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Signlink Live

As the very first Signlink Live rapidly approaches, Brendan Perring delves into this new exhibition focused on core sign-making technology

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Applelec says Signlink Live has the potential to be very important for the UK industry. The trade manufacturer specialises in both built-up lettering fabrication and LED lighting systems

Back to the beginning

The genesis for Signlink Live (October 11th to 13th, The International Centre) began back in 2007, when the team at Link Publishing that owns this magazine decided they wanted to put on an exhibition that focused more on ‘traditional’ sign-making and away from the avalanche of wide-format print technology that was taking the industry on a rapid growth curve. The Sign Show was born and had a great first event, only to be quashed by the global credit crunch and ensuing recession—but the spark was ignited.

Wide-format print, of course, is a vitally important sector for the sign industry and has allowed it to remain relevant, driven by the growth of thousands of sign businesses and UK-based trade suppliers and created a revolution in visual communications. And that amazing success is without doubt a fantastic asset of the UK sign community. There has been something of a penalty to pay though at trade shows aimed at sign-makers across Europe, nay the world, and that is a massive focus on wide-format print technology. This, of course, was driven by the necessity of exhibition organisers to sell stands, and wide-format print manufacturers and suppliers are servicing a growth market and have a lot of marketing budget at their disposal.

The result was trade shows that forget their roots in the world of core sign-making and begun to identify wide-format print as sign-making itself. Some of these shows have tried to right the balance in Europe, FESPA being a good example with its co-located European Sign Expo, which has no wide-format in its hall. The only downside here is that the trade supply of sign-making materials, products, machines, and letters is very nationally focused and the ESE has a strong concentration of national suppliers relevant to the locality in which FESPA is based year to year.

So, Signlink Live is a child of The Sign Show, and its focus is squarely on everything in sign-making outside of wide-format print. This not only rises up and gives a focused platform for hundreds of sector suppliers, but also means they are not competing for the visitor’s attention with multi-national print manufacturers. Similarly, the visitor can come in the knowledge they can focus their time on sourcing a specific set of new trade supplier routes and products.
Now you have had your history lesson and understand a little of what the show is all about, let us go on a journey and provide you with a snapshot of just a few of its founding exhibitors—which at the time of going to press had passed the 50 mark.

The perfect cut

On stand J03, Graphtec GB will demonstrate selected products from its wide range of cutting solutions. These comprise examples from the flagship FC8600 and the CE6000 series of roll-fed cutters, the latest FCX2000 series of flatbed machines and the newly rebranded F-Mark combined automatic digital die-cutting and sheet feeding system.

The upgraded FC8600 series of cutters incorporates the latest version 6 of Graphtec’s proprietary ARMS (Automatic Registration Mark Sensing) system and the ISM (Intelligent Scan Mode) function and is supplied with the latest Graphtec Pro Studio software. This is based on the popular Flexi Sign family of design and production software from Sai, for which Graphtec GB is a preferred business partner and distributor in the UK and Ireland. The FC8600 has a maximum cutting speed of 1,485mm/sec to claim ‘fastest in class’ status and a cutting force of 600gf.

The renamed CE6000 Plus series of cutters will also be on show, and is now available with new and enhanced features to enable radically increased levels of productivity. The cutters have a maximum cutting speed of 1,000mm/sec (exclusive to the CE6000 PLUS 120 model) and a cutting force of 300gf (up to 450gf on the CE6000-40 machine). Key features of this economically priced cutter include the Graphtec ARMS facility, tangential emulation, and a perforation cutting function. The CE6000 Plus series is also supplied with Graphtec Pro Studio software.

The Graphtec CE6000 is the product of decades of technology evolution and advances in this field

Noteworthy design features of the latest FCX2000 series of flatbed cutters to be demonstrated include a specially configured cutting head incorporating two tool holders, the first of which holds a knife and the second a creasing tool to enable a dual cutting and creasing function. A USB port enables offline operation and files to be saved and retrieved remotely as well as a barcode function that enables printed barcode and the relevant cutting data to be recalled from memory and cut. The cutters also incorporate the latest version 6 of Graphtec’s ARMS facility.

