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An Impressive Display

CBW (Coach & Bus Week) | John Lewis
November 2019

John Lewis outlines the array of products Luminator Technology Group can offer the UK’s coach and bus operators.

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Bus users need to be able to see where the bus approaching their stop is going so they can decide if it is the one they want to catch. That means it has to be fitted with a legible destination display; and that is where Luminator Technology Group comes in.

A leading supplier of passenger communication systems, its displays are inservice with bus fleets all over the world. In theUK marketplace, Luminator’s partner for over 20 years has been McKenna Brothers.

Its product range does not stop with displays however, says Luminator Senior Vice President, Business Development and Strategy, AndrewMurray. The company’s product portfolio also includes TFT screens which can be mounted inside the passenger saloon.

“They can do everything from showing a routemap and indicating the next stop to displaying advertisements,” he pointed out – a useful source of extra revenue for the operator. The same screens can be used to promote the buscompany’s services, furnishing passengers with information on ticketing offers and new routes it is introducing, and to display safety notices.

Luminator can install onboard CCTV as well as an aid to better security and is able to equip buses with WiFi; plus, all of its packages canbuses with WiFi; plus, all of its packages canco-operate with each other. “We can offer a fully-integrated onboard system which canbe run using one software suite, and we can link it to passenger-counting and ticketing technology provided by third parties,” Andrew said.

Founded over 90 years ago in the USA, Luminator Technology Group has expandedinto a global company with an annual turnover exceeding $300m, and serves customers in more than 85 countries. Luminator maintains engineering and technology development centres in over seven countries and has over1,000 employees in offices located across Northand South America, Europe, the Middle Eastand Asia.

“When it started Luminator provided lighting products for rail cars, but the modern-day company took off almost 30 years ago when the electric destination sign industry began,” said Andrew.

“Initially that meant Flip-dot technology,” he continued. “At that time, I worked for Ferranti-Packard Displays, which made Flip-dots, and we supplied them to companies such as Gorba, Mobitec, Lawo and Hanover Displays. By 2000/2001 however LEDs were becoming suitable for use in outdoor signs, which was I guess the next big change, and Flip-dots began to disappear because they were more expensive,” Andrew said.

LEDs were more reliable too. Like many othermoving parts, Flip-dots can stick from time to time. LEDs do not move, so the risk that they will stick never arises. The destination displaymakers soon saw the potential of LEDs and the impact they would have, and started to switch to them. Luminator was determined not to be left behind.

Lawo was part of the group, and Luminator added to its destination display portfolio by acquiring Mobitec in 2012 and Gorba in 2016. The acquisitions enhanced its global reach, says Andrew: “Mobitec is the market leader in South America, Australia and New Zealand. Gorba brought in business in Abu Dhabi. In combination with the business already held by Lawo and Mobitec, it has made Luminator the number one player in the sector in the Middle East,” he said.

Lawo, Mobitec and Gorba all have extensive interests in Europe. Today all three brands operate in unison as members of Luminator Technology Group, which brings significant advantages to customers because of the very broad product portfolio they have access to.

Luminator can install electronic signs in bus stations and bus stops that tell passengers when the bus they want to catch will arrive and how far away it is, counting down the minutes. “What we have is a fully-integrated passenger information system that uses sophisticated software,” Andrew continued. “It means we can provide travellers with real-time information throughout their journey.”

Luminator is also involved with the production and supply of printed destination blinds for buses through its links with McKenna Brothers. Among its other activities the Middleton, Manchester business provides blinds for London buses – the use of printed blinds remains a Transport for London requirement. TfL points to their legibility – partially-sighted travellers can find it difficult to read signs that use LEDs – and Andrew does not disagree.

However, Luminator has been trialling LED displays in London that it believes are just as legible as their printed equivalents. “They’ve been very successful, but it has to be said that they are more expensive,” he said. That is because even more LEDs have to be installed than are traditionally used in such displays to meet the legibility standard set by printed blinds. “The smaller the distance is between the dots, the easier the letters and numbers are to read,” he observed.

“There is also the point that London blinds usea special font which is quite hard to replicate on an LED sign,” he added.

LEDs are already used in displays of all kinds in large numbers, explains Andrew. “The small-pitch front, side and rear LED displays we are producing for London incorporate 75,000 LEDs,” he said.

One way of making LED signs easier to comprehend is to use what Andrew describes as the direct drive approach which prevents any flickering of the LEDs, which is a benefit for partially-sighted people. “This approachis used in the displays we are supplying toLondon,” he said.

At least LEDs are nowhere near as expensive as they once were, he says, a development driven by the huge volumes they are sold in worldwide, and one which has to be welcomed. And there is another change which both operators and passengers will welcome. “All types of LED display are far easier to read in direct sunlight than they used to be,” Andrew said.

Switching to LEDs makes it easier for operators to colour-code particular routes, and many of them do so. “You can colour-code the route number for example,” he said. Multi-coloured displays with moving images have not been widely introduced however. “The authorities feel they could be a distraction to other drivers,” he pointed out, and they do of course cost more.

“One thing we’re doing at present is working on a lot of ‘smart city’ projects,” Andrew said. A smart city is an urban area that uses different types of electronic sensors to collect data which is then used to manage its assets and resources more effectively.

“Cities worldwide are growing quickly and that poses people who run public transport with some major challenges,” he said. “They have to find ways of improving efficiency and that involves improving real-time passenger information, which is where we can help.”

Looking ahead, Andrew believes that the next major change in public transport will be the arrival of completely-autonomous buses with no driver onboard. “Passengers will not be able to ask the driver for help because there won’t be one, so they will need access to more accurate information,” he said. “Better security will have to be provided too.” Its ability to install CCTV means that Luminator will be able to score on both counts.

Returning to the here-and-now, Brexit is looming, and Luminator is determined that its UK customers will not run short of its products as a consequence. “We’ve built up a stockpile at McKenna Brothers which means we have six months’ worth of signs available,” he said. “Longer-term, and depending on how Brexit pans out, we’ve also been talking to them about setting up an assembly operation there.”

Whatever happens, British operators will still be able to obtain new Luminator destination displays through McKenna Brothers, Andrew says – and the parts that are required to maintain and repair the displays they have already got.

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