Freelance - Commissioned Animated LED Sign 

/Engineering

Overview

 

I worked with VisionTech LED Solutions in Missouri to complete this custom animated indoor sign.  It is approximately 8' wide by 4' tall, and has more than 3200 addressable LEDs in it that create animated patterns.  It has a button on the bottom to change animation, and can also be controlled through a website.  The sign was made for the client TierOne Solutions, LLC at their new storefront. 

Keoni Rogers contacted me about the project with the general hexagon design and the overall goal of "animated effects."  I did research and presented a variety of options for LED strips to use, different controller setups to use (Arduino vs Falcon vs Kulp), and we discussed the pros and cons of each.  We eventually settled on a setup commonly used in the Christmas light display hobby, using a Falcon F16v3 controller for the LEDs and Falcon Pi Player (FPP) running on a BeagleBone Black to help with scheduling and networking.  

Once we knew the exact LED strip we would use, the distance of the sign to the control box location, and the dimensions of the sign I did extensive calculations for the power requirements of the control box.  The math showed we could possibly run the sign on just 2 power supplies if we limited the brightness a bit, or could run on 3 power supplies at full power without much wiggle room, so in the interest of safety factors I recommended we build it with 4 power supplies.  I designed the power injection points needed so that the voltage on the LED strips wouldn't drop too much and result in uneven lighting.  I used fused power distribution blocks so that even the power injection points were safely protected by a 5A fuse.  

 

For the main control box I custom designed and 3D printed some connectors to satisfy the customer's preference for "flush panel mount connectors" wherever possible.  I designed the boxes with sufficient air vents and fans for cooling, along with a surge protector power strip for even more protection.  The boxes are BUD NBF-32026 boxes which are very stiff and sturdy.  After thorough testing of the controllers I packed them up and shipped them off to Missouri, after which I continued to provide support remotely via Zoom and emails.  

Hardware

 
  • LED Strips:  APA102 Daylight white DC5V 144LEDs/m Programmable Led Strip Lights [link]
    • One of the only addressable, white-only LED strip we could find with 144 LED/m density.  ​Price is 1/3 of Adafruit DotStar
  • Controller:  Falcon F16V3​ [link]
    • Used Falcon instead of Kulp because Falcon is the only common controller that supports APA102 protocol (Data line connector)​
  • Scheduling and Networking:  Falcon Pi Player (FPP) on a BeagleBone Black 
  • Network Switch:  TP-Link TP-SG105 [link]
  • Enclosure:  BUD NBF-32026 [link]
  • Connectors
    • Power Distribution:  XT-60​
    • To LED strips:  BTF Lighting 4-pin waterproof connectors [link]
  • Power supplies:  PF-320-5 5V 320W power supplies. ​

Software

 
xLights was used to program the animations on the sign.  It is designed for the Christmas light display hobby but works perfectly here.  I set up the layout of the sign in xLights so that the program knows where each LED is in space.  This basically tells the program that "light 100 on strip 1 is at the top left of the furthest left hexagon", so that when you run an effect on the sign it knows to turn on that light at the proper time.   After setting up the layout it is easy to apply a wide variety of effects to the sign. 
I was going to draw a diagram for this, but the software side of the sign is more or less Network Switch --> FPP and Network Switch --> F16V3.   Both devices are connected to the network switch and get their own IP address, and you simply tell FPP the IP address of the controller it is talking to.  FPP (Falcon Pi Player) is where I upload the finished animation files and different effects can be scheduled for different times.  It also runs a simple script that cycles through the animations each time you press the button.  
xLights "Layout" tab of the LED strips

More Pictures

 

Jacob Thompson

jat5@clemson.edu

Clemson, SC

© 2021 By Jacob Thompson

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