The Anticipated Lifespan of Outdoor LED Signs: What to Expect

Outdoor LED signs have saturated major urban centers and commercial establishments due to their outstanding features. However, these digital mediums are not immune to degradation. In other words, they have an expected lifespan that indicates how long they can maintain optimal performance. This article outlines all you need to know about this lifespan.

Understanding the lifespan of LEDs

In technology, the term lifespan is defined as the duration of time that a device remains fully operational under typical circumstances. This applies mostly to hardware and not software because hardware is made from degradable materials. 

Devices such as LEDs exhibit degradation in many forms. They include;

  • Performance drop
  • Loss of compatibility
  • Functionality  issues
  • Wear and tear
  • Connectivity failures

When a device starts showing signs of the above, it means several things. If they are caused by external elements, that could mean that it’s due for maintenance. However, if the issues are brought about by age, it could mean that its optimal performance capabilities are depreciating due to extended use.

LEDs are semiconductor devices that are used for lighting. These devices are used in many digital gadgets, including outdoor LED signs. Different materials and compounds are used in the manufacture of LED devices. 

These semiconductor materials are either organic or inorganic. Typically, organic materials tend to degrade faster and easier than inorganic. As such, organic LEDs have a shorter lifespan than their inorganic counterparts. Gallium arsenide is an example of an inorganic LED material while carbon-based materials that have semiconductor properties are used for organic LEDs.

The functionality of LED semiconductors is pegged to their lumens. Essentially, it is the measure of the amount of light that the semiconductor device can output. Lumens are used to indicate the performance of LEDs because light emission is their primary purpose. When this lumen decreases, the LEDs are said to be experiencing depreciation.

The length of time that an outdoor LED sign can sustain is heavily influenced by the degradation of the properties of the type of LED powering it. This is because the LED is the main component that controls the display and outdoor LED signs are primarily used to display information.

The average lifespan of outdoor LED signs

Outdoor LED signs are what they sound like — digital signs equipped with LED display technology that are meant for outdoor environments. They are used for advertising, information overlay, education, and directions, among other applications.

As you would expect, outdoor environments are riddled with many variables that can be damaging to sensitive devices such as LEDs. Particularly, water and dust are known to affect electrical systems in many ways.

There are many ways manufacturers use to fabricate outdoor LED signs. Some reinforce them with ingress protection techniques to make them resistant to foreign elements like dust and water. This approach achieves protection from forceful means of degradation. However, LED lights have what’s known as expected obsolescence.

The expected obsolescence of LED displays for outdoor signs is an average period calculated based on a few factors. One of the most common factors considered is known as mean time between failures (MTBF).

According to several institutions, outdoor LED signs can function for up to 100,000 hours or an average of 10 – 15 years. This is considered the average lifespan of outdoor LED signs. Of course, this period will vary. In another section, we will delve deeper into the factors that influence this period and how to optimize them.

Lumen depreciation of LEDs 

The power of visible light emitted by LEDs is known as luminous flux and it is measured in lumens and expressed as lm. This power is defined in relation to the wattage consumption by the LED semiconductor device. This relationship is what gives us lumen efficacy (lm/W). 

LED displays can output light with a luminous flux of up to 4000 lumens. At this level, the display is visibly quite bright. However, over time, this brightness starts to decline, meaning the LEDs are losing the original power. This loss is known as lumen depreciation.

Like most light-emitting devices, LEDs have a multiplier known as light loss factor (LLF). This constant is used in the estimation of the luminous flux of these semiconductors. To realize lumen depreciation, this factor is applied.

There are many causes of lumen depreciation besides lumen depreciation. Temperature increase past a certain degree is considered a major contributing factor. Specifically, luminous flux starts deteriorating if LEDs are subjected to temperatures above 167°F (75°C) for extended periods. 

High temperatures contribute to lumen depreciation in the following ways;

  • Increasing thermal stress. High temperatures cause expansion and contraction of the surface of LEDs, thereby facilitating micro cracking. As a result, the diodes will struggle to maintain brightness levels and eventually die off.
  • Degradation of phosphor in white LEDs. Phosphor is responsible for controlling the temperature of color emitted by white LEDs. Under high temperatures, this material degrades, thereby affecting the light-emitting properties of the diodes.
  • Accelerated aging process. Again, the thermal stress of high temperatures can increase the rate at which LEDs are normally supposed to age. This can significantly reduce the lifespan of the diodes.
  • Lack of a dissipation mechanism. Naturally, LEDs emit some form of heat and they produce light. Therefore, this undesired heat is supposed to be dissipated to mitigate its damaging effects. The lack of a mechanism will definitely promote lumen depreciation.

