EVERY ONCE IN a while, we get to do a special, cool little project that is entirely different from your everyday sign. That’s what’s extremely attractive about this industry. During any given week, we are tasked with what I like to call “creation.”
Whether it’s a hand-painted sign, a vehicle wrap, or a massive structure that installs 150 ft. in the air, we are fabricators. We create things that did not exist before. We take “ideas” and make them a physical, touchable, reality. And as sign-industry professionals, people come to us and ask us to make some crazy $***, right?
“What can I do to make my business stand out from the crowd? How can I make my Porsche cooler than my neighbor’s? How can we put our logo on the side of a skyscraper?” Standard questions entrepreneurs and visionaries ask themselves… and then they start thinking. They come up with these ideas. Some are crazy; some are genius. But all require someone to make them come to life, and boy, are we ready to make it happen!
A few months ago, one of our large fleet-wrap clients, Falcon Pest Control, came to us with some of those questions. One of their buildings, purchased 28 years ago, was in need of a signage facelift. The building featured channel letters, but the logo had changed years ago, and the existing pylon sign offered only spotty-fluorescent lighting and pan faces in desperate need of replacement.
So, we built a set of individually mounted channel letters in Falcon’s new logo format, including 3M purple and bright-green translucent vinyl. The single steel pole for the pylon sign was still in good shape, as was the cabinet itself, so we just repainted the structure in satin black Matthews urethane. We gutted the interior of all existing lamps and wiring and retrofitted it with new Hanley LED technology. We used Hanley Stellar Edge S-1270 “mini modules,” mounted to just the bottom and top of the 12-ft.-wide cabinet to provide “perimeter lighting.” These ultrabright, cross-firing LEDs flooded the interior of the cabinet with massive amounts of bright white light (7000K) that smoothly illuminated our new 5 x 12-ft. flat acrylic pan faces, again featuring 3M purple translucent vinyl… an awesome project that really renovated the entire property. But that wasn’t enough. They also requested a giant 3-ft.-tall x 8-ft.-long 3D ant to be mounted atop their new pylon sign.
An ANT?! Yep.
Scan the QR code and witness this madcap episode for yourself… I promise, you will not be disappointed!
This ant would have to withstand Florida hurricane season… not a normal request. And it would take multiple people from different departments to pull this one off.
Technical designer Justin Olsen provided the artwork, 3D drawings and templates. Dom Ream rough-cut multiple layers of 2-in.-thick, 15-lb. DUNA-USA CORAFOAM HDU for the ant’s body on the MultiCam APEX3R, while fabricator extraordinaire Robert Hazelton welded the aluminum “skeleton” for the ant’s body and legs. After the structural skeleton was complete, the HDU pieces were glued onto the aluminum body using 3M Marine Adhesive Sealant 4000 UV.
The hurricane-proof body of the ant then headed to the paint department, where lead painter Rene Mendez and Saul Borrero initially spent hours finely hand-carving and sanding the HDU layers to create a smooth, realistic, anatomically correct, 8-ft., dimensional ant. Once fully carved and sanded, the guys sprayed the ant with thick polyester primer, then several coats of red Matthews urethane, followed by Matthews high-gloss clear. Two black, beady eyeballs made for the final touches.
After this amazing build, we mounted the ant to a square aluminum base and installed it on the top of the pylon sign: A perfect example of creation at its finest!
While talking with a customer on the phone a third time before a site visit, the customer asked me if I was “gassing him up” (using Photoshop to create his hand-lettered sign) because that’s a trick he saw in a YouTube search. I advised that things would be drawn out and scaled up accordingly. His reply was that sign painters are lying to customers. I replied, “Why yes, when computers were around in the 1800’s, the sign guys were surely using Photoshop.” He hung up. — Ty Wegener, Wags Sign Co., Omaha, Ne
WHEN TO USE IT? Clients who shop for signs based on price are engaged in a race to the bottom — a race your sign company wants no part of. You may be able to convince some who want quality to change their minds.
SOURCE: Robert Burke, Burke Enterprise, Oakdale, CT/small>
This concept, popularized by author Daniel Pink, involves giving your employees free time to come up with something innovative that can be implemented in your business. Set aside a 24-hour period when employees can work on anything they choose. Make sure they have the tools and resources they need and impose just one rule: They must deliver something — a new idea, a better internal process, a service innovation or a new way to treat and interact with customers — by the following day (just as FedEx does). The results might amaze you. SOURCE: Daniel Pink, from Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
SA International (SAi), a leading provider of software solutions for the sign-making, digital printing, textile, and CNC machining industries, has announced the launch of the SAi Flexi MUTCD Collection for traffic signage creation and printing.
