Print Shop Sees Strong Sales Growth in Q2 of 2022

Michael Levy owns Minuteman Press in Levittown, New York located at 3000 Hempstead Turnpike. In June 2021, he also purchased the original Minuteman Press franchise in Farmingdale, New York located at 324 Main St.

Already a member of the Minuteman Press International President’s Million-Dollar Circle, Levy has continued his strong sales growth in the first two quarters of 2022, including record monthly gross sales in March 2022.

Asked about the key drivers of his growth in 2022, Levey shares, “Some would say luck. I would say persistence, perseverance, and simply being known to be someone who gets things done. While there have been many challenges due to supply chain issues for the past year or so, I was able to use that to my advantage.”

Explaining further about this, Levy says that he recently had a customer contact him for a job he had never done before (event though he had done other jobs for this customer). “It was a huge job, for 150,000 each of two envelopes,” he remarks. “Someone else, who normally does this job for them, was not able to get the stock. So the customer called me and told me what happened and asked if I [could] help.

“I spent two days researching, and I was able to get both items for them and deliver them when they needed. One of the suppliers was through one of the field reps at Minuteman Press International, so it was great I could leverage that connection with my franchisor. I ended up producing $25,000 worth of envelopes I had never done before, and they just recently asked me to quote their next order of 200,000 of each one.”

Levy sees the wide variety of products offered by his two Minuteman Press franchises as another competitive advantage. “It’s examples like that envelope order plus the other items we offer that most other printers do not, such as in-house screen printing, embroidery, dye sublimation, and stamp production, that allows us to stay busy and grow,” he says. “Another key is to have enough customers ordering products that when one is slow, others are not. This is a key ingredient, especially with my larger clients.”

Sales Growth
Michael Levy, owner, Minuteman Press, Levittown, New York (shop pictured here) and Farmingdale, New York.
Promoting the Return of Live Events on Long Island

As more live events, concerts, ball games, and tradeshows return to Long Island, Minuteman Press is well positioned to pitch in and help promote them.

“It is very nice to be getting orders for tickets, programs, journals, and most importantly, items for tradeshows and community events,” he shares. “Promotional items and apparel have really picked up over the past six months and that is because these events are happening again. That certainly gets me excited to be able to offer such a wide range of products that cater to all of my customers.”

As for what advice he would give to other business owners right now, Levy imparts, “Of course, every business is different, but one thing all businesses must do is to market themselves. Marketing is a very wide-ranging word and can be done in many different forms. Simply wearing a logo polo shirt is marketing. In addition, advertising, mailings, flyers, business cards, promotional items, apparel, and anything you can put your company logo on are all forms of marketing.

“That is exactly where I, as the owner of two Minuteman Press franchises, come in and help. We can put your logo on just about anything that allows you to market your business. I always tell my customers, when they ask, ‘What type of marketing should my business do?’ to try a little bit of everything and see what works best for your specific business.”

—Press Release

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Watchfire Signs Acquired by H.I.G. Capital

Watchfire Signs (Danville, IL) has announced that the company has been acquired by Miami-based global private equity and alternative assets investment firm H.I.G. Capital, according to a statement from Watchfire Signs.

H.I.G. is partnering with the current management team to provide support for the company’s growing position. Watchfire’s brand, reputation and customer network have allowed the company to establish an installed base of over 65,000 LED displays — also according to the Watchfire statement.

The company has manufactured electric signs for 90 years and LED displays since 1998. Watchfire has more than 65,000 LED displays worldwide and has more digital billboard customers in the US than any other brand, per the statement.

“I am happy to be partnering with H.I.G. Capital to continue to drive growth, both organically and through aggressively pursuing add-on acquisition opportunities,” Steve Harriott, CEO of Watchfire, is quoted in the statement. “We are excited to leverage H.I.G.’s considerable experience investing in outdoor advertising companies to accelerate our own growth initiatives.”

“We believe Watchfire represents an ideal opportunity to invest in a premier provider of digital signage at a time when market tailwinds such as digital transformation and the replacement of aging signage will continue to drive growth,” Ryan Kaplan, managing director at H.I.G. is quoted. “We look forward to supporting Steve and the rest of his executive team as they continue to lead the company through its next exciting phase of expansion.”

