So recently at work, I was tasked with the acquisition of a neon flex LED system to light up a 6 m long tunnel.

What are neon flex LEDs? They are the modern version of the neon tube technology used in neon lit signs, such as the one below. Instead of using some kind of inert gas, it runs on modern LEDs built to resemble the uniformity and light texture of neon tubes of old.

Neon tubes of old

I was responsible for figuring out the electrical connections and software configuration. Due to the manufacturing and shipping time and the tight project deadline, I had less than a week to figure all these technical details with no instruction manual. The LED supplier was from China and the project installation was in Thailand. The LED supplier could only communicate in Mandarin. Despite 12 years of formal education in Mandarin, I had a hard time understanding some technical terms in Mandarin as it is not my native language. I also had to advise the Thailand team who was doing the actual installation.

For the above mentioned reasons, I use the description “edgy experience” in the title of this blog article.

The project could not have succeeded with some ameliorating factors. For one, the China LED supplier was very helpful and we managed to build up a close knit working relationship. We communicated daily… in Mandarin. For the Mandarin part, I had the close help of my best friend Google. I used Google translate for technical terms. I also googled for information on how to use the LEDedit program, a free open source software to convert any video file into a .led format which the DMX controller recognises.

The rest of this blog article may sound a little technical, so if you wish, you can skip right to the end of this post for the 30 second video demo of the neon flex LEDs.

For the setup configuration, there are 44 strips of 6 metres each. As for the resolution, due to the limitations of DMX technology, each pixel was 10cm long. So in effect, we had a screen that was 44 x 60 pixels in resolution.

NSM LED strip layout ver 2.0.png
setup configuration of 44 LED strips

Here is the electrical connection diagram that explains the wiring connections:-

NSM LED electrical diagram_6 strips.png
Electrical connection diagram for six strips

This is the DMX controller that we used. It has 8 ports, each of which can support up to 500 pixels. I distributed the pixels across all 8 ports, with an average of 350 pixels per port.

The DMX controller

A closeup view of the LED strip with a small sample of the aluminium U channel mounting bracket.

closeup view of LED strip

This is the aluminium bracket to secure the strip to a surface. It is held in place by screws placed at the holes. The sides are also somewhat soft and malleable so the grip strength can be adjusted manually.

U-channel mounting bracket

This is the LED connector. Designed in a way to waterproof the system. There are three wires – power, ground and data. It is simple and easy to use and connect. We just had to make sure the physical contact was secure and there are no damaged cables. We also used high grade cables for the data line. The lower electrical resistance for good quality wires ensured that the data was transmitted faithfully so that the strips do not flicker and show consistent performance for the animation.

LED connector

This is the 12V waterproof power supply. Each power supply could only power two strips due to the high power demand.

power supply

These are the pin connectors that join the LED to the connector head shown earlier. We had a bit of problems with loose connections for these and had to do some swapping and testing.

pin connector

Below is the test setup I did in my office. I shipped four strips to Singapore to figure them out.

test setup with four strips

Concurrently as I was testing the LEDs, the Thai contractor was busy building the tunnel structure out of wood.

constructing the tunnel

After installing the LEDs, the tunnel looks like this:-

final installation

So after I showed the China LED supplier the video of it working, he was rather impressed:-

Praise from the China supplier

And now finally, here is the 30 second video demo of it working:-

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