Connect with us

Business Management

Points of Light

Sign suppliers and lighting-industry experts illuminate sign-lighting trends

Published

on

Several sign-supply companies and industry analysts were asked by ST to report lighting trends they’ve observed. Questions concerned trends in lighting sources, power supplies/ballasts and controls; how local/regional codes affect sign-illumination choices; the most frequent sign-illumination questions concerning neon, fluorescents, incandescents, LEDs, OLEDs and electroluminescent lighting; and future trends.

Respondents, listed alphabetically, are:

* Chuck DeMond, president, Cincinnati Sign Supplies Inc. (Cincinnati)

* Davey Glantz, president, West Coast Div., N. Glantz & Son (Brooklyn, NY)

* Lee Hewitt, principal engineer for signs, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Northbrook, IL

* Muhammad Khan, director of technical services, International Sign Assn. (Alexandria, VA)

Advertisement

* Steve Van Holt, national sales manager, |1829| (Denver)

* Ken Von Wald, president, |1820| (St. Paul, MN)

Lighting sources

DeMond: "Neon transformers are still our main product line. LEDs are now second. Fluorescent ballasts and lamps are still strong, and HID lighting and fixtures are growing. Incandescent is slowly going away."

Glantz: "There are definitely more LED orders for the last 24 to 36 months. I think the steady increase is due to good salesmanship and the ability to ship products quickly. Large national programs have converted to LEDs, and this has a ripple effect."

Hewitt: "I see increased use of LED lighting sources for signs and also more compact, cold-cathode lighting for signs. Also, there’s more industry support for the development of a comprehensive sign-component standard and a restructuring of the existing, sign-safety standard."

Advertisement

Khan: "Fluorescent, neon and LED continue to be the leading sources of lighting in sign applications. HIDs, induction lamps and compact-fluorescent lamps are also commonly used in backlighting signs."

Van Holt: "LEDs have definitely been the hottest products the last two years. Despite that, our neon-supply business has also grown. As for incandescent products, we see very little of it being used."

Von Wald: "We are seeing a widespread acceptance of LED-lighting sources by our customers. Initial demand was driven through specification of LED lighting by end users. As our customers worked through those jobs, they became comfortable with estimating, manufacturing and effective installation of LED lighting. It appears that our customers have learned what applications are appropriate for LED lighting and have adopted the technology.

"Sign lighting appears to be very stable. The impact of UL 2161 was a big issue in neon lighting a few years ago. However, the transformers and skill of the sign professional have improved to handle those issues. Fluorescent lighting is very stable, and not many questions arise."

Ballasts and controls

DeMond: "We get daily requests for LED quotes for channel-letter and border-tube lighting. We now have two lines of electronic ballasts and four lines of electronic neon transformers."

Advertisement

Glantz: "The Federal Fluorescent Lamp Ballast Ruling will somewhat affect cabinet lighting. There’s an increased use of electronic ballasts. Greater runs of LEDs can be powered now that LEDs are smaller and provide more effective illumination. More sophisticated controls are being developed to manage lighting and outage."

Hewitt: "There is increased use of electronic neon supplies and ballasts. The industry is also supporting binational [United States and Canada] safety standards for neon transformers and supplies."

Khan: "Neon power supplies have become well standardized around the requirements of UL 2161. However, new innovations in these products are taking place as neon animation is showing up as an integrated function. Other types of supplies that also show diversity are those used in LED applications.

"There hasn’t been much change in ballast technology, except that electronic ballasts are showing up in more sign applications. The other ballast types are used with induction lamps and compact-fluorescent lamps, and they’re all electronic. However, the induction-lamp ballast tends to be more sophisticated in designs that also include compliance with electromagnetic standards.

"Also, controllers are becoming more sophisticated as electronic technology and microprocessor-based programming capabilities become more prevalent. The types of controllers are not only capable of wide-ranging functionality, but they’re also smaller. However, the complexity of design and programming is much higher in the controllers used with large LED messageboards and Las Vegas-style neon signs."