For more information, visit

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SBI NSSA Northeast Conference & Expo: Best Job Pricing Practices

Securing jobs at your sign shop involves an even more urgent need of keeping track of dollars and sense. For example, inflation and supply chain worries are just a couple of today’s challenges that also have to be factored into how a shop competitively comes up with a fair dollar amount for the potential customer and a logical one for their profits.

The price is definitely going to be right as Yaron Lew of Lauretano Sign Group (LSG) will be on-hand to lead you through a numbers-crunching session at our SBI NSSA Northeast Sign Conference & Expo in Providence, Rhode Island, providing information and advice related to pricing practices that will help you gain the monetary edge needed to attract customers and successfully compete against other shops bidding for the same projects.

Mr. Lew is the executive vice president at Lauretano Sign Group. He oversees the departments of Design, Estimating, Project Management, Production, Installation, and Service, as well as outsourcing new product development and overseas partners. He has over twenty-five years’ experience in leading business improvement programs and is an expert in analyzing business processes and implementing advanced process management models. Prior to joining LSG, Lew served as vice president and general manager of Business Technology Management Inc., an international business management consulting firm.

Yaron Lew of Lauretano Sign Group (LSG).

Lew holds a Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering and, importantly for this topic, an Executive Business Management certification. He has been awarded several patents and trademarks and is a frequent guest speaker at various industry forums, academic institutions, and business owners’ gatherings. Even better, Lew is from a sign shop and knows first-hand the challenges you encounter when coming up with pricing projects.

SBI NSSA Northeast Conference & Expo

The SBI NSSA Northeast Conference & Expo will be held on September 19-21, 2022 at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, Rhode Island.

The conference program will feature two days of sessions that offer actionable “how-to” lessons to sign shops of all sizes and levels of experience. With a focus on how sign shops can increase sales and profits through strong business management and operational efficiency, this conference will arm you with all the tools you’ll need to become a better business owner.

Of course, no sign shop is complete without the right equipment and services, and there will be a large show hall filled with exhibitors from across the sign industry, hands-on product demonstrations, and valuable networking opportunities.

The day-to-day challenges of operating a sign shop along with larger issues like labor shortages and supply chain disruptions, can make it nearly impossible to step back and evaluate your sign shop’s current operations and future plans. Join us in Providence this fall and make the time to work on all the aspects of your business that will result in increased profits, a stronger team, and a clear path forward.

For more information on sponsorship and booth opportunities, contact David Harkey at 973-563-0109 or

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H.I.G. Capital Completes Acquisition of Watchfire Signs

H.I.G. Capital (“H.I.G.”), a leading global alternative investment firm with $50 billion of equity capital under management, is pleased to announce that one of its affiliates has completed the acquisition of Watchfire Signs, LLC (“Watchfire” or the “Company”).

Headquartered in Danville, Illinois, Watchfire is a leading manufacturer of premium digital signage with best-in-class lead times, product quality, customer service, and support. The Company serves a highly diverse base of local sign dealers, independent billboard operators, and large national accounts.

H.I.G. Capital is partnering with the current management team to provide capital and resources to support the Company’s growing position across multiple segments of the digital display industry, including indoor & outdoor LED signage, digital billboards, and video scoreboards. Watchfire’s strong brand reputation and expansive customer network have allowed the Company to establish an installed base of over 65,000 LED displays, highlighting its position as a leader in the large and growing digital display market.

Steve Harriott, CEO of Watchfire, said, “I am happy to be partnering with H.I.G. Capital to continue to drive growth, both organically and through aggressively pursuing add-on acquisition opportunities. We are excited to leverage H.I.G.’s considerable experience investing in outdoor advertising companies to accelerate our own growth initiatives.”

“We believe Watchfire represents an ideal opportunity to invest in a premier provider of digital signage at a time when market tailwinds such as digital transformation and the replacement of aging signage will continue to drive growth,” said Ryan Kaplan, Managing Director at H.I.G., adding “We look forward to supporting Steve and the rest of his executive team as they continue to lead the Company through its next exciting phase of expansion.”