As a major factor that influences the lifespan of outdoor LED signs, lumen depreciation is worth learning about. While in most cases it is expected, there are approaches that can ensure it is controlled. Regulating the temperature that can reach the LED diodes will eliminate a major degrading factor.

Testing the lifespan of LEDs

The average lifespan of LEDs is not a theoretical figure. Engineers calculated this value in many ways and averaged the values to arrive at the 10 – 15-year lifespan. The range allowed is to account for the differences in technologies, arithmetic errors, and other factors.

These calculations are usually done in collaboration with international bodies such as the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA). These organizations also develop standards that manufacturers will measure their LEDs to ascertain that they can sustain the expected lifespan. 

Commonly, there are two standard tests used to evaluate the lumen efficiency of these LED semiconductors. Let us discuss them at length.

The LM-80 Standard

This is the principal guidebook for measuring the lumen depreciation of LEDs. It stipulates tests, procedures, guidelines, and benchmarks that guide manufacturers during testing. The standard also directs the test conditions for this property of LED devices.

LED panels that pass this standard are considered ready for use. However, it does not imply that the LED will be immune to lumen depreciation. Test durations are supposed to last for at least 6,000 as per the guidelines of the standard.

The TM-21 Standard

Here is another standard that was developed by IESNA to use the results from the LM-80 tests to calculate the expected period the LEDs will retain the original luminous flux. In other words, the results of the LM-80 are used to calculate the lifespan of an LED using the TM-21 standard.

A mathematical method known as extrapolation is applied to this calculation. Thanks to this formula manufacturers are able to determine how long their LED can last based on the LM-80 and the average lifespan of LEDs.

Factors that determine the lifespan of outdoor LED signs

Technically, the lifespan of an outdoor LED sign is not the same as the lifespan of LED semiconductor chips. However, provided that the display is the main and most essential component of the whole device, we are mostly concerned with the lifespan of the LED display.

The lifespan of the display is influenced by several factors. While the list might not be extensive, it contains the basic and most common factors. Let us see how these factors increase or reduce the lifespan of LED signs.

Quality of components

An outdoor LED sign has many components that function together to showcase different types of graphics on the display. The quality of these components is a major factor that dictates how long the outdoor LED can sustain.

High-quality components will ensure that the device will function optimally without experiencing failures. As you would expect, this means that the device can live up to the expected lifespan. On the flip side, poor-quality components will strain the display and make it age immaturely.

The outdoor LED sign provider is responsible for the quality of the components. In most cases, the sign comes as a complete unit, and in other cases, it needs to be assembled from assorted parts. It is still the duty of the LED sign assembler or manufacturer to use the right quality of components for best performance.

Warranty

This is a guarantee or assurance provided by a manufacturer stipulating their commitment to repair or replace a device if the specified conditions are met. Warranty documents can help alter the lifespan of an outdoor LED in either direction.

For most manufacturer warranties to apply, there is a requirement that the user, in this case, you, are not supposed to do something that is considered voiding the warranty. These conditions include specifying the type of defects covered, duration of coverage, and tampering with the device. 

A warranty can help increase the lifespan of a defective outdoor LED sign. The manufacturer knows the best maintenance practices to restore functionality better than any third-party technicians.

Usage

The handling, setup conditions, length of use, and frequency of use are common culprits that influence the lifespan of an outdoor LED sign.

Starting with set-up conditions, most outdoor environments are harsh and hostile. Most urban centers are usually filled with people and activities. Fortunately, most outdoor LED protection has at least an IP65 rating to protect them from water splashes and dust particles. This makes them maintain optimal performance in wet and dry conditions.

Frequency and duration of use also determine how long an outdoor LED sign will last. Surprisingly, LEDs that are turned continuously rather than on and off last longer. The devices are optimized to handle extended periods without depreciating. 

Advancements in tech

With technology getting better by the day, you should expect better outdoor LED signs that are capable of lasting longer than 10 – 15 years. LED technology is constantly undergoing research and development to find better semiconductor materials and fabrication methods. The development of inorganic micro LEDs is a great example.