Van Holt: "Electronic products continue to grow in popularity. Channel-letter units lead the way, followed by electronic ballasts. As for controls, we don’t get very involved, other than old-fashioned flashers."

Sign codes and regulations

DeMond: "The LED industry is working to relax UL and National Electrical Code [NEC] standards for use in signs and sign lighting. In some areas [Hamilton County, OH, being one], inspectors apply the NEC for sign wiring, which is overkill for LED applications. At this time, the NEC doesn’t differentiate between the two. According to the code, a sign is a sign.

"Nowhere does the code address low-voltage wiring [except for concealed wiring]. Also, we hear from many municipalities that don’t allow flashing signs, which doesn’t bode well for incandescents."

Hewitt: "While some regional energy codes, such as those in California, may encourage the use of more efficient lighting sources for signs, on a more global scale, we can’t say that we see specific trends that we could directly relate to local codes."

Khan: "Local/regional codes are always a major concern for sign manufacturers/installers. Not only are the codes sometimes confusing, but they are also inherently contradictory. For example, we worked in a city on code issues in which the sign code attempted to ban neon lighting. However, the building code required its use. We didn’t even need to talk about the dubious legalities of banning neon; we simply pointed out the contradiction in the code to the building department. Surprisingly, many regulators don’t seem to fully understand the products they’re regulating."

Van Holt: "Many communities are becoming aware of signs’ power consumption and are looking for fabricators to use more efficient sources."

Lighting FAQ’s

DeMond: "The most frequently asked questions we receive about neon are about ground-fault transformer problems; electronic ballasts for fluorescents; and, concerning LEDs, where can I use them, how do I install them, and how do I estimate them. Also, they ask about LED power consumption. We don’t receive any questions about OLEDs or electroluminescent lighting."

Glantz: "The question I hear most often is, ‘How come it doesn’t work?’"

Hewitt: "For neon: ‘What are the requirements for the use of polymeric materials?’ For fluorescents: ‘What are the requirements for the use of incandescent-to-fluorescent adapters in signs with Edison-base lamp sockets?’ For LEDs: ‘What are the requirements for the use of low-voltage power supplies [both Class 2 and non-Class 2] for supplying LED signs?’ and ‘What are the requirements in UL 48 and the NEC for installations involving Class 2 wiring concealed in building walls?’

"The most frequent general question relates to the requirements applicable for the proper use of sign components within lighted signs of all types, especially neon signs."

Khan: "Most neon-related questions relate to the field installation of signs and NEC/UL issues. Most fluorescent-related questions concern illumination and light output of signs, especially with color, logo-face panels. With LEDs, common questions pertain to wiring requirements, including leading LED supplies. Others relate to LED light output, color and brightness control, and current settings."

Van Holt: "The ground-fault issue continues to be a big factor. It’s not nearly as overwhelming as a few years ago. However, we still get many units back that aren’t defective. Electronic ballasts continue to take market share. Also, there’s a buzz about the slow-arriving T8 lamps, which has piqued a great deal of interest."

LEDs and other options

DeMond: "LED lighting is changing monthly, and prices are becoming increasingly competitive with neon and fluorescent. Look for further developments."

Glantz: "LEDs have broadened the signage market with new applications. For example, they’re being used in wayfinding programs. This is good — our pie has grown. The more productive the industry, the greater the sales, the more profit companies enjoy."

Van Holt: "We’re frequently asked if the white LEDs are ready to go. Red, green, blue, amber and many other colors are widely used. Concerning electroluminescent products, price continues to be a major drawback. We don’t hear much discussion about OLEDs yet."

Forecasts and advice

DeMond: "LED, LED, LED."

Glantz: "Our pool of trained installers is diminishing. The next generation isn’t available — computer-related industries are more intriguing to the younger generation. Therefore, we’re going to be facing issues when we don’t have properly trained installers available. Also, we need more educational opportunities for all facets of the sign industry. I also foresee the possibility of solar technology being incorporated into the sign industry because fewer components are needed, and this tech-nology would satisfy increased energy-efficiency demands."

