Today’s Signs for the times

LED Displays by Adaptive Micro Systems
Written by Mark Golombek

This is our second feature on Adaptive Micro Systems. When speaking with the company two years ago, we talked about its pioneering efforts in LED indoor and outdoor displays, the industry boom in the nineties and the difficulties in 2009-10 which almost crippled the company. The growth of the company had been initially linked to the LED indoor display market, but in 2000, it ventured into the outdoor market before investing heavily in developing electronic billboards. The last two years have been good to Adaptive Micro Systems, and new product lines have been – and will continue to be – developed. We spoke with President Dennis Thums to find out more.
The last two years have seen the introduction of a broad range of new Adaptive Micro Systems products both for the indoor and outdoor markets. The company developed and introduced a new 7.8 mm pitch outdoor display product that has garnered great reviews. This high resolution outdoor display enables customers to display very impressive graphics and market messaging, while using smaller sized displays at an affordable price.

The gourmet burger or quick service sector uses this high resolution technology in its signs to visually emphasize the quality and appealing nature of their products. It shows, for example, a mouth-watering burger with vibrant color, which increases “drive in” sales.

“It really looks delicious on the 7.8 mm display, and a larger display is not needed. It is a much finer pitch, with a higher resolution. It gets the ‘drive-bys’ to become ‘drive-ins’,” says Dennis. Most competitors offer 10mm and 12mm, but the 7.8 mm single case screen carries with it the finest pitch and resolution for these types of applications.

So, what is pixel pitch and why does it matter? Pitch or pixel pitch is the distance in millimeters from the center of a pixel (or cluster of LEDs) to the center of the next cluster/pixel. A smaller pitch number has more pixels making up the picture, resulting in a sharper image – even up close. The difference in picture quality between the 7.8mm and 12mm displays is clearly visible to all.

LED signs have other advantages. An LED sign will last five to six times longer than an LCD sign, is much brighter, and can be viewed off angle. Quality and useful lifespan have always been a strength of Adaptive products. Some of its single- or tri-colored products have been operating in the field – impressively – for more than ten years. Generally, one of these signs would become technologically obsolete before wearing out.

Ten years ago, full color was not as affordable or really common for outdoor displays. In the last five to six years, however, everything has gone full color. “With a finer pitch, and more color, it becomes unlimited. I think the actual spec sheets talk about a quadrillion colors processed on some of our products, almost encompassing an infinite spectrum,” Dennis enthuses.

The finer the pitch – the more LEDs per square foot – generally results in a higher cost to the customer. This is where Adaptive prides itself on working hard to keep the costs down while maintaining high quality. Ten years ago, lower resolutions meant that it took a sign that was ten feet tall by fifteen feet wide to get the message across. Going with a 7.8 mm display, a much smaller sign is now possible; if you are on a street with city speed limits, a big sign is simply not needed, and may not be permitted.

“You get a really high resolution, so a smaller sign will suffice. It is also advantageous when it comes to zoning requirements in municipalities. They often limit the size of the sign, and the 7.8 mm technology becomes more desirable. The resolution is four times better than that of a 16mm sign,” says Dennis.

Adaptive is constantly making improvements in how users can communicate to the signs. The software makes it easy for store owners to customize content on site. This is a big part of why the outdoor products have become so popular; they are user-friendly. It is known as on-premise marketing or promotion and is used by restaurants, banks, gas stations or general stores. It is one of the best ways to communicate information to potential customers.

Also new is Adaptive’s super bright window sign, which works well inside convenience stores and is an attractive low cost option, especially in areas where the ordinance prohibits putting a sign outside. It is bright enough so that anyone in a parking lot or at a pump can clearly see the message which would encourage customers to come into the store to purchase whatever is being promoted. It is easy to install and hang inside of the window and is available in the 7.8 mm specification.

“You plug it in, program it to put in the message. It’s easy to update. We have new technology that makes it very easy to load content with the USB sticks. Whether it is a convenience store or a restaurant, this is a much cheaper way to draw customers inside the store to make additional purchases without having to get a permit or deal with the cost of outside installation,” explains Dennis.

Recently, a new line of indoor products has been introduced with the full range of colors, to aid in communication within an office space. These displays can provide information feeds on security or production information via an internet or internal information system connection. These information displays are used to keep the team informed about general office, business, safety or other building / campus information updates and notices.

Adaptive recently introduced a Mass Notification System display, a security product with a battery backup power design that can be used in emergency situations. The mass notification product can be integrated with fire alarms and other emergency notification systems. It is currently the only existing product for this application that is in full color, along with being manufactured in the USA and not utilizing any foreign developed software in the displays operations. These features are all important in Government or other security installation environments.

“Adaptive is a leader in the industry for this Mass Notification signage and building information and security displays. Rave reviews are coming in for its low power consumption, battery backup support, brightness and easy-to-store messages that can be triggered via fire or other security alarm systems and software integration,” says Dennis.

All of these new offerings are the direct result of the highly-skilled professionals on the Adaptive Engineering and Product Development Team. When the business was bought five years ago, one of the greatest assets included in the acquisition were the 60+ employees with a combined 760-plus years of experience. These jobs were saved by the investor group and have produced state-of-the-art technology to design and build Adaptive products.

Adaptive also works closely with end user customers on a broad range of OEM / private label applications. These are custom applications for projects that involve LED displays and may require communication to the display in a specific way, along with other unique requirements.

“That’s one of our strengths. We will work very closely with our customers and end users on projects in order to design what they really need or want for their application,” says Dennis.

Another major aspect of the work that Adaptive does is its Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Dynamic Message Signs (DMS) for on highways. Historically, across the U.S., most of the highway signage has been a single color: amber. Adaptive still does a lot of this work, and from a reliability standpoint, it makes the best amber signage out there. However, it has also introduced a fine pitch 20mm full-color offering.

Some additional product extensions have come from this that have been targeted toward some unique applications. Over the last two years, Adaptive has developed a new truck parking sign product. The displayed information communicates to the truck drivers how far the next truck parking lot is and how many parking spaces are available.

“It’s a big concern in the trucking industry to ensure that drivers know where they can park and what space is available so plans can be made ahead of time. At a certain point, they have to park the vehicle, and it is illegal or unsafe to park a semi on an on-ramp or off-ramp. This new signage becomes invaluable,” says Dennis. That new product was rolled out two years ago at the Detroit Transportation Show.

In the short term, Adaptive’s focus is on optimizing all new products that have been developed for the target markets. Transportation and building information systems are seen as real growth opportunities. Dennis mentions, due to the unfortunate circumstances surrounding current safety concerns in the U.S., the mass notifications and emergency notification displays are getting a lot more attention.

“We anticipate that there will be significant growth opportunity over the next few years. Whether it’s in schools, office buildings, retail establishments, it’s becoming more important to be able to communicate a visual message / Warning Alert in real time,” says Dennis.

One of the enduring strengths of Adaptive is its understanding of the applicable technology. It has the resources and the expertise to take that technology and package it in displays that best meet the customers’ – and their market’s – needs. This could be by making it simpler for them to customize their signs, regardless of what type of software that they are using, or by making it easier to achieve the aesthetic of how they want the sign to look and the level of resolution and the message they want to convey.

“We have the experience and the expertise to create those customized solutions using state-of-the-art technology. That’s where our real strength for the future is.”



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