Hype vs. Effectiveness

Electrical Sign Supply demonstrates neon's effectiveness for a channel-letter retrofit.
Loren Lighting Graphic.jpg

Quite often, sign-industry professionals find end users rely more on advice or product recommendations they find on the Internet and in advertising e-blasts than on the professionals’ expertise and experience.
For example, a professional tractor salesman won’t sell a cotton farmer a Prius car to work his crops. Just because the car gets better mileage or is the new “chic” vehicle, with a more popular advertising campaign, doesn’t make it a John Deere tractor. Even though the cotton farmer’s accountant told him he had to reduce his fuel cost, the true professional, who keeps his customers’ best interests at heart, knows the farmer should plow his fields with a tractor.
This should be the sign-industry professional’s mindset, too. Here’s an example.
Lexus demanded that a set of channel letters be refurbished. The national billboard company that operated the leased sign contacted Electrical Sign Display (ESD), Houston. The channel letters, which were attached atop the billboard, had been operating for a few years.
The white, polycarbonate letter faces, which featured an unusual, gold-Mylar (PET)-type overlay, were internally illuminated with a heavily populated LED system. ESD’s Shawn Greenan said the refurbishment proved challenging, because the original design for illumination didn’t consider the effects of the Mylar film, the flood lighting from the bottom of the billboard and the LEDs. All of this poor illumination generated a very unsatisfied customer.
The letters were removed and brought to the shop to begin a diagnosis. The mylar film had lost adhesion and begun to separate from the letter faces. After having tested the (51) power supplies and the LED modules, the ESD team found five (10%) of the power supplies and roughly 15% of the LED modules had failed completely, and 20% of the LED modules flickered intermittently after roughly 30 minutes of operation.
Was the use of LEDs the right choice for this application? Greenan questioned the illumination choice. He wondered why the original manufacturer crammed in so many modules for brightness when a different light source could have accomplished the same goal more efficiently.
ESD also considered the operating cost (running 51 power supplies and myriad LEDs), lack of performance and high replenishment cost, and offered a neon alternative to its customer. After having fabricated a small, neon mockup, ESD calculated the comparative costs. The options for neon and LED were entered into ABC’s sign-estimating software.
According to the comparison, the figures are (with LED listed first): cost: $6,157 vs. $710; power supplies: 51 vs. 8; shop assembly time: 279 hours vs. 18 hours; field-installation time: 8 hours for both; life expectancy: 50,000 hours vs. 100,000 hours; electrical consumption: 6,121W vs. 1,440W; and recyclability: unknown vs. 100%.
The numbers confirm neon as the superior choice for this application. The numbers bear out that in fact in this application neon was by far the superior choice. With cheaper upfront cost as well as operating expense, the customer would be better served in both the short and long term by choosing the neon retrofit. The only downside for the customer is that he is not driving the hip, new, better than sliced bread, feel good, “Prius” lighting system. However, his neon tractor will light for years, efficiently and effectively, as he continues to plow through the night with bright, attention grabbing signage.
Loren Hudson is president of Hudson & Hudson Inc. (Houston), which manufactures bent neon as a nationwide, wholesale neon provider, and Mojoglo.com. He also serves as president of The Neon Group, which provides technical support, advertising and information to end users, designers, specifiers and local signshops about the positive attributes that neon can deliver in signage programs. Loren and his family have been involved in neon fabrication since 1947.

Forum Insights

Comments from members of the Signs of the Times Forum on LinkedIn provided some insights on issues that are facing the neon industry.
Erik G., from the Sign Syndicate.com, said he appreciated “how really efficient it [neon] truly is, how it’s been mischaracterized, how green it is, and how you can re-retrofit, very inexpensively and with better phosphor-coated lamps, to make it both light and energy-efficient.”
Carol Keljo, owner of Security Signs (Portland, OR), said, “An issue for us is getting the parts/supplies needed. It seems they are going by the wayside. Initially, the glass housings were out of production (200 spring, 300 pigtails, etc.). Those are all back in production and readily available. The G and GG cups are currently difficult to obtain and, as far as I know, are not being produced anywhere. The G and GG cups are the major hindrance currently. Some of the small neon transformers were also difficult to get, but it looks like that has been resolved as well. Limited demand likely plays into the limited-supply realm. It’s all very unfortunate, but things do change, and this is another indication of significant industry change.”
Rodney Long, general manager at Marion Sign & Lighting (Ocala, FL), said, “I’ve installed neon in many locations over the years. And, as long as you balance the loads, use 9,000V or less transformers, and have the glass pumped correctly, you will more than likely only return to the project for a defective transformer.
“I have one job, in Jacksonville, FL, that has been on for more than 10 years, and no service has been required except the first year, to replace a 7,500V transformer. These are open channel letters on a concrete building; we installed clear faces to protect the glass from bird nests and other wind-blown debris. They are also within 100 ft. of a major interstate. With the double-stroke neon, the customer achieved the classic, neon-sign look he requested.”
Carol Keljo shared how Security Signs’ neon display helps clients “better understand the noble gases and the different effects each gives to the glass, once charged. We spliced together two identical glass units that comprised 11 different colors of Voltarc and EGL glass, and one section of clear glass in each unit. We then filled the top unit with argon gas and the bottom unit with neon gas. When the cabinet is off, the top unit and bottom unit look identical. Once the power is turned on, customers can clearly see the difference between argon and neon, and the different colors that are produced. The clear tubes really help customers understand the difference when they see the bright red and the light blue gas. It’s also fun to show the different colors we can create by filling a tube designed for argon with neon. For example, filling Voltarc Veep Green with neon gas produces a vibrant bright orange.”

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