—Press Release

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PRINTING United Alliance Expert Named to EPA Small Business Panel

PRINTING United Alliance expert Gary Jones.

PRINTING United Alliance, the most comprehensive member-based printing and graphic arts association in the U.S., has announced that veteran staff member and industry expert Gary Jones, director, environmental, health, and safety affairs, is one of nine small business representatives appointed to participate in a small business panel on Expanded Air Emissions Reporting created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The business panel, under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA), is required any time an agency seeks to issue a new regulation that impacts small businesses. Participation on the panel reflects PRINTING United Alliance’s support for its members and the industry on a local and national level, as Jones’ feedback and suggested revisions on the proposed regulation are heavily considered prior to it being released for public review.

The panel was asked to provide feedback on the EPA’s development of proposed revisions to the existing Air Emissions Reporting Requirements (AERR) rule that was last revised in February 2015. The Agency’s proposal covers an expansion of the existing reporting requirements, potentially adding requirements to gather data about hazardous air pollutants; emissions rate test results from facilities; emissions from facilities in Indian Country that are not currently reporting emissions data; and emissions from small electricity-generating units, primarily backup generators that are used intermittently, such as to meet demand on high electricity usage days.

PRINTING United Alliance Submits Comments About Impact on Small Printing Operations

Following the initial meeting held on June 14, 2022, PRINTING United Alliance submitted written comments at the end of June raising concerns regarding the impact the reporting rule would have on small printing operations, many of which are not required to submit emission data to their state or local air pollution control authority.

“The proposed reporting requirements were very extensive and would require most printing operations to either learn how to conduct extensive emission calculations or hire an outside consultant to perform them,” says Jones. “The U.S. EPA proposed a reporting threshold of 4.4 pounds per year for many of the hazardous air pollutants found in the printing industry. Comments provided by PRINTING United Alliance objected to the proposed reporting thresholds. It was suggested that an alternative approach based on material consumption amounts tied to emissions be used to simplify the process for small businesses.”

As a next step, the EPA will review and consider the submitted comments and hold a follow-up panel meeting. The EPA will present updated considerations to the panel and set a second meeting for additional panel feedback.

—Press Release

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Sign Companies Just Won’t Give Up Their Landline Phones


Does your company have a dedicated landline phone?

Yes: 91%

  • We use voice over internet protocol (VoIP) which gives us the ability to forward calls to our cell phones and send and receive texts on the same line. — Mike McClure, Ad Art, San Francisco (as well as many other Brain Squad members)
  • That’s been our phone number for over 30 years, no sense in the reeducation process. — John Miller, Signs by Autografix, Branford, CT
  • We have a dedicated landline for client convenience with phone extensions that direct to sales and PM cell phones. — John Konopka, US Sign and Mill, Fort Myers, FL
  • Simple, inexpensive and reliable. — Larry Mitchell, SignChef, El Dorado Hills, CA
  • We have 25 landlines, one for each desk. Only outside sales people have and use cell phones at work. All others use the desk phones and cell phones are not allowed. — Heather Jack, Fastsigns of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City, OK
  • I do not want all calls coming to the cell phone… Others in the shop can help when clients use the landline. — John Hotaling, Signarama Woodstock, Woodstock, GA

  • We still have a live, personal receptionist answering the phone, too! This personal touch is important to us. — Brad Turpin, Jr., Ruggles Sign, Versailles, KY
  • We also have a fax number. — Jonathan Wilhelm, Marketshare Inc., San Jose, CA
  • I don’t know why… — Grace Francisco, San Diego State University, San Diego

No: 9%

  • Not needed. — Dennis Stanworth, Stanworth Signs, Nevada City, CA



How many customer calls/texts do you make per day on average?

Fewer than 10
30 or more


How many customer emails do you send/reply to per day on average?