The Graphtec FCX2000-60 is a very versatile and affordable cutter with a small footprint but high productivity capabilities

The rebranded F-MARK combined automatic sheet feeder and digital die cutter is based on the popular Graphtec CE6000-40 cutter. The machine is available in a choice of three sizes (920 x 610, 920 x 1,200, and 920 x 1,800mm). There is also the option of either a vacuum suction or electrostatic material hold-down facility, with the former better suited to the processing of heavier and thicker materials and the latter more suitable for lighter-weight media.

The Graphtec FC-8000 is a workhorse and has been the bedrock of reliable vinyl sign production for hundreds of UK sign-makers

The F-Mark cutter can be used for a wide range of print and cut applications, including primarily short-run label production, digital prints and packaging, thus enabling sign and graphics manufacturers and print finishing specialists to diversify into new markets. The extremely compact footprint also enables the machine to be mounted to a work surface as small as 60 x 67cm.

Family values

So, from vinyl cutting technology to the bread and butter of the sign-makers produce and service armoury. Traditional family-business values and an unrivalled knowledge of the sign industry are the driving forces of I-Spi Trade (stand L07). Stretching back two decades, it continues to deliver for its growing customer base.

(Above & below) I-Spi Trade’s stand-off sign locators offer a robust, affordable, and stylish solution for wayfinding signage

The online business is a leading supplier of sign fixings to the trade with a formidable reputation and it has an innovative product range that is built upon reacting to the needs of customers.

Evolving from a signage company founded in 1997 by Chris Ferrie, it moved into trade product supply in 2007. Today the business continues to grow through Chris’ sons Stephen and Sean as they deliver signage solutions and develop relationships.

(Above & below) I-Spi Trade prides itself on researching, developing, and bringing to market a range of unique signage solutions to enhance a sign-maker’s own product and service offering

They believe the key to the business is addressing customer needs, built upon industry leading products, advice, and support.

The I-Spi Trade product range includes signs fixings, cable systems, and LED solutions together with ‘Signalite’, the company’s highly-acclaimed LED variation. Signalite LED Sign Fixings provide instant and intense illumination to give an eye-catching finish to any acrylic panel.

Stephen says: “Customers benefit from our family business culture. We support customers today with the same approach since day one, putting them first, with up to date facilities and processes.

Customers benefit from our family business culture. We support customers today with the same approach since day one, putting them first, with up to date facilities and processes

“Although online ordering has become the preferred route of supply for customers, they are still able to pick up the phone and discuss products. This ability to chat with people that have a deep understanding of the sign fitting industry and the needs of the trade is invaluable.”

Another UK-based supplier that has built itself a reputation over many decades of product innovation and invention is Grafityp (stand K07), which was the very first founding exhibitor of Signlink Live. 

Grafityp UK is one of the most recognisable names in the industry, known for its supply of self-adhesive media, wide-format inkjet printer portfolio, laser engravers, laminators, vinyl cutters, and textile transfer products. For the last two years it has exhibited at The Print Show (co-located with Signlink Live), taking one of the biggest stands available, but for 2017 it will split its presence over the two events.

Neil Stevenson, sales director for Grafityp UK, says: “I am feeling very positive; I have always said that Link Exhibitions, wherever it was, would put on a very good exhibition.

I am feeling very positive; I have always said that Link Exhibitions, wherever it was, would put on a very good exhibition

“We really are happy with the performance of the team behind Link Exhibitions, which we have experienced from the co-located Print Show.

“The first year of The Print Show was very good, and this year was even better. You might have thought in the first year ‘was it a fluke’, but the second year was even stronger, and a lot of our reason for signing up for the 2017 event and taking a stand at Signlink Live is based on those results and how the shows have been positioned together. Fingers crossed things have gone really well so far, and I think it will carry on for many years.”