The phenomenon of changes in technology influencing the lifespan of LEDs is already in action. To clarify, the LED signs being used currently have a longer lifespan than what was used two decades ago. There is a constant improvement with the addition of features and technologies that promote better performance of outdoor LED signs.

Maintenance

A poorly maintained outdoor LED sign will depreciate in quality faster than one that receives regular and scheduled maintenance. 

The purpose of maintenance is to identify possible signs of defects early on and fix them before they escalate. This includes repairing and replacing defective components, fine-tuning, mechanical adjustments, and so on. This approach is also known as preventive maintenance. 

If you are renting outdoor LED signs from a third party, ensure you are aware of who is supposed to handle maintenance and when. Doing so will help you avoid downtimes. It will also help you plan your usage based on the maintenance schedule.

Manufacturing standards 

Outdoor LED signs are designed and manufactured by numerous companies. Each of these companies has standards that it follows in the manufacturing process. These standards have an influence on the lifespan of the LED sign.

Manufacturing standards could involve lumen depreciation ratings, quality of components, after-purchase support, and so on. If these standards are not on the positive side, you can expect the outdoor LED sign to have a poor lifespan.

Design and specifications

The design and specifications of an LED sign also determine its lifespan. Design includes the shape, aesthetics, choice of material, and other essential elements. Specifications on the other hand stipulate the technical details about the device. 

Designing an outdoor LED sign that will stand the test of time requires rigor and dedication to quality. This means choosing the right material, personnel, and resources. As a consumer, you need to choose the LED sign based on these factors. 

How to increase the lifespan of LED outdoor sign

It happens that an outdoor LED sign starts to degrade faster than the expected rate. This means that its chances of lasting for the expected period are stuttered. In such cases, there are strategies used to stall the depreciation rate or reverse it completely. 

Essentially, the simplest and most effective way to improve the lifespan of an outdoor LED sign is to ensure the factors discussed in the previous section are positive. Ensure that what you have control over is optimized. 

Maintenance is something you have complete control over. Therefore, learn the best LED maintenance tips for handling outdoor LED signs. Furthermore, there are some maintenance practices that do not require technical knowledge of the LED sign. They include;

  • Sticking to manufacturer guidelines. If the manufacturer’s guideline indicates that the device can support a certain power source, you should stick to it to avoid electrical failures.
  • Planning and sticking to maintenance schedules. These schedules are planned in such a way that the period between one and the other is sufficient to ensure optimal performance without maintenance. Therefore, stick to the schedule for the best results.
  • Have disaster management action plans. In the outdoor environment, anything can happen unexpectedly. Therefore, you need to be prepared on how to secure your assets in cases of extreme weather or other extremities.

These are general practices that can improve the lifespan of an LED sign over time. It is worth adding that some will apply while others will not depending on the uniqueness of your setup. All in all, you will experience several benefits from taking some of these measures.

Benefits of improving the lifespan of outdoor LED signs

There is a lot you stand to gain from following the above tips of improving the lifespan of outdoor LED signs. Benefits include saving money, better performance, and attaining goals, among others. Let us look at them in more detail.

Avoids repair and replacement cost 

As a rule of thumb, you need to cut costs as much as possible for better returns. Costs related to repairs and replacement can add up quickly when the outdoor LED signs are neglected or in bad shape. Therefore, you need to make sure you are doing all you can to improve their lifespan.

It would make more sense to spend heavy on maintenance costs once a year, than to buy parts and pay technicians fees every so often. Again, these costs would add up and count to a lot, eventually. 

Achieve energy efficiency

Outdoor LED signs are energy efficient. However, this depends on their technical status. For instance, LED chips that have a lumen depreciation would require more energy to max out the brightness. 

Energy efficiency is a major concern, especially in huge cities. The issue of carbon neutrality is an urgent matter that requires collective efforts. Being energy efficient is a great place to start. 

Ensures optimal performance  

Faulty LED signs tend to have poor performance on all fronts. Performance, in this case, means achieving the intended purpose. So if an LED sign is meant to display an advert for twenty-four hours but it fails, this means that its performance is poor. This scenario would have serious implications for your business.

Attain business goals

Imagine having to shut down an entire lineup of street LED signs because they are faulty. In this case, your ads will not reach the target audience. This would mean losing potential customers and possibly revenue.

