Who started Visual Technologies?
Visual Technologies began back in 2008/9 as a joint venture between Mick Harrold and myself, Rob Gentle.
What was the reason for starting the business?
Mick and I had discussed LED signage many times over the years prior to actually doing something about it. Mick had a keen interest in the signage market whilst I had a passion for the emerging field of LED technology. We both studied Electrical / Electronic Engineering at University. We decided to put our heads together and came up with the vision of starting a company that could provide specialist lighting and digital advertising products based around the latest light emitting diode (LED) technology. Our aim was not just to sell just product, but provide a high standard of customer service that matches the quality of our products. We wanted to provide our clients a level of technical knowledge and advice that is seldom seen in the industry. Hence we started Visual Technologies.
What experience did you have prior to starting the business?
Mick initially worked for a sign company and gained a lot experience in the large format billboard and general signage industry. He then successfully started his own signage business and has about 17 years of solid experience in this industry. Mick has excellent knowledge of signage systems and regulations which means we can test all our products in-house prior to releasing to the market.
I had been working as an electrical and electronics automation engineer since the early 2000’s. I gained experience in design and automation of plants for industries such as food and beverage, aluminium smelting, water authorities and airports. I have worked on projects for Emirates Aluminium, Alcoa, Tomago Aluminium, Heathrow Airport, Nestlé, Fonterra and more. Since high school, I have been designing and making electronic circuits, guitar amplifiers, lighting products and more, hence my passion for LEDs.
What products and services do you provide?
Visual Technologies is a distributor of all things LED. We are based in Melbourne, VIC and are official Australian distributors for SloanLED one of the largest LED lighting companies in the world. SloanLED holds about 30% market share in supply of LEDs to the illuminated sign industry globally! Their LED products are very reliable and industry leading in all areas.
We are also official Australian distributors for BaltLED who have been designing and manufacturing quality LED sign lighting solutions for more than 11 years. Manufacturing out of Europe, they provide excellent quality sign lighting systems for everyday signage applications.
Other key areas we supply product and service to include:
- Digital LED Displays (Video and Variable Message Signs). We have completed a number of large format digital advertising billboards in the out of home (OOH) sector along with variable message signs for schools, churches, large and small businesses, CFA’s and more
- Commercial Lighting (Warehouse, Area, Car Parking, Oil and Gas, Petroleum)
- Technical consultation, specification, lighting design, estimation and advice services
- Technical commissioning / installation services
What fields/ areas do you supply services to?
Our main client base includes:
- Signage manufacturers / sign servicing companies
- Electrical wholesalers / electricians
- Out of home advertising / media companies
- Architects, designers and specifiers
What are some of the biggest projects you have completed?
We recently completed a Viva Energy (Shell) oil refinery plant wide upgrade to LED lighting. There were around 300 metal halide lights that we replaced with efficient LED equivalents. This was a great project and will realise around 66% energy savings plant wide with longer maintenance intervals and higher illumination across the plant.
We have numerous large format digital LED signs in and around Melbourne; one standout is a large 12mm pitch digital screen 12.7m wide x 4.3m high which operates day and night displaying full colour adverts to traffic on the Westgate freeway.
We have our LED products specified into Quest Apartments, Liquor Market, Hilton Hotels, Lincraft, BP, BHP, Transurban and various other chains around Australia / New Zealand.
What’s the biggest video screen project you have completed?
Recently we designed, supplied, installed and commissioned a 19m wide x 5m high full colour 16mm pitch digital LED billboard located in Melbourne's western suburbs at Derrimut, VIC. It has to be one of the largest digital billboards in Melbourne and can't be missed if you're city bound on the Western Freeway. We went from shipping containers to installed and commissioned in under one week. It still amazes me that there are 1,119,825 individual LED pixels in this screen!
What areas of the market are growing?
Honestly, we have seen a massive spike in the amount of digital LED displays over the last couple of years. Anything from LED variable message signs to large format advertising billboards, they are everywhere. The technology is proven and the brightness and clarity are excellent, enabling effective dynamic advertising from the click of a button.
What do you like most about the work you do?
I really like the fact that every job we undertake is a little bit different to the last; hence there is never a dull moment. We love a good challenge and love being able to take on client’s ultimate ideas and turn them into reality. I also like the idea that we are helping others learn and educating them in the field of LED lighting technology.
What are the harder aspects on the work that you do?
Given a lot of jobs we undertake are bespoke, it can take a lot of hard work to achieve the final result as per our clients’ requirements. This is part of the challenge of what we do, but it keeps it interesting and keeps our brains active. I also find it hard to understand why so many people are set on going for the cheapest option when it comes to LED lighting. I think it's a lack of education and explanation by many of the suppliers. The end clients are the ones that get burnt and have to pay more in the long run when the low grade gear fails prematurely.
What issues do you see face the industry regarding LED technology?
- Compliance – although there are no specific Australian standards around manufacture of LEDs at present, they are coming and I think this is a must. There also needs to be more focus put on low voltage wiring and connection systems which may seem safe being 12 or 24VDC, but what people don’t understand is the high currents that are associated with these low voltage products. A low voltage cable can only handle so much current before it gets hot and can fail!
- Low quality - we are seeing a lot more manufacturers producing low grade LED products that are being flooded into the market. The quality of the LED chips is very poor and the price generally reflects this. LEDs are supposed to be long life products, but it would seem that more and more manufacturers are cutting corners and lower the lifetimes by over-driving them, making them look brighter at the start. It’s almost becoming a disposable style product which defeats the purpose of LEDs in the first place.
- Product warranty and future servicing is a big problem too. The LED industry is moving along and changing at such a rapid pace, that it’s hard to find replacement parts if an LED fails. This is especially problematic in the digital LED display industry. 18 months down the track, if an LED module fails in a digital screen, are you going to be able to get hold of a replacement?
- Education - in particular for the illuminated sign industry, the available resources and education is really lacking from what we’ve seen. There needs to be more emphasis on educating people about the fundamentals of LED lighting, low voltage wiring and connection systems.
What are the latest advances in illuminated technology?
Most of the major changes of late in LED technology tend to be around efficacy (lumens per watt) and also around LED package sizes and brightness. There are also developments around chemicals used to manufacture LED chips and advanced heat sink designs and optics.
End products using LED chips as the illumination source are another area of rapid advancement. Every day I get emails from manufacturers with new products like connected lighting (Internet of Things), wireless colour changing lamps, semi-transparent digital displays, vertical farming grow lights, programmable colour changing lights for health / medical applications... the list goes on!
What sets Visual Technologies apart from the competition?
When we started Visual Technologies, our mission was to create a company that supplies not only quality LED products, but provides technical know-how and honest advice whilst keeping a professional approach. We still to this day abide by these principals which we feel our customers appreciate. Good old fashioned customer service seems hard to come by these days; we try to give every one of our customers the time of day they deserve.
Our other stand-out feature would have to be our vast experience and knowledge of LED lighting technology and the fact that we are engineers. This is something many of our competitors lack, especially in the signage market.