Chris Davies, event director of Signlink Live and The Print Show, adds: “We’ve been working with Neil and the Grafityp team for some time now through the magazine and The Print Show, and to have the sign up as the first exhibitor at Signlink Live further cements what is already a solid partnership.

Grafityp UK was the first supplier to sign up for Signlink Live, and will be showcasing its impressive range of sign-making technology and materials, in addition to running The Swap Shop. This special area will showcase the potential of doing colour change and speciality vinyl film wraps

“Grafityp has had a major presence at The Print Show for the past two years and I’m looking forward to working with Neil and the team to ensure they get the best out of attending both events this year.”

Celebrating our industry

The show will feature a number of specialist areas, including ‘The Profit Factory’, which has been designed to help visitors gain an insight into businesses in a box that require low capital investment, but are capable of producing high margin products and services. The section will be split into four specialist areas—Enterprise Engraving, Promo Print Alley, Let’s Go Outside, and The Curiosity Shop—allowing visitors to learn about the most profitable growth areas of the industry.

Elsewhere, The Swap Shop, which will be run by Grafityp, will focus on speciality vinyl, looking at areas where this material can be used. From wrapping sports cars and mountain bikes, to tables for a new coffee shop, this area will showcase how sign-makers can best utilise special effects films.

The Craftsman’s Corner looks set to be one of the most popular sections of the show, having drawn its inspiration from the much-applauded Traditional Print Masterclasses hosted by sister event The Print Show. Here, visitors will be able to look back into sign’s past and see some of the more traditional techniques, which are still on offer in today’s modern market. Live demonstrations will include gold leaf guiding, sign-writing, bas-relief carving, and pinstriping.

Moving on to the Business Seminar Theatre, this educational area will host specialist speakers that are lined up to pass on advice and tips to visitors, to help them gain an advantage in a competitive market. The speakers will also focus on the importance of diversification and help visitors understand ‘Blockbuster’ syndrome. In short, once a mighty king of the video rental industry, what Blockbuster forgot was that their product was not a film in a box and some upsold chocolate peanuts, but actually a relaxed and entertaining night at home in front of the TV. By focusing on the means of delivery, rather than product, they collapsed in spectacular fashion in the face of internet film streaming.

Elsewhere, The Training Theatre will offer demonstrations and free expert training on systems such as Adobe Indesign, CAD/CAM software, and MIS platforms. In addition, it will host experts on technical areas of sign-making from across the industry to give you tips and tricks on how to increase the quality of your products without breaking the bank.
In addition, for those looking to gain further knowledge of the neon market and the opportunities here, For the Love of Neon would be a recommended stop. This area will be run by Neon Workshops, which will not only be giving live demonstrations of the art of bending neon, but also giving you the chance to get hands on and learn for yourself.
Signlink Live also wants to raise the profile of the benefit, both to your wallet and the planet, of environmentally-friendly signage. Green Horizons will be run by sector experts Zeta Specialist Lighting with its very latest systems such as ultra-low power consumption LEDs and solar-powered signs being demonstrated. Zeta will also be providing free business advice and consultancy on this boom market.

Last, but not least, as an added incentive, every contact on Signlink’s database will receive a personalised print invitation to the show with a Golden Ticket attached to it. To enter the draw, visitors should bring the ticket to Signlink Live and have it scanned on the door.

O Factoid: At the time of going to press Signlink Live had 5,000 pre-registered visitors. O

In 2017, there will be more than £8,000 worth of prizes every day of Signlink Live, with three lucky visitors independently drawn at 12.00, 14.00, and 16.00. The prizes on offer will be gift vouchers, luxury hampers, electronic goods, and a top prize of a brand-new Epson wide-format printer.

Major brands

A key strength of Signlink Live is the variety, depth, and breadth of the products and services catered for on its floorplan. To take a cross-section of the show for example: Applelec, one of the leading trade suppliers to the UK industry, will make its presence felt at Signlink Live (stand L33), as will tensions systems specialist Spirit Displays (stand M04). Meanwhile, aluminium sign manufacturer Nova Aluminium will also be in attendance (J06), along with power tool accessories provider Merlin Tools (L25). Welwyn Tool Group, a UK distributor of Leister hot air equipment for plastic welding and process heat for manufacturing using plastics will be showcasing its technology on stand L31. Castle Tape Holdings, a specialist in technical tapes, adhesives, packaging, and industrial supplies, will be on L08.