Hewitt: "Significant changes will be occurring in the safety standards for signs [UL 48] and sign components [UL 879] that will affect the construction and test requirements for these products. The UL 879 Standards Technical Panel [STP] has completed the initial ballot and voted, almost unanimously, to adopt the revised UL 879. Only a few negative comments need to be addressed prior to adoption, which is likely by mid-year, with changes having a two-year effective date. The UL 48-related changes will be submitted to the UL 48 STP for balloting and adoption by the end of the year."

Sign codes and regulations

DeMond: "The LED industry is working to relax UL and National Electrical Code [NEC] standards for use in signs and sign lighting. In some areas [Hamilton County, OH, being one], inspectors apply the NEC for sign wiring, which is overkill for LED applications. At this time, the NEC doesn’t differentiate between the two. According to the code, a sign is a sign.

"Nowhere does the code address low-voltage wiring [except for concealed wiring]. Also, we hear from many municipalities that don’t allow flashing signs, which doesn’t bode well for incandescents."

Hewitt: "While some regional energy codes, such as those in California, may encourage the use of more efficient lighting sources for signs, on a more global scale, we can’t say that we see specific trends that we could directly relate to local codes."

Khan: "Local/regional codes are always a major concern for sign manufacturers/installers. Not only are the codes sometimes confusing, but they are also inherently contradictory. For example, we worked in a city on code issues in which the sign code attempted to ban neon lighting. However, the building code required its use. We didn’t even need to talk about the dubious legalities of banning neon; we simply pointed out the contradiction in the code to the building department. Surprisingly, many regulators don’t seem to fully understand the products they’re regulating."

Van Holt: "Many communities are becoming aware of signs’ power consumption and are looking for fabricators to use more efficient sources."

Lighting FAQ’s

DeMond: "The most frequently asked questions we receive about neon are about ground-fault transformer problems; electronic ballasts for fluorescents; and, concerning LEDs, where can I use them, how do I install them, and how do I estimate them. Also, they ask about LED power consumption. We don’t receive any questions about OLEDs or electroluminescent lighting."

Glantz: "The question I hear most often is, ‘How come it doesn’t work?’"

Hewitt: "For neon: ‘What are the requirements for the use of polymeric materials?’ For fluorescents: ‘What are the requirements for the use of incandescent-to-fluorescent adapters in signs with Edison-base lamp sockets?’ For LEDs: ‘What are the requirements for the use of low-voltage power supplies [both Class 2 and non-Class 2] for supplying LED signs?’ and ‘What are the requirements in UL 48 and the NEC for installations involving Class 2 wiring concealed in building walls?’

"The most frequent general question relates to the requirements applicable for the proper use of sign components within lighted signs of all types, especially neon signs."

Khan: "Most neon-related questions relate to the field installation of signs and NEC/UL issues. Most fluorescent-related questions concern illumination and light output of signs, especially with color, logo-face panels. With LEDs, common questions pertain to wiring requirements, including leading LED supplies. Others relate to LED light output, color and brightness control, and current settings."

Van Holt: "The ground-fault issue continues to be a big factor. It’s not nearly as overwhelming as a few years ago. However, we still get many units back that aren’t defective. Electronic ballasts continue to take market share. Also, there’s a buzz about the slow-arriving T8 lamps, which has piqued a great deal of interest."

Advertisement

SPONSORED VIDEO

Introducing the Sign Industry Podcast

The Sign Industry Podcast is a platform for every sign person out there — from the old-timers who bent neon and hand-lettered boats to those venturing into new technologies — we want to get their stories out for everyone to hear. Come join us and listen to stories, learn tricks or techniques, and get insights of what’s to come. We are the world’s second oldest profession. The folks who started the world’s oldest profession needed a sign.

Promoted Headlines

Advertisement

Subscribe

Advertisement

Most Popular