on its feet. By 1998 there were more than 50 companies producing LED’s.

    The LED system is made up of an alloy crystal placed in a reflective cup and chemically bonded to tiny wires that are encapsulated. Different alloys produce a different color that has its own lifespan and brightness. Compared to incandescent lamps LED’s require lower maintenance and provide higher brightness. LED’s charge and discharge instantly. In an outdoor environment a durable sign lamp can last around 5,000 hours compared to an LED that can last up to 50,000 hours.

    Several Uses
    Barco, one of the leaders in large screen video and graphics display has been using LED technology since 1999. In September of 2000, Barco made a 15-foot outdoor video wall that is located in the Pier 39 in San Francisco, California. Their LED video Walls have been used by a diverse group of clients that range from the Backstreet Boys to Oracle Applications Users Group. According to assistant corporate communicator Sigrid Desanghere, Barco likes LED technology because of it’s “higher brightness and no limit to size of the screen.”

    Mitsubishi’s Manhattan headquarters has 11 giant full color LED video screens that show everything from news, videos to financial data. The system is also designed to accept live information without any hands-on involvement outside of the normal editing process. A photographer can download a video from any part of the world and have it seen in Times Square within minutes. “It’s like real-time, designed on the fly…almost like watching CNN, but operated from a control room without people,” said John Mayorsmith, r/GA’s Director of Technology.

    When it comes to LED, size does not matter. The fact that an LED projector can be put together quickly and is not bothered by light issues make LED video walls ideal for indoor events like conventions, car shows and political rallies. LED’s use goes beyond that of scoreboards and video wall displays. Even chain retail stores and fast food establishments like Walgreens and McDonalds that had no previous use for electronic displays, are beginning to embrace LED electronic displays. The low maintenance and energy makes it convenient for companies to have LED electronic displays.

    The LED technology is not exclusive to electronic displays and video wall monitors. Many cities are using LED powered traffic lights since they are brighter and longer lasting. The technology can also be used in electronic clocks and even jukeboxes. Wurlitzer jukeboxes use LED technology for the jukebox’s electronic display. BRG Precision Products, a company based out of Derby Kansas, make Atomic Clocks for Commercial use. An Atomic Clock is basically this special clock that is located in the National Institute of Standards and Time in Bruder Colorado. The Atomic Clock is used by the military, and any government agency that needs the most appropriate time possible.

    BRG make their own brand of Atomic Clocks that are supposed to be just as good as the one Uncle Sam has. These clocks use LED technology in its digital screen which allows the best and brightest resolution in the market. These clocks are normally used by large corporations and stockbrokers that need really accurate time when dealing with clients. Of course these clocks don’t come cheap; some of the clocks that BRG offer go for as much as 2,000 dollars. Still, the BRG clocks have been doing pretty good business since it has allowed the company to go from selling plain old Church Carillons to fancy Atomic Clocks.

    Replacing the Standard Bulb
    The day could even come when light bulbs and fluorescent lamps become a thing of the past. Solid State LEDs are 10 times more energy-efficient than incandescent bulbs and about twice as efficient as fluorescent lamps. The only problem is that at this point in the game LED does not come cheap. Right now an LED light bulb could cost as much as $150 . The reason why LED’s have made such an impact on the video wall market is because LED’s low maintenance cost makes them a reliable long-term investment for many companies offsetting its initial high price.

    The Optoelectronics Industry Development Association is trying very hard to convince congress to give them 250 million dollars within the next five years to enable the development of LED lighting. Maybe it’s just me, but in order to prepare for any future “energy crisis” it would make more sense to invest in researching alternate forms of energy than to drill Alaska or go to war with Middle Eastern countries.

    According to Sandia National Laboratories senior scientist James Gee, it cost twice as much to create LED based light sources than commercial incandescent bulbs. Scientist are hard at work trying to make the technology more affordable. Melissa J. Connor, a spokesperson for Color Kinetics feels that White Light LEDs could be available for the general public within five years. At the present time, LED is being used to illuminate store displays, businesses and upscale homes. Buying an LED light bulb would not be such a bright (pardon the pun) idea right now unless you have a few hundred dollars to spare. Apart from that, pretty much every major problem associated with incandescent light can be solved with LED. The only thing holding LED back right now is the price, but as the technology becomes more advanced it also becomes more affordable. The day could come when LED technology could replace incandescent light. It’s all just a matter of time.

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