SAi Flexi MUTCD is the most comprehensive Traffic Asset Collection available, providing users with the graphic assets needed to create roadway signs that conform to government and industry mandated sign standards.
Available through a digital download, this digital collection includes regulatory signs, warning signs, temporary traffic control signs, recreational and cultural area signs, pedestrian, school signs, and more.
Most importantly, the collection is fully compatible with your SAi Flexi software. The files come in a native Flexi (.FS) file format so they are easily editable and can be sent into production with just a few clicks.
Additional features in the collection include:
Complete FHWA Series 2000 Edition Font Collection
Complete Clearview Series Font Collection
All typefaces conform to FHWA specifications
Sign colors conform to FHWA specifications
The SAi Flexi MUTCD Collection is now available through SAi in North America for $1,950.
Graphic Components (Greensboro, NC), a wholesale-only fabricator of ADA and interior signage, earned a place on Inc. magazine’s annual Inc. 5000 list, a ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies.
With three-year revenue growth of 63 percent, the company ranked No. 4404 on the list. To keep pace with demand, the company invested nearly $2 million in a new 33,000-sq.-ft. factory in 2020.
“We thank our customers for providing us so many opportunities to serve them resulting in the growth we have experienced, and we thank our talented and hard-working team members for demonstrating their commitment to superior customer service every day,” said President Matt Cvijanovic.
Among the 5,000, the median three-year growth rate soared to 543 percent, and median revenue reached $11.1 million. Together, those companies added more than 610,000 jobs over the past three years.
Martin Supply Company (Baltimore) recently launched two new websites.
At martin-supply.com, visitors will find a selection of supplies and equipment for the sign and digital printing industries, along with support from customer service and technical support teams.
The company’s new specialty lighting division, Martin Lighting Solutions, can be found at martinlightingsolutions.com. The division was created to offer sign manufacturers and lighting designers a technology partner who can provide lighting systems and the resources necessary to facilitate a successful lighting project.
Ricoh USA, Inc., has announced its Wide Format Elite Access, a new service that connects wide format print professionals with production workflow experts to help them maximize wide format production capabilities and bridge the knowledge gap to better satisfy customers. This 1-1 connection to industry experts is designed to empower printers to quickly resolve production challenges and share practical knowledge and best practices for sign and graphics workflows, regardless of brand.
With Wide Format Elite Access, print professionals can keep pace with the evolving versatility, growing customer demands and unique challenges of wide format production by fast-tracking support to simplify wide-format and specialty applications. This peace of mind provides printers confidence and support to flatten the learning curve, avoid production delays, increase uptime, improve media usage, maximize equipment capabilities and accelerate their business.
“Wide Format Elite Access gives customers immediate access to skilled print experts with superior understanding of application and production. Whether printers use Ricoh equipment or not, we are here to help them tackle challenges and position their businesses for future success,” said Heather Poulin, Vice President, CIP Marketing & Portfolio Management, Ricoh USA, Inc. “Our Wide Format Elite Support Team is made up of industry-leading service engineers with more than 153 years of combined production experience in wide format. This team was created to help print service providers solve problems and share practical knowledge that helps create opportunity and drive new revenue, enabling printers keep an eye on what’s next.”
The complexity of a particular media or process and other production challenges can stall workflows, lead to extra expenses and generate media waste. Wide Format Elite Access helps printers avoid these pitfalls and address the most common challenges facing sign and graphics print providers—including workflow design and file prep, applications and media, custom media profiles and substrate qualification—to give users a lasting advantage over the competition. Wide Format Elite Access is available in two service levels, so print providers can select the level of support that best fits their needs.
The Domino Sugar sign, perched high over the Baltimore Harbor, is an iconic part of the city’s history. The original sign was constructed by Artkraft Strauss Co., of New York. It was installed on top of the Domino Sugar refinery in 1951, and its neon lights have illuminated the skyline ever since.
But after seventy years of exposure to the elements, the sign was starting to show its age. Domino (ASR Group) turned to Gable, a visual solutions and sign company in Baltimore, to give the sign a refresh.
“The ASR Group originally thought they just wanted to replace the lighting on the sign,” says Paul Gable, president of Gable. “They had us go through an exercise of doing a complete survey of the sign to determine if the neon could be replaced with LED tubing.”