So as you can see from this small cross-section of its now 50 exhibitors and counting, Signlink Live really is a true mirror of the core UK sign-making supply chain.

Speaking about the decision to sign up for the debut show, Andy Armitage, head of signage sales at Applelec, says that the company sees the exhibition as a good opportunity to launch a new product to the market.

“Signlink Live presents a fresh opportunity to promote what’s new from Applelec and the autumn timing looks good for a product launch we’re planning,” says Armitage, who adds: “It feels like the show is already gathering momentum in the industry and there’s a good deal of interest in attending from many of our customers.

Signlink Live presents a fresh opportunity to promote what’s new from Applelec and the autumn timing looks good for a product launch we’re planning

“I think Signlink Live has the potential to be very important. Exhibitions are a fantastic platform for product launches and can help educate the industry, particularly as technology advances, through seminar and talk programmes.

“As producers of a monthly signage magazine, the Signlink team really understand the industry, and I think this will translate into a well-produced show that offers something genuinely interesting to visitors. The Signlink team have always supported Applelec and so we were keen to be part of this new venture with them.”

Although keeping details of the new product under wraps for the time being, Armitage invites members of the industry to visit Signlink Live and see the solution for the first time.

“Behind the scenes, we’re working towards a big product launch for Signlink Live,” Armitage explains.
He continues: “It’s all top secret at the moment, and in addition we’ll be highlighting some of the most in demand Sloan LED products supplied by Applelec as well as recent advances in the Prism module range.”

For the UK sign industry

UK industry trade body the British Sign and Graphics Association (BSGA) has also pledged its support to Signlink Live. Reflecting on the decision to, David Catanach, director for the BSGA, says that the event will not only allow the organisation to network with industry members, but also update the market on its latest news.

“The BSGA firmly believes that trade shows are vital in helping the sign industry move forward,” says Catanach, who adds: “They provide a platform for sign-makers to see, at first hand and in one place, all the latest equipment and processes that could help make their business more competent, efficient, professional and profitable.

“The Council of the BSGA is keen that sign-makers make the most of any opportunity to discover new equipment and processes that will add to their capabilities. The BSGA sees this show as one of those that should not be missed.

“Being at the show will also give us the opportunity to network, provide advice to visitors about the sign industry and the Association and to see for ourselves the new opportunities that are opening up to an ever diversifying industry. And of course we will be happy to discuss membership applications and the benefits of being a member.”

Chris Davies, event director of Signlink Live and sister event The Print Show, also spoke positively about the BSGA’s commitment, adding that the organiser already has a strong relationship with the organisation through its ties with SignLink magazine.
“For some 13 years Signlink magazine has reported on an industry which has continued to grow at an impressive rate. It has embraced new technology to create a kaleidoscope of fantastic products and services to help UK businesses transmit their message visually, inform their customers, and also of course to keep our transport and information network running smoothly. Signlink Live will build on the legacy of this highly respected title and become a physical extension of the magazine.

For some 13 years Signlink magazine has reported on an industry which has continued to grow at an impressive rate

“It is aimed squarely at the UK sign-making industry, which is one of the most technically advanced manufacturing sectors in the UK, bringing together advanced lighting systems, CAD/CAM design, highly-engineered materials from plastics to extruded metals, fixtures and fittings, and a wide range of engineering skills and machinery to produce its products. Signlink Live is a celebration of this immensely varied supply chain.”

Marketing director of Signlink Live, Page Tuck, also adds: “We are very proud to be working with the BSGA as a partner, we firmly believe in the importance of its work for improving standards in our industry and their insight will be invaluable as we continue to design educational aspects of the show.”

Exciting products
Another key strength of Signlink Live is the thousands of new products and technology that will be on show. Indeed that is the beauty