Fewer than 10
30 or more

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a signage and graphics company in the US or Canada, you’re invited to join the Signs of the Times Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute survey each month, you will receive access to some of the industry’s freshest data on sales — including your fellow members’ comments on what’s selling and what isn’t — and can make your voice heard on key issues affecting the sign industry. Sound good? Sign up here.


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Groundbreaking Digital Art Experience at Pérez Art Museum Miami

Art is always changing, evolving alongside society and culture to reflect the interests, issues, and technologies of the time. In the always-connected environment encapsulating modern life, digital screens have largely replaced newspapers, magazines, books, and even physical experiences such as shopping or visiting a movie theater.

This evolution has now made its way into the realm of fine arts, with Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) hosting a digital art exhibition wherein guests can experience Marco Brambilla’s Heaven’s Gate, which he describes as a “video monument to Hollywood’s veneration of glamour while retelling the history of the world in seven distinct phases.”

The Technology

Brambilla’s highly emotive and fluid representation of humanity’s perpetual quest for the ultimate fantasy, depicted through the lens of Hollywood imagery and iconography, is presented in the museum’s Bank of America Gallery where the seven-minute video enthralls visitors on a floor-to-ceiling video wall composed of seven class-leading digital displays from LG Business Solutions USA. Working with Marc Billings of Blackdove, developers of the category-defining digital art platform for residential and commercial use, as well as museums and art galleries, Brambilla leveraged LG’s display technology to ensure that every visitor experiences the colors and movement of Heaven’s Gate precisely as the artist intended.

“In the same way that an artist’s imagery can inform viewers about the culture and attitudes of the time period, the medium through which they create and display their art often reflects the available technologies, from cave drawings to sculptures to canvas paintings to precision-engineered digital displays,” Billings explained. “As digital artwork has grown from a niche pursuit to a major global force over the last several years, artists developing algorithmic visuals and video pieces have recognized that this is one art form where the appearance and viewing experience can change dramatically, depending on the specific digital display used for presentation.”

Heaven’s Gate refers to the 1980 film whose excessive production costs bankrupted the United Artists studio.

As the creator of Blackdove, Billings was perfectly positioned to help Brambilla choose and procure the ideal digital display solution to highlight Heaven’s Gate. The video art piece is vertically oriented at a roughly 5:1 ratio, giving viewers a literal top-to-bottom view of Hollywood’s stylistic evolution.

Comprising seven of LG’s high-end fifty-five-inch Full HD digital displays (model SVM5H) that feature a nearly-invisible 0.44mm bezel, the unique video wall canvas appears as a single cohesive screen, allowing viewers to become enrapt in the artwork with no glare, image separation, or techno-clutter.

“Having used LG display products for previous installations, we knew this exhibition would perform flawlessly with consistent color and clarity,” Billings added. “Blackdove is designed to enable the delivery of digital art to any display, but LG’s unique webOS platform allows us to create especially elegant installations. It’s essentially a computer running inside the display that can be loaded with any number of proprietary apps or content, eliminating the need for separate content devices and wiring.”

The Art

Marco Brambilla is one of the world’s foremost digital artists, and he noted that the technology partners he chose to work with were critical to the success of the finished exhibition.

“After a year in the making, I was thrilled to see Heaven’s Gate at Pérez Art Museum Miami,” Brambilla said. “The totemic display could only be made possible with LG’s ultra thin bezel monitors sourced and powered by Blackdove. The installation looks amazing, and I’m very happy to have worked with Marc and the Blackdove team.”

The video art piece is vertically oriented at a roughly 5:1 ratio.

The title “Heaven’s Gate” refers to Michael Cimino’s 1980 film whose excessive production costs bankrupted United Artists and effectively brought to an end the era of director as auteur, paving the way for the studio domination of the medium, which has continued to the present-day. Employing spectacle to describe the hollowness of spectacle, Heaven’s Gate enacts Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase, ‘the medium is the message.’ Through this absorbing work, Brambilla highlights the sensory overload of today’s compendium of popular culture to engulf the viewer’s senses with a hyper-saturation of imagery that is almost impossible to sustain.