After a full analysis, it was discovered that the situation was actually more dire than had been anticipated.
Significant portions of the steel letters were found to be rusted and eroding. The steel frame also needed repairs. “The ASR Group knew it was time to rethink the sign,” says Paul Gable. “We were given the opportunity to find another way to replicate the sign as close to the original as possible, while employing modern-day fabrication, lighting techniques, and materials.”
Gable started with a series of technical surveys, taking detailed measurements of the letters and their positions. Workers physically measured the height, width, and girth of every letter segment—no small task, with the sign measuring 120 feet long and 70 feet tall.
“Not only did all the letters have to be measured but [so too] the spaces in-between all the letters, to make sure the layout was visually exact,” says Bill Sackmann, vice president of Construction Services and Quality Management at Gable, noting the company also used a drone to shoot footage of the front of the sign layout.
These measurements were crucial for replicating the look of the original sign. “One of our major goals for the client was to maintain the integrity of their typestyle,” says Paul Gable. “The original typestyle was hand drawn because there was no technology in the making of patterns back then. Everything had to be mechanically reproduced by hand on large paper patterns.”
In the next phase, Gable worked as a consultant and collaborator with a Domino Sugar contractor to remove the old letters, taking them down in pieces. For example, the letter “D,” standing at more than thirty feet tall, came down in six sections.
During this process, Gable’s expertise as a sign company proved essential. “Being in this industry for over forty years, I knew that a lot of people who climbed high in the air on a sign frame didn’t always bring that transformer back to the ground when servicing the sign—and transformers were quite heavy back in the day,” explains Sackmann. “They had to be super careful when starting to remove letters, as the sections came apart, that the transformers didn’t fall out and hurt anyone.”
The contractor planned to remove the letter pieces via a freight elevator that opened onto the tenth floor, the same level as the roof. However, because the letter pieces were so large, the contractor first needed to remove a window and part of the wall to access the elevator. Even with this modification, some of the old letters still had to be cut into pieces. (Note: Domino Sugar donated the old letters to Second Chance, an architectural salvage nonprofit in Baltimore.)
Domino Sugar’s contractor removed old electrical cables and coordinated with Gable on which parts to reuse. The contractor also handled structural repairs on the steel sign frame, including re-engineering the frame’s connections to the building and repainting the frame a medium gray.
On Gable’s suggestion, the contractor added two continuous catwalks that extended across the frame to make it easier and safer for workers to service the sign. “In the past, when someone had to service that sign, they had to hook onto the steel structure, climb around, and do everything from planks. They had to try to change transformers and neon from the planks, which was very unsafe,” says Sackmann.
The original letters had been brought in on a barge and hoisted up the side of the building. This installation strategy meant there were few limitations on the size of the letter forms. “They split their ‘O’ down the center. It was twenty-two feet tall,” says Sackmann.
However, since then, the footprint of the Domino Sugar refinery had changed, making current access points an important factor in how Gable designed its letter forms.
To get the new letter forms onto the roof, Gable was going to have to fit pieces through an 11-foot-wide set of bay doors in the refined sugar warehouse, then down a narrow 12-foot-wide aisle, and finally into a freight elevator measuring 14-1/2-feet-deep and 12-1/2-feet-wide.
This influenced Gable’s design of each segment of the sign. For example, Sackmann says, unlike the original vertically split ‘O,’ Gable’s version was split horizontally. This would allow the workers transporting the letters to hook it through the opening of the bay door. “We had to measure the elevators at least three times,” he says. “We had a couple of the letter forms that were right up against the edge. We maximized it.”
The new letters have an aluminum frame, aluminum faces and backs (sheet goods), and aluminum returns (coil stock). “Our goal was to lift every letter as a whole letter. In order to do that, we had to keep our weight down,” says Sackmann, noting why they decided to use aluminum rather than steel.
The original letters had porcelain enamel faces with exposed skeleton neon tubes for the lighting. To match the color of the original, Gable used Sherwin-Williams’ ColorSnap technology. They cleaned off a segment of the original porcelain enamel and took a photograph, which sent the color to a smart phone. Gable primed the new aluminum letters and applied four coats of Matthews Paint—two in a high-solid yellow and two in a transparent yellow.
For the new lighting, Gable used SloanLED’s FlexiBRITE Citrus Orange flexible LED tubing. The company assembled the letters in its shop and connected and tested the LED lights to make sure everything was functional before shipping. They then disassembled the letters into segments for transportation, wrapping the lengths of LED tubing around the letter forms.
