Many manufacturing companies are sold on the benefits of using real-time electronic signage on the plant-floor, in shops, cafeterias, and conference rooms to display manufacturing key performance indicators. Intelligent visualization of actionable information and key performance indicators keeps people informed and everyone working on the right priorities and goals – doing the right thing, the right way, at the right time.

This article will explain a few options for implementing  electronic signage and dashboards to convey intelligence from process controls and plant databases safely while  balancing cost, agility,  and flexibility of use of the investment.

The two basic types of displays – the LED Marquee and the large format monitor (usually with a computer) are the basis for most manufacturing visualization solutions.

LED Displays:

LED displays are a good choice for putting data on the plant floor. They are easily seen from great distances, have good life, are made for almost any environment, and are energy efficient.

Pros: They are very effective at being seen and people tend to read them. Due to life of the units they are typically a value over the lifetime of the unit.

There are many variations at all levels. Get help getting the right unit for your need – in general I break these down into three categories:

Small Displays

  • Display messages or graphics in Red/Green/Amber
  • Uses serial communications ports (typical)
  • Inexpensive programming software (extra) for the unit but it requires the customer or an engineer to set up a custom programming to interface to message and control the visualization.
  • Most difficult set-up and configuration to get real-time data (unless you do it often).

Smart Displays with Ethernet communication and internal web configuration

  • The units are typically larger. Multi-line display with room for formatting visualization
  • Graphics as well as text
  • Internal web server login for configuration.
    • Units user-friendly easy to configure
    • They are great for central/remote configuration from anywhere on the LAN/WAN
    • Great plant-wide or corporate solution.
  • They have all the capability of traditional LED displays but they are more easily configured, use TCPIP, and connect easily to controllers.
  • These units connect to get real-time process information safely from OPC servers, or directly to automation through Modbus/tcp, Ethernet/IP, XML, SOAP.
  • The (free) software and open API that can connect to almost any device or data source is easy to use and learn. Further, the API has already been configured for most of the typical controllers – so the engineering time needed is very low. Strong technical support with an emphasis on manufacturing.
  • Low cost installation and setup
  • These units are easily connected to data sources to show the same real-time performance and manufacturing intelligence in the manufacturing areas that others see on the web portal.

LED display with an embedded computer.

  • The units are typically larger (multi-line) and more expensive.
  • The units can show any graphic on the LED (within size limit)
  • Great for showing website/portal information
  • Connects via TCPIP
  • Software choices for configuration to control and information systems include an OPC Gateway that can work for multiple displays and multiple controllers.
  • Moderate to easy installation and set up.

Tips for LED Marquee Recommendation:

  1. Call us at people that you can trust and discuss your need and opportunity.
  2. It is about visualization. Cheaper is not better. If it isn’t seen it wasn’t a better deal.
  3. Use a cloth or cardboard markup with correct sized lettering on the plant floor to check the ability to read the sign before buying.
  4. Eliminate custom setup and increase flexibility by using a little larger more capable LED solution that connects via Ethernet and has a built-in configuration.
  5. Think carefully about investing in a standalone marquee that gathers and displays information. The visualization solution should show the same intelligence available in the office and on reports. One version of the truth.

Monitor/Computer and Electronic Signage Software

Monitors are a great choice where viewing distances are not large. This option is often selected because it is easy. However, the first requirement is to make sure that the monitor is bright enough and big enough to provide the visualization required.

Note: A common problem with this solution is that engineers try to show too much information – so very little is seen and the project failed to achieve its goal. Less information is better!

Pros: Easiest set-up and maintenance (but also the easiest to screw up and waste time and money)

  • Make sure the LCD monitor meets the visualization needs
  • System components may need to be enclosed to meet environmental requirements
  • Inexpensive monitor life may not be good
  • Monitor/computer in one is a good solution
  • Overall cost may be higher than LED displays
  • Very flexible – can do more than LED systems
  • Excellent solution to show web based or portal information.
  • Software to connect to any plant system via standards like OPC.
  • Easy to maintain by engineers
  • Easy to build a plant system.
  • The key is the software putting the KPI’s on the computer. Two options that often do not work well – 1) IT builds custom application to get control system data. 2) Use off-the-shelf HMI/SCADA software built for control room operators.

Tips for Monitor/Computer Electronic Signage Solution

  1. Make sure the hardware meets the visualization need
  2. Make sure the hardware meets the environmental requirement
  3. Consider an industrial solution (not always recommended)
  4. Consider a large format monitor with embedded computer.
  5. If you have a system for performance management or manufacturing operations management – then you have the ability to use the open portal to display any downtime, OEE, SPC or more from multiple systems on dashboards, charts or reports. You also have the ability to set the scroll through the various displays.
  6. Use a dedicated, web-based, industrial software to display real-time automation system, process historian, or database information in easy to build dashboards, trends, and reports. Status is inexpensive and also has built-in controls for automation of the remote visualization node.


Kevin Totherow is a Business Development Manager of MES for Schneider Electric and a consultant for helping manufacturing clients manage their operations better. Kevin has been a controls engineer, consultant and president of Sylution Incorporated. He can be reached at (864) 252-6819 or by email at

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