“Marco’s work is as apt to be presented at the Sundance Film Festival as it is in a major international art museum or the walls of public spaces,” said PAMM Director Franklin Sirmans. “He has consistently probed the world of cinema through video art with versatility, careful to mark the distinctions of both. While his work has always pushed the boundaries of new technology to visually engage with the screen, his recent work in virtual reality will literally create ‘new ways of seeing.”

The Future

For Billings, Brambilla, and Blackdove, the digital exhibition is a groundbreaking event that sets the stage for artists and the industry to rapidly introduce digital artwork to museum environments. Leveraging the exploding popularity of digital art over the last few years, most notably NFTs that enable ownership of unique, single-production digital creations, the Heaven’s Gate exhibition explores both the creative potential of the medium and the cultural reception of digital experiences as fine art.

“The history of art is deeply intertwined with technological progress, and LG is proud to deliver next generation tools that enable new modes for creative expression,” said Dan Smith, vice president, business development, LG Business Solutions USA. “Marco Brambilla’s work is a sign of what’s to come, and services such as Blackdove are breaking the mold with innovative ways to obtain and display artwork using LG technologies.”

Viewers become enrapt in the artwork with no glare, image separation, or techno-clutter.

For museums and artists, this natural evolution toward digital media presentation may spark interest in a new, younger generation of art-enthusiasts who have only experienced a world dominated by screens. As Blackdove expands to support art installations in more museums, galleries, public spaces, and private homes, Billings is relying on LG to push the envelope of technology and offer incredible displays that enable simple content control and industry-leading visual performance.

Marco Brambilla: Heaven’s Gate is organized by Franklin Sirmans, PAMM Director, with Maritza Lacayo, Curatorial Assistant and Publications Coordinator, in the Bank of America Gallery. This exhibition is presented with support from Ann Blackwell and Cornelius Bond. Ongoing support for PAMM’s project galleries from Knight Foundation, and additional support from JW Marriott Marquis Miami and Blackdove is gratefully acknowledged.

—Press Release

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Get More Jobs Done Faster with Lean 5S

“Good workplaces develop beginning with the 5S’s. Bad workplaces fall apart beginning with the 5S’s.” — Hiroyuki Hirano

Recently I spoke at a sign industry forum where the topic was how shops achieve higher levels of throughput and improve on-time performance. I touched upon value stream mapping, wait times and scheduling, batch manufacturing, functional cross-training, and lean principles.

At the end of my presentation, I collected the audience satisfaction surveys and went through them to see where I could improve my presentation. I was intrigued by one comment in the form of a question that asked, “Why did you skim over 5S?”

At first, I thought to myself, “That’s odd. Isn’t 5S common knowledge? Why should I spend so much time on it?”

I assumed wrong—what I learned is most people have heard the term “5S,” but very few really know what it’s all about and even fewer implement it successfully.

It turned out to be a great question. What’s interesting is that the person who asked the question was Steve Watts, president of Image National Sign Co., in Boise Idaho. Myself and twenty-plus other professionals were about to tour his facility that same afternoon.

I did not realize it at the time, but I was in for an experience that was delightful and inspiring because Image National hit a home run with their 5S implementation.

The factory floor was immaculate in its cleanliness. It was bustling with activity. There was no chaos, and the staff was happy, relaxed [no stress], and all working together as a cohesive team producing at the highest level and setting the bar way above any of the competition.

So I thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to share what can be gained when a successful Lean 5S program is implemented. It’s not rocket science folks—just a common-sense proven practice.

One of the core elements of the lean philosophy is eliminating waste to maximize flow. There are eight forms of time-consuming activities labeled by 5S as “wastes” that do not bring value to our people, our products, or our customers: (1.) Defects, (2.) Overproduction, (3.) Waiting, (4.) Non-used Skills, (5.) Transport, (6.) Inventory, (7.) Motion, and (8.) Excess Processing. An easy way to remember what they are is the acronym DOWNTIME.

Graph #1

Graph #1 illustrates what one of my clients accomplished over a twenty-four-week period of time utilizing this strategy—a 34 percent reduction in production turn-around time from an average of fifty-nine days to less than twenty days. (Note: This was for custom design-build projects. If you manufacture a predefined product line, you should be able to achieve even greater results.)

