LEDs Drive Forward
LSI Industries (Blue Ash, OH) has built a company around supporting retail petroleum brands, from signage dispensers to branded canopies. “When self-serve gasoline became the dominant marketing platform in retail petroleum, it provided a lot of opportunity for both portions of our business because canopies and brands needed to be identified and supported, and lighting was important to stations being able to operate at night,” said Robin Hood, executive vice president-petroleum for LSI Industries.
LSI may have been founded as a lighting company, but it is one of many providers now offering LEDs to petroleum companies, among many others. LED technology is often taken for granted as LEDs become more widely used. However, the technology and the materials offered by LEDs are ushering in unique ways for signage companies to expand on their current methods of fabrication and installation.
LSI’s petroleum focus was born in two parts – first with the development of their signature fixture for under-canopy lighting, and second from LSI’s signage graphics segment, founded in Houston and a primary provider of signage for the petroleum market since 1968.
Most recently, LSI partnered with the LED manufacturer Principal LED to enhance LSI’s Archer Downlight System – canopy signage used by petroleum marketers to enhance the visibility of their stores, especially at night when safety, security and visibility of signage are paramount. The LSI system is the company’s latest step to efficiently use the gasoline canopy as a nighttime beacon for a company’s brand. “The petroleum signage canopy functions as a lit signal at night, both in defining brand, in the use of color, light and signage, but to also quickly and easily identify the location of the forecourt for the driving public,” Hood said. The LED canopy signage represents an evolution from traditional plastic signs to internally illuminated flexible-face signage to this product that allows for even illumination from an LED downlight system.
As Hood explained, LSI’s Archer signage’s “impact in cost is due to long-life LEDs that do not require replacement in anything less than 10 years, in conjunction with externally lit fascia products that have paint finishes and graphic treatments that are all warranted for long life and are specifically designed for ease of use and low-cost maintenance.”
One key customer, United Oil 76 in West Covina, CA, was vital in driving the desired performance characteristics of the LSI’s LED signage product. “It was critically important that beyond even illumination, from top to bottom, on a canopy fascia, this be a very thin and low profile element,” Hood said.
The LSI team has evolved all of their illuminated sign production of any kind to an LED-first mentality. “Part of our responsibility is to get the most efficient light engine designed into our products and LED is proven to be that,” Hood said. “We look for everything from color temperature to light distribution, particularly in linear or thin profile opportunities.”
A STREAMLINED PROCESS
While environmental and energy savings issues are appealing characteristics of LED lighting, the quality of light provided by this technology is also catching the attention of sign fabricators and their customers.
Future Sign Co. in Houston also has readily embraced LEDs in signage. Family-owned and operated, this sign company was founded in 2001 by Luis Erik Velazquez, who was a neon glassblower in the late 1980’s and ’90s. Along with co-owner Brenda Velazquez, the team at Future Sign focuses on fabrication, installation and service of any type of electrical signs.
Recently, the company was hired to fabricate and install a 10 x 15-ft. ground sign for their client, Ryder. Future Sign used GOQ CIRA Edge LED modules in part because they eliminate the work of creating bars and sticks and other alternatives to light a box sign. While an LED module may physically fit into an existing housing, that housing may not leverage the inherent qualities of LEDs. Indeed, standard housings can’t handle the challenges of LED thermal management, which is vastly different than thermal management for traditional incandescent or fluorescent lighting. Also, the optical design used in most traditional fixtures doesn’t maximize the LEDs’ efficiency.
The goal was to fabricate a sign that offered exceptional brightness and could be easily serviced. The environmentally friendly nature of LED lighting also played a central role in the technology’s appeal – for this project and others. LEDs not only produce more light and use less energy, they also don’t require the amount or frequency of disposal of other light sources.
“The unique key elements of the design was that no bars were needed for modules. This allowed us to fabricate faster and with less material.” In service calls for LEDs, Velazquez found that techs take longer to identify a problem when the modules are installed on bars. “With this project, we learned a new method to make service faster for our techs,” Velazquez said.
Scenic Sign Corp. has been in business for over 60 years operating out of Sauk Rapids, MN, as well as a smaller office in West Fargo, ND, which is where their most recent LED signage project emerged.
Scenic Sign worked with Mike Zimney, project manager at the Kilbourne Group, a company that focuses on historic renovation and mixed-use infill. “The [Black Building] is a fabulous art deco style that really stands out in downtown Fargo,” Zimney said. “We wanted a sign to highlight the magic of that era, so our goal was to closely replicate the design of the original sign that first graced the building in the 1930s.” A team of architects working on the building renovation painstakingly determined the dimensions and key design elements of the original sign. “We choose white LEDs for the border tubing as it would more closely replicate the look of neon tubing during the day, while the backlit letters are red to match the original neon color,” Zimney said.
Scenic Sign partnered with the Kilbourne Group for well over a year on the design that would replicate the original iconic neon sign. “They did not want to use neon due to breakage and service issues,” said Gary Thornton, a Scenic Sign sales representative. Scenic Sign chose SloanLED FlexiBRITE for the white accenting around the perimeter. “They needed something that was able to follow the radius corners and outline of the cabinet while providing continuous illumination similar to neon,” Thornton said. “One of the challenges we faced is that it took a while to find the Sloan FlexiBRITE and then we had to wait until Sloan released the white version of it to the marketplace.”
Zimney’s research uncovered that the sign illuminated red, hence the decision to use red LEDs inside the cabinet to illuminate the push-through plex “BLACK” letters as well as the routed plex-backed “EST. 1930 FARGO NO. DAK.” In fact, the Kilbourne Group went so far as to have a full size “B” section of the sign fabricated and lifted into place so they could see how it would look at night.
“By adding the Black name back to the building, we were able to reintroduce our community to a historical figure who made a huge impact on the City of Fargo,” Zimney said. “We are thrilled to see so many stop and take a picture with the sign. That’s the whole point – creating small moments and experiences that are memorable and make people happy.”