LED, cabinet signs

LED Lighting for Cabinet Signs: The Boom is Here

Chris Palmieri is a product marketing manager for OSRAM Sylvania

The LED boom for new cabinet sign production is here. The signage industry has enjoyed the advantages of using LED in channel letters for years. However, until recently, using LEDs in a cabinet sign just did not make financial sense.

Traditional LED chain modules, like those used in channel letters, have limitations in sign cabinet applications. The install process is lengthy to layout, tape, and glue each and every little module. The high labor and component cost of using traditional channel letter LEDs has been a road block for general acceptance of LEDs as a suitable light source for cabinet signs.

The good news is that everything has changed! Today, sign manufacturers using proper LEDs specifically designed for sign cabinets enjoy substantial advantages over sign manufactures continuing to use fluorescent or standard LED chain modules.

Simpler and Less Costly

Sign manufacturers using high performing box sign LEDs are winning more projects, increasing margins, increasing production capability and simplifying manufacturing and purchasing processes. Even more importantly, the appropriate LED allows sign manufacturers to sell LED cabinets at a price comparable to fluorescent signs.

Box sign LED modules, while considerably less costly than traditional LED modules, may in fact be less costly than fluorescent. The following example with a 4’ x 8’ sign cabinet will illustrate how a box sign LED lighting solution can be competitive versus traditional LED and fluorescent using the following design concepts.

Minimize the Number of Modules

One solution to reduce lighting installation time is to minimize the number of modules required to evenly and brightly light a cabinet face. A 4’ x 8’ cabinet only needs 15 modules (three rows of five) for both single and double-sided cabinets using LED modules specifically designed for sign cabinets. In contrast, a standard LED chain module with six-inch pitch (module to module spacing) would require approximately 105 modules in single-sided cabinet and 210 modules in a double-sided cabinet.

The lighting installation time is greatly reduced using a box sign LED system. Traditional channel letter LED installation takes much longer considering that you need to measure, lay out the modules, peel tape and mechanically fasten or silicone each tiny module into place. Using a reduced number of box sign LEDs provides an approximate 80 percent reduction in lighting installation time in a 4’ x 8’ sign cabinet, lighting a 4’ x 8’ sign in about 15-20 minutes.

Box sign LED modules that are double sided offer greater advantages over traditional LED modules. Lighting a double-sided cabinet with traditional LEDs requires double the amount of LEDS compared to a single-sided box. Doubling the number of LEDs also directly doubles the required amount of labor to finish the cabinet. On the other hand, using box sign LED modules in a double sided box sign still only requires the same 15 modules with about 20-30 minutes of labor time.

Utilize a Snap-Track System

Snap-track systems provide greater time savings when installing your LED lighting system in both single- and double-sided sign cabinets.

The snap track completely eliminates the need to peel tape, silicone and/or mechanically fasten the modules into place. The modules compress into the track and click into place with the squeeze of your hand. No more rivets, screws, silicone, tape peels or wasted time.

The snap track allows for very quick row spacing adjustments to accommodate specific project requirements. To make quick adjustments, simply unclick, relocate, and click the track into its new position.

Use Brighter Modules with Advanced Optics

The use of fewer modules is made possible by significantly increasing their brightness. The module must also use a superior optic to spread the brighter light uniformly over a wider area of the sign face. The optic is the key feature that allows brighter modules to be spaced further apart. Without an enhanced optic, there would be hot spots and shadowing.

LED Must be Competitive with Fluorescent

Box sign LED solutions have already proven to be significantly more advantageous than traditional LED chain modules when it comes to lighting a sign cabinet. However, depending on how many signs your shop builds, box sign LED lighting systems can actually rival the manufacturing cost of using fluorescent and, in some cases, may actually cost less.

There are a variety of costs associated with manufacturing sign cabinets. In order to evaluate the true cost and savings of lighting a sign cabinet with box sign LEDs it is imperative to consider all manufacturing costs.

Cost of Components

Let’s start by looking at the cost of components for a 4’ x 8’ sign, single- and double-sided for both fluorescent and LED cabinet sign systems.

•          Fluorescent Components—Keep in mind that the costs are the same for single- or double-sided applications. Four pairs of sockets, four 8’ lamps, one electronic ballast, plus raceway aluminum, wires and connectors.

•          Box sign LED Components—To light a double-sided cabinet you will have an increased module cost by switching from single- to double-sided modules. Additionally, there are track, connectors and an additional power supply that will add to the component cost. Again, the module count stays the same at 15. Fifteen modules and one power supply (add five tracks, three pairs of connectors, and a power supply for double sided cabinet)

I invite you to do a little calculation of your component costs for your personal reference. For a single-side box sign, the LED components may cost a little more than the fluorescent components. The component cost of fluorescent is clearly less than a double-sided LED solution. Keep in mind that the component cost is only one aspect of production cost. We must look at labor as well.

Cost of Labor

Now let’s compare labor costs. I believe the LED option offers a substantial labor reduction when compared to fluorescent.

•          The fluorescent labor time will come from designing, measuring, cutting, bending and installing raceways. Furthermore, there is punching and wiring sockets and installing the lamps. It can take three to four hours to design, produce and install every component of a fluorescent lighting system in a 4’ x 8’ cabinet.

•          The LED solution should take about 15-25 minutes for a single-sided sign, and about 20-30 minutes for a double-sided one. Labor savings using LED is substantial and can add up to significant savings.

Increased Profits Through Faster Production

Sign manufacturers routinely over-emphasize component cost when comparing LED systems with fluorescent systems and often choose fluorescent simply because the component cost is $50-$150 less. However, the amount of labor saved by choosing LED could negate that $50-$150 component cost difference.

Sign manufactures should place more emphasis on increasing profitability by increasing production rates. Let’s imagine that a sign company profits $500 on every 4’ x 8’ sign that it can push out its shipping doors. Using fluorescent, one skilled laborer could install lighting in three 4’ x 8’ box signs during the course of one eight hour workday. At this rate, the sign company is limited to shipping out three signs and will average about $1,500 for that day.

Using LED, that same employee can now install lighting into 10 signs and enjoy a 15-minute break in between each install project. Furthermore, the same sign company can ship out 10 signs and make $5,000 that day. Moving from fluorescent to LED has increased the sign company’s daily profit by $3,500. Continuing to use fluorescent in this case actually stalls production and costs the sign company $3,500 per day. The appropriate sign cabinet LED can simply be more profitable than using fluorescent.

The Results

Sign manufacturers may not need to produce 10 electric signs per day, but it is clear that there are major benefits that sign companies enjoy by switching to LED for production. Using LED in cabinets frees up employees to work and complete other projects that will help bring in additional revenue. Often in smaller sign shops, the owner is also the sign manufacturer. Imagine how much more available time the owner has to go make sales calls, work on other sign projects and grow the business.