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The complexities of installing an LED sign

The complexities of installing an LED sign

Case study - 240 St Georges Terrace

LED signs are becoming the norm across the signage landscape. I have written several articles about the growth of LED screens and how well they have been integrated into the visual landscape internationally and how rapidly they are growing in Australia also.

The options for Australian Sign companies really come down to two. One is to outsource the entire work, supply, install and maintenance and the other is to source the screen supplier yourself.

If you haven’t done much in the LED arena, then the option to outsource makes total sense. One problem is, of course, who do you use? How long have they been in business and how long will they be in business? (Good luck with that last question as I have seen many come and go in a very short space of time. It doesn’t build a lot of confidence does it?)

The option to source the screen supplier by yourself is easy, and there are hundreds. But finding a good reliable supplier is fraught with the same dilemma as finding a good business in option one. Once you have found a supplier, you can install and maintain the LED. That side isn’t too difficult, however you do need some good research into what you are getting into and even if you are comfortable and have done many previously, sometimes things can still  go wrong.

Case study

Given the above, I thought it might be worthwhile to do a case study on our most recent supply and install job. Our client was the builder of a large CBD tower refurbishment. The end client was the property management group looking after the building, so two entities to satisfy. Not so bad, right? The Property Management Group then contracted a Project Management company to help oversee the works also, so now there are three entities to satisfy, and a contract only with the builder. Sounds like fun doesn’t it?

The tender called for submissions on a fairly narrow scope which made it much easier than most requests from people who don’t really know what they need. The challenge, like most, was the question whether it was going to be a building site and what access would be available. In addition, the location is situated on a very busy corner in Perth CBD so we knew a clear traffic lane access for delivery was going to be challenging.

The screen is 2800 x 3500mm in a 4 sided cube with edges to illuminate as close as possible; P10 LED’s with Nova Star processors and Bright Sign media players. Kingman Visual won the tender from eight others and fortunately the builders had secured development approval, so once our drawings were complete, along with engineering, the building approval was a mere formality.

Council policies and attaining clear access

The location for the sign was to be retrofitted to a new concrete column on an extremely busy corner offering excellent visibility. Perth City Council continued with its policy on banning any video content or animation and any third party advertising. For a city with third party advertising on nearly every street corner and a massive screen in Yagan Square showing both video and third party advertising, it did nothing to improve the council’s reputation of ‘Nanny State’ mentality. The council has in fact been suspended since 2018 so this ‘Council in Waiting’ is continuing with the same policies of its predecessors. Nevertheless, it’s what we have to abide by and we work forward to meet the completion date.

As with all building sites, getting clear access is a nightmare. Coupled with an extremely busy intersection, trying to get suitable and safe lane closures for access equipment deliveries prior to install is extremely difficult. The normal process of lane closure permits and traffic
management applied.

Delays from China

Although purchasing the LED screen via an Australian distributor was thought to be the smarter and faster way of purchasing, the same delays occur as almost all screens are built in China so the same manufacturing and freight delays occur, as they did in this case. (Several weeks past the expected delivery, in fact.)

During the delay, we needed to build the rear-mounting frame to the Chinese specifications. The problem was, the drawings were all in Chinese. We went back to our supplier and were advised by the supplier to simply follow the sizes, as that’s all we needed to follow to build our frame. What could go wrong? It turns out the drawings were reversed and the frame not suitable!!

Altering the frame was annoying but part of the process where China is involved. We had the power feeds fitted to the site by the builders and the site deemed ready for install. The supplier gave us a full electrical plan for the sign but then supplied the LED modules in a different configuration to their electrical plan. It meant having to redo the electrical supply. More annoyance! 

One week installation

Full installation took an entire week with the major issue being the challenge of keeping the frame perfectly horizontal so that the inflexible LED panels align perfectly once they meet on the original corner. It is simple enough with lasers, however the cube was slightly out of square and vertical so it took many attempts to get the base line perfect. This meant the installation took longer than anticipated and we, in fact, had to fully refit the LED panels to ensure perfect alignment and minimal gaps between modules. Once complete, the screen was fired up and in the following days, many LEDs failed. In total, we ended up replacing over 100 individual LED modules. Far more than what we would normally expect.

Further problems ensue

We encountered lots of problems (even as a local screen supplier), but our aim is to always ensure the client gets what they expect and that was indeed our end goal. There was another week of commissioning, testing and training with the client and then the site remained behind cladding for another month.  When it was finally removed, it was like unwrapping a Christmas present. Like any larger project, it can’t be fully appreciated until you can stand back and judge for yourself the outcome. 

Signs of ‘signaphilia’

I confess to being a ‘signaphile’, someone obsessed with signage. Yes, I know I need to get out more but when my wife and I do go out, I end up looking at signs. Yes, I need counselling. But driving past this sign in the late afternoon was simply a pleasure. I did so several times until my wife threatened if I did one more drive by, it would be on my own. I’m fairly smart so the drive bys came to an end.

The synopsis of the project is simply this - even when you may be fully comfortable with your project, things can still go wrong. The time-tested rules still apply today - check then check again, and, finally, good luck!

Written by Vernon Kingman

Kingman Visual

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