What is 5S?

5S is one of the many tools in the Lean methodology toolbox. It is a workplace organization process designed to make work environments more efficient and effective—in other words, faster!

The name 5S is derived from the five stages of this lean methodology originating from Japanese automakers during their post-WWII economic rebuild. Each of the five stages starts with the letter S, hence the term “5S,” as discussed below.

How Does 5S Work?

To implement 5S, you will have to follow the five stages in sequence, as described shortly, that make up the process. It really is that simple. However, be informed; simple does not necessarily mean easy!

You must be committed to following through to completion, even though you are never really done. You should be constantly cycling through the process as part of an ongoing process improvement culture.

Stage 1: Separate [and Sort]

Many shops are filled with “stuff” that is rarely, if ever, used. Workers simply tend to collect things that are non-value add.

Within this first stage, you will begin with what is called a Gemba walk (waste walk) to determining which tools/materials are actually necessary.

Select an area to start and begin placing tags or stickers (commonly known as red tags) on every item that is not required for the operation, is not in the right place, or is not present in the right quantities.

All these items are then transferred to a central staging area known as the “red tag zone.” They can only leave this zone when a person can and will actually use them. This way, items are redistributed to an area or workstation in which they are needed. Items that are not required after a certain amount of time, say sixty days, should be sold, removed, recycled, or disposed of.

Place red tags on every item that is not required for the operation, is not in the right place, or is not present in the right quantities.
Stage 2: Set [Arrange and Organize]

In this stage, you give tools, supplies, and materials a permanent place in your shop.

First remove every single remaining item (left over from Stage 1) and place it a short distance away. Then categorize the items based on their frequency of use (whether it be hourly, weekly, monthly, and yearly), but feel free to create categories that suit your own needs.

After this categorization process, you place the most frequently used tools, supplies, items, etc., the closest to the place where they are consumed or processed. The other items are placed further away.

Now that you’re items are in the right spots, you’ll need to make sure they stay there and will be put back, in the same place, after they are used.

The use of a Visual Management aide such as a shadow board (painted board with each tool clearly labeled with lines drawn around them) is an effective way of organizing.

The goal of marking the location for each and every tool on the board is to make it really obvious when a tool is missing, which in turn should decrease the possibility of productivity loss because something is missing that is necessary for the operation. Within seconds (no more than three), anyone passing by should become aware as to whether something is out of place. This is referred to as the three-second rule.

Stage 3: Shine [Clean]

This third stage is an activity that employees would be either partly or completely responsible for, depending on the nature and scale of your operation.

One of the biggest advantages that comes from having operators regularly cleaning their assigned machines and/or workstations is that the operators are more likely to discover small abnormalities that happen to emerge in use, before they result in producing defects.

This means that the goal of the Shine [Clean] stage is not just cleaning a machine but setting the stage for the practice of operators responding to deviations from the standard, which is the most important practice within lean thinking and behaving.

Stage 2: Set [Arrange and Organize] with a Shadow Board.
Stage 4: Standardize

In the standardize step, you will work on creating a consistent approach to the way tasks work and procedures are executed. The first goal is to set ground rules for how work is to be performed at the work center in which 5S tasks are integrated in the regular process flow.

The second goal is all about prevention. Set up clear rules to prevent accumulation of unnecessary items, breakdown of procedures, and prevention of contamination of machines or materials. Build infrastructure and set up rules that make sure you meet these two goals.

Stage 5: Sustain [Hold on to Changes]

The last stage is the most difficult one of the 5S methodology. Holding on to the changes made is not very straightforward because learned behavior is competing with new behavior.

Maintaining the previous four stages and making a habit out of them is the goal of Sustain. People are hesitant to change and altering set behavior can be difficult. So be ready to reinforce the new “good” behavior.

To make it easier, there are many things you can do. Try documenting routines and standard operating procedures or creating newsletters or guidebooks. Have team and management audits and schedule stand up meetings to ensure you and your team will hold on to the changes made!


