Given that NanoLumens CEO Rick Cope is a retired United States Marine Corps officer and has an old Stinger missile in his office, it will be of no great surprise that his political views may tilt a bit to the right and that he supports U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order to buy American-made goods.
Cope on Wednesday issued a press release saying his company – which makes a variety of indoor and outdoor LED displays – supports Trump’s executive order directing federal agencies to buy more goods and services from American companies and American workers. He says current federal agency procurement policies that have unfairly disadvantaged American display manufacturers and jeopardized America’s national security.
“For far too long our federal agencies have put price before security in the purchase of their LED visualization solutions,” says Cope. “The signing of this new executive order is a victory for American manufacturers and workers that also sends a signal to those competitors who have benefited greatly from predatory pricing policies that those days are done.”
Cope cites two recent sales of Chinese-manufactured LED displays to the United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) at a secure Command & Control Center, located on the Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska.
“With the growing threat of state-sponsored cyber espionage now a serious national concern, we were surprised and saddened by SPAWAR and USSTRATCOM’s decision to install a white-labeled Chinese display at its Nebraska Command & Control Center,” says Cope, who worked for General Schwarzkopf in the 1st Persian Gulf War. “Presented with the option of working with an American company that offers a superior and secure LED solution, SPAWAR and USSTRATCOM decided instead to save 10% of the total cost and buy Chinese displays from a Canadian reseller who sourced the displays from a Chinese factory that SPAWAR and USSTRATCOM never heard of, never visited, and never vetted. It is our sincere hope that this new executive order will prevent something like this from ever happening again.”
“Having operated in front of command and control centers at USCENTCOM, SOCOM and the Pentagon, I fully appreciate the important role these displays play in presenting extremely classified information in real-time to our national decision-makers,” adds Cope. “These Chinese displays have a Chinese operating system that takes the content and manipulates it before displaying it on the screen. There is no way to ascertain whether or not they are rerouting that same display image back to Beijing. This would not be the first time a foreign government tried to build technology that they then sold to the U.S. government that contains the ability to reroute information, as we have seen multiple times recently.”
NanoLumens, he says, has more fine pitch direct-view LED displays installed in the United States than any other company. “We have been chosen by both major American and international corporations because of our superior visual quality and technology. All NanoLumens displays are designed, assembled, serviced and supported in the United States by an American team that ensures that they operate reliably 24/7/365 with all of the data secured. We also meet the requirements for the Buy American Act as well as being TAA compliant.”
Now, if you know the display industry, you may be thinking to yourself that NanoLumens probably uses Chinese-made components in its displays. And you’d be right.
I asked by email, and Cope kindly gave me a shout back, to fill me in on how that all works, and how it doesn’t diminish his point. He says NanoLumens sources components from all over the planet, including Taiwan, South Korea, Mexico and China. But all the engineering design is done in the US, as is assembly, software development and support.
He says there are three core kinds of companies he competes with in the LED display space, in the U.S. market:
- Companies that design and manufacture their own product in China – principally Shenzhen – and market their own brand in the U.S. (like a Unilumin or Absen);
- Companies that source manufacturers in China, and then re-badge finished product as their own (some major display companies who now market fine-pitch LEDs aren’t actually making them);
- The smallest block: companies like NanoLumens that have U.S.-based R&D, manufacturing and support. There are, presumably, also some manufacturers from countries other than China.
Cope says he has been chewing on whether to issue the statement for a while, but finally decided to put it out there. His frustration is not new, however. You can listen to Cope in my podcast interview with him from June 2016, in which he floats plans for legal action against some Chinese competitors.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.