Using CAD software to visualize layouts of the letter forms, access points, and rooftop, Gable coordinated a process whereby completed letter forms were transported via flatbed trailer to the Domino Sugar refinery. Once there, workers lifted individual letter forms onto specialized dollies and reviewed their strategy for maneuvering the letter form into the building.
“We did a couple of diagrams showing the door and showing the letter, as well as a video of how they had to orient,” explains Sackmann. “When we were offloading the trucks, we took a minute and looked at that before we started to move anything, so we knew what we were doing.”
Even with aluminum construction, the segments were still large and heavy enough that it took four or five people to move each one. When assembled, the “O” weighed in at 1,200 pounds total, making each of its segments 600 pounds. The “D” was 2,200 pounds in total, with each of its five segments weighing more than 400 pounds.
The sugar refinery was an active environment, and to avoid disrupting the factory schedule, Gable’s workers started early in the morning. They maneuvered letter forms on dollies through the bay doors and down the aisle to the first freight elevator, which went up to the ninth floor.
After that, they moved the letters across the ninth floor and into a second identical freight elevator, which opened onto the tenth floor, level with the back roof behind the sign.
On the roof, though, workers faced another space limitation.
The area where they could store letter forms measured approximately 93-by-32 feet, which was enough room for only four to five letters. Gable pre-planned how to lay the letter segments on the roof using CAD. This also influenced the order in which the letters were manufactured. Gable manufactured the first set of letters based on what would be installed first and then continued to manufacture the others while the first set was being installed.
Once letter forms were delivered onto the roof, workers lifted the pieces onto saw horses to get them into position and bolted segments together to form complete letters. After test-lighting each letter, they used two hoists attached to the top of the sign frame to lift the letters into position. Having two hoists allowed for proper adjustment of the slant of the italicized letters, giving enough control to adjust the right- and left-hand side of each letter.
According to Sackmann, the “D” required its own choreography.
“Our team members pre-assembled sections of the ‘D’ on two levels of the roof, because it was too large to fit on the portion of the upper roof perpendicular to the sign frame,” he says. “We temporarily installed the bottom portion of the letter onto the lower portion of the frame, aligning the seam with the lower catwalk. The upper section, which was pre-assembled on the upper roof, was then married to the lower section, internally bolted together, prewired, and erected as one piece.
“We orientated the letters and sections underneath the backside of the frame, so our pick points were directly underneath our hoist, and crisscrossed the lines to spin the letter forms so they would face outwards.”
Careful measurements were key to making sure the rectangular border around the letters fit properly.
The top and bottom horizontal lengths of the border were offset by two-and-a-half inches, making it necessary to adjust to that difference while installing the vertical segments. After installing the first forty feet of the upper left hand corner, Gable’s workers paused to take a measurement and ended up making a half-inch adjustment.
“Overall the installation went very well,” says Sackmann. “The last piece that we installed was a perfect fit.”
Gable faced further install challenges—from water to wind.
Shortly before the installation of the “O,” a rain forecast prompted Sackmann to purchase a thirty-foot tarp to cover the letter. Returning to the site after the storm, he found that some thirty gallons of water had pooled in the center of the tarp-covered “O.” The Gable team had to remove the water so the letter would not be damaged.
Due to the building’s height and location, wind was also a significant factor.
“Not many people realize when you’re this high up on a building, next to the inner harbor, it’s a very windy job site,” says Sackmann. “When you’re trying to lift large, heavy letters up on an open frame, you have to be very careful.”
Because the wind picked up in the afternoon, usually starting around noon, Gable began each day at 6:00 a.m.
The new sign has greater brightness and clarity. It also consumes significantly less energy. Whereas the old sign consumed 25,000 kilowatts of power per hour, the new one only uses 1,300 kW.
After a few test lightings, the sign publicly debuted its new look at Domino Sugar’s Fourth of July celebration with more than 300 people in attendance. Its illumination coincided with the refinery’s one-hundredth anniversary.
A Domino Sugar employee of more than fifty years had the honor of pushing the button to light the sign. And the residents of Baltimore were thrilled to have their favorite landmark back.
“We’ve had amazing feedback and a lot of positive support and ‘thank you’s.’ I’m very proud of the sign and the way it turned out,” says Paul Gable. “Every little step we took to be as accurate and precise as we were was worth it.”