The 5S process will only be successful if there is 100 percent commitment from upper management and a complete buy-in from all employees. Everyone needs to know why it’s important to eliminate the time wasters that limit flow and cause so many problems, as well as how to implement the process.

Companies fail 5S because they don’t understand the goal, thus sustainability is sacrificed. They find reasons to stop doing all the things I’ve outlined in this article.

Soon the benefits are mostly gone, people forget what it all means, and throughput drops, lead times rise, and so does cost. Worse they start losing skilled people because the culture suffers.

Lean 5S is one of the most powerful management strategies that typically yield the biggest return on your investment, especially at the onset of a Lean transformation initiative. The benefits you can expect to achieve will be greater on-time performance, less stress, and improved employee satisfaction; less firefighting for managers; an improved customer experience; and, best of all, more money in the bank!

—John Hackley

John Hackley, ASBC, has thirty-five years of management and manufacturing experience and is Chief Efficiency Officer for Oculus Business Solutions, Inc. Reach him at John will be talking more about this month’s subject at the SBI/NSSA Northeast Conference & Expo being held at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, Rhode Island.

The post Get More Jobs Done Faster with Lean 5S appeared first on Sign Builder Illustrated, The How-To Sign Industry Magazine.

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Adding a Laser Engraver Can Make Sense for Signmakers

HAVE YOU CONSIDERED adding engraving capabilities to your shop? This may sound like an odd question to ask signmakers, but the reality is that engraving and signmaking are very similar businesses. Both produce a product used to convey a visual message. Engraving can add a number of new products to your catalog, ranging from simple name tags to elaborate through-cut pieces and displays. You can get great results with mechanical engraving tools, but if you want to produce large pieces, you need a laser engraver.

Laser engraving machines have been around for a number of years and they once had a reputation for being slow, hard to operate and prone to breaking down, but today’s units are faster, much easier to use and relatively bulletproof — if you are willing to invest in the right machine. Research can help you find low-cost laser engravers, but you should look at the specifications, materials they can handle, warranties, support and actual reviews. Your best bet is to go with an established company specializing in laser engravers, one that will stand behind its products.

So, what do you need to look for in a laser engraver? Consider the types of products you want to produce in the near term and future. What size pieces do you want to produce — how large? If up to 4 x 8 ft., then you will need to look at exposed flatbed machines that resemble CNC routers. A fairly typical size is 3 x 2 ft. for a cabinet-style engraver, but larger options are available. You also need to look at the maximum material thickness the machine can handle to ensure it will work for your applications. To be clear, just because a machine can handle material an inch or more in thickness does not mean it can completely cut through it.

Among the many products offered by shops, laser engraving closely resembles signmaking.

Among the many products offered by shops, laser engraving closely resembles signmaking.

This point brings up the issue of cutting vs. engraving. Engraving, of course, takes place on the surface of the material while laser cutting burns completely through the media. The manufacturers will be very clear on what materials can be engraved and/or cut. In most cases, what a laser can handle depends on two main factors: the laser’s wattage and the type of laser used. Power is fairly easy to determine. A lower-powered engraver may have a 30W laser. This will be fine for organic materials such as wood and leather while also being suitable for plastics and some soft metals. If you want to cut and engrave on a wide variety of materials, then you should opt for a higher-wattage laser in the 60W to 300W range.

You may find that most laser engravers use CO2. Another, more expensive type is a fiber laser. This solid state laser uses less power than CO2, but offers better cutting capabilities and can easily handle metals. Some manufacturers offer hybrids that combine both CO2 and fiber lasers in the same machine.

As a final note on laser engravers, you will likely need to provide shop air and fume extraction, as noxious fumes can be produced during the cutting/engraving process. You may also want to ensure the manufacturer offers optional add-ons for such capabilities as rotary engraving for trophies, awards and the like.

All in all, a laser engraver is a great addition to a signshop. You can work with a myriad of materials and most modern machines will engrave at fairly high rates of speed (120 in./sec.) and high resolution (1,200 dpi and higher). Solid machines start around $18K and go up from there.



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