As a business leader, you are probably more concerned about streamlining the high level operations. Therefore, concerns about the functionality of LED signs could be under other departments. The least you could do is let them know the importance of having the systems running smoothly at all times.

Factors that shorten the lifespan of outdoor LED signs

Primarily, the condition of an outdoor LED sign is influenced by external factors that exist in the environment where it is installed. However, its lifespan can also be shortened by internal factors like we discussed above. The external factors include;

Dust 

The atmosphere is full of dust particles. This dust is an enemy to most electrical components and devices. It affects most of the delicate connections to a great extent. For instance, dust settles on electrical connections and blocks transmissions. The damage from dust can contribute to temporary or permanent damage.

Luckily, most outdoor LED signs have an IP65 rating. The 6 means that the device is completely dust proof. Therefore, you will not have to worry much about dusty environments. However, it helps to check the ingress protection every so often.

Humidity 

Naturally, the atmosphere is humid. However, the humidity levels are usually low in hot and dry conditions. On the other hand, wet and cool conditions increase the humidity levels by a huge factor. 

Humidity affects outdoor LED systems due to the electrical connections. You are already aware that water is not good for electricity. Therefore, contact with water splashes need to be avoided for better lifespan. This is why IP65 rated outdoor LED displays are mostly recommended. The 5 means that the device is water resistant.

Heat

There are many sources of heat that can affect the lifespan of outdoor LED signs. The most common source is the temperature emitted as light is produced. This temperature has a threshold and if it is exceeded, the LED chips will start to degrade. They will lose their lumen efficiency and eventually start dying

To control the amount of temperature or heat being produced in the LED screen, you need to ensure that the system is fully serviced. Secondly, ensure that the system is not being overused for the best results.

Electromagnetic radiation

This is another variable that is almost inseparable from the open and uncontrolled outdoor environment. Electromagnetic radiation comes from the stars, the sun being a major contributor. As such, the chances of any environment being riddled with this radiation are quite high.

This form of radiation interferes with the radio frequencies of the LED controller. The type and level of interruption will vary. Typically, it can go as far as to initiate programs mistakenly. As you can imagine this can affect the productivity of these systems to a great extent.

Corrosive gasses

Outdoor LED signs might have dust and water ingress protection, but they are not impermeable to gasses. Some gasses that exist in the environment are naturally corrosive to some materials. After long periods of exposure, these gasses can tamper with the electrical components of an outdoor LED sign. This can be controlled by using air tight covering to limit ingress of some of these gasses.

How to maintain an outdoor LED sign  

Maintenance of an outdoor LED sign is quite straightforward. For one, these devices are meant to survive in harsh environments. However, that does not rule out the need for maintenance. Here are some maintenance tips that you can implement now.

Stick to a consistent maintenance schedule

Regularly servicing your outdoor LED signs will help you in many ways. To start with, you will be able to identify possible hazards before they become unmanageable. Secondly, most LED makers recommend not skipping maintenance for various reasons. Typically, an outdoor LED sign should be serviced at least twice a year.

Precautions based on environmental conditions

While most outdoor LED signs are capable of sustaining harsh and stressful environments, it helps to take precaution. Steps to take precaution could include a lot of things. For instance, you can install covers that can protect the devices in case of heavy downpour. Doing so will ensure that the LED sign can continue functioning under abnormal conditions.

Hire qualified and experienced technicians 

The skills required when handling outdoor LED signs are not basic. There are technicians who are specifically trained to install, operate, maintain, and handle these devices. In your quest to maintain or manage them, you need to rely on qualified and experienced technicians. If you are struggling with this, ask your LED sign provider for recommendations.

Use a reliable power source

Using the right power source is equally important. Reliability means that the power has a low downtime and high uptime. In other words, you can count on it to power the system continuously without breaking down. 

Solar power is among the most highly used sources of power for outdoor LED signs. For one, solar is reliable, and inexpensive. Also, it is a clean energy source. Therefore, you will get reliability, value for money, all while being mindful of the environment.

Conclusion

The expected lifespan of an outdoor LED sign is about 10 years. However, this is under laboratory conditions. This means that the time could be shorter or longer in real life. When maintained properly, this lifespan can be achieved. Conversely, poor maintenance will cut this lifespan significantly. Follow the maintenance practices outlined for a long outdoor LED sign lifespan.

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