Polymers are increasing their role in the growing North American sign industry, thanks in part to the growing demand for light-emitting diode lighting systems.
LED is creating opportunities for plastics by challenging applications that had traditionally used neon signs, which are made with glass tubing. Plastics-related producers see dollar signs as LED is capitalizing on its advantages: low wattage, low heat, long life, and energy efficiency.
``It's definitely emerging and in some cases overtaking neon,'' Janay Rickwalder, spokeswoman for the Alexandria, Va.-based International Sign Association, said at Sign Expo, held March 30 to April 2 in Las Vegas.
``Neon is not going to go away,'' said Lori Anderson, president of the ISA. ``But there are more challenges [to neon] now with new material developments.''
Take, for example, Gelcore of Valley View, Ohio. The joint venture between GE Lighting and Emcore Corp. of Somerset, N.J., showcased new rods molded from custom-blended ASA. The product is intended to replace neon, in applications such as open-face channel letters, building border lighting and architectural lighting.
``We needed to provide neon-like appearance with durability and impact resistance,'' said Matt Mrakovich, program manager with Gelcore, in an April 1 interview at the show.
PolyBrite International Inc. of Naperville, Ill., used statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy to prove why LED is better. By 2005, solid-state LED lighting could reduce commercial electric bills by $15 billion and residential electric bills by $5 billion, according to the company. The reductions would keep 28 million tons of carbon from power plant emissions out of the atmosphere each year; and mercury pollution from coal combustion also would be reduced.
The firm is working with special polymers for LED products. It introduced its Accent Lighting System, which has a high-impact polycarbonate base. PolyBrite also showcased unbreakable light bulbs, molded from a patented polymer formulation.
``This is the evolution of the bulb after years of tinkering,'' said Chuck Harder, vice president of lighting technologies for Westinghouse LED Lighting Systems. The brand, Westinghouse LED Lighting Systems, is the result of a joint distribution and marketing agreement between PolyBrite International Inc. and Westinghouse Lighting Corp. of Philadelphia.
Officials won't disclose the type of polymer used in the bulb (although one recent patent lists ethylene/butene polymers and polypropylene among the materials used). According to the company, the bulb is suitable for indoor and outdoor signage, retail displays, monument and menu boards, decorative applications and general illumination.
The venture has worked with various processing techniques to make the bulbs.
``We're still looking for our best molding approach,'' Harder said.
Acrylic sheet firm Cyro Industries of Rockaway, N.J., introduced Acrylite EndLighten Acrylic Sheet for the illuminated sign market, a slender edge-lit sheet that allows light sources such as LED to be concealed inside framing, enabling construction of very thin and extremely bright signage. The sheet is designed with neutral-colored diffuser particles for uniform distribution of light.