When considering a DMS Manufacturer, there are a variety of factors to take into account. You might be inclined to choose a manufacturer strictly based on cost, but have you truly done your due-diligence? Entering into or accepting a bid with an under performing DMS manufacturer can have serious consequences - consequences that outweigh upfront savings.
Take a look below for the eight criteria we believe defines an outstanding DMS manufacturer:
Before you become too involved with a Dynamic Message Sign manufacturer, you should verify that they are compliant and certified in all critical areas, including the NEMA TS4 Hardware Standards for Dynamic Message Signs (DMS) with NTCIP Requirements. This family of standards, created by industry consensus, was designed to provide users with safe, dependable, functional, and easily maintained DMS equipment. All DOTs refer to this standard and require compliant products.
NEMA TS4 defines conformance for environmental conditions, mechanical sign construction, fixed-location DMS, portable DMS, controller to sign interface, display properties, optical components, control cabinet, electronic/electrical, performance monitoring, and power requirements. When searching for a manufacturer, finding one who adamantly adheres to these standards will not only ensure project standardization, but also shows commitment to the advancement of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS).
In addition to hardware and product requirements, make sure the DMS will be compatible with your software. Most traffic management centers are equipped with NTCIP compliant software, but NTCIP is an open protocol. There are some diferences between systems and manufacturers, but most of the time these are very minor differences. However, you will want to make sure the DMS will communicate with your software by asking for preliminary tests that may be done remotely.
2. Customer Care
Whether you work directly for a DOT or are a contractor working on a DOT project, you understand that communication is something that can make or break a project. Consider Dynamic Message Sign manufacturers who offer a specific, time-bound response guarantee - not “at our earliest convenience.” By establishing this level of accountability, you won’t run the risk of having your hands tied waiting by the phone.
With customer care, also comes project management. When you begin a partnership with a DMS manufacturer, is your point of contact clearly established? Aside from just an account manager, do you have access to technical support for more advanced questions? If the success of your project relies on the timely, cost-effective installation of DMS products, don’t settle for a manufacturer that doesn’t take the extra step to secure your satisfaction during all phases of your project - from specifications to design, installation, and maintenance.
3. Proven Track Record of Success
Given the size of this niche market, it should be relatively easy to obtain references for a DMS manufacturer. In most cases, companies who have had successful experiences with the USDOT will already be talking about their win - whether through press releases, blog articles, case studies, and more. If you aren’t able to get a clear indication of a manufacturer's past work, this should be a red flag. You can measure success not only by the quality of their products, but also how easy it is to work with the manufacturer and how they maintained a relationship during the life of the DMS.
4. Innovative Product Portfolio
With the rapid evolution of technology across all sectors, it is no surprise that Intelligent Transportation Systems are reliant on growth and development - emphasis on the word “intelligent.” You need a partner that has an expansive enough product portfolio to support (and grow with) your project.
Do they offer energy-efficient products? As energy costs continue to rise and the world moves toward renewable resources, it is important to consider alternative, solar-based DMS solutions. Solar products are not only better for the environment, but they also provide significant, long-term cost savings.
What happens when you have an obsolete DMS? Many manufacturers might default to recommending an expensive new sign, which is in their best interest - not yours. Retrofit upgrade kits allow you to upgrade your sign to the latest LED technology at a fraction of the cost, by replacing components with newer versions that are still compatible with the original design.
A DMS manufacturer may provide a great status quo product, but are they investing in research and development? How about providing custom solutions when your project needs something other than a one-size-fits-all approach? You will want to find out what in-house capabilities, such as design services, your manufacturer has to support your specific needs or project requirements. Most importantly, do they have the technical capabilities to tailor unique solutions or do they only sell standard, off-the-shelf products?
Providing products on-time and at-cost is only one part of the ITS equation - the real question is whether or not these products will continue to operate after installation. For a true test of quality, ask your potential DMS manufacturer the age of their oldest sign still in operation. If they aren’t able to give a specific answer or skirt the question, you can easily identify quality is not a top concern. It is important to make sure their DMS products have been in operation for long time, as you do not want to have to replace yours in only 5 years. Manufacturers should have clearly documented testing and quality procedures to assess for environmental concerns, site conditions, hardware and software durability, and fault simulations. When your reputation is on the line now and for years to come, make sure you do your homework.
7. Ease of Maintenance
We all know that your work doesn’t finish after the successful installation of a DMS - transportation systems require proper maintenance and support to extend the life of the product and ensure safety for passengers. You will want to find out what type of warranty your manufacturer offers and what it covers. When the warranty period is over, will support still be available? A reliable provider knows that business extends beyond the initial sale and will stand by their products as long as they are in service.
What about parts? You’ll want to first consider the availability and size of a manufacturer’s part inventory. Is it fully-stocked and ready-to-ship? Or will you have to wait weeks? When dealing with transportation-related issues, the difference between days and weeks can mean substantial setbacks. Time and cost might play a big role in choosing a DMS manufacturer, but finding a partner who is dedicated to providing reliable maintenance - whether one month or five years from installation - is priceless. Also, you may want to check if the DMS manufacturer can provide an efficient replacement process, for example providing repaired parts instead of new ones for a better price and similar warranty.
8. Dedication to the Transportation Industry
While other factors, such as price and timelines, may often overshadow the importance of commitment, it can play a significant role in the success of your project. Many DMS manufacturers shift their focus to larger markets like commercial signage, diluting their dedication to the transportation industry. This doesn’t necessarily mean their products won’t fit your project needs, but it could impact support and customer service down the line. If a problem arises with your DMS two years after installation, but your manufacturer has allocated resources in favor of the larger, commercial markets, where does that leave you?
Solely ITS-focused companies also provide a depth of knowledge unparalleled by manufacturers who operate in a wide range of markets. Manufacturers who attend and are involved in local, regional, and national events are much more attuned to assess your needs and provide innovative solutions.
As an industry that is responsible for the safe, efficient movement of billions of people worldwide, the outcome of a transportation project transcends much further than doing a good or bad job. Roadway passengers rely on you and your team to provide a solution that gets them and their family safely from Point-A to Point-B. We encourage anyone looking for the best DMS manufacturer to consult our criteria, hopefully helping to ensure you find a partner that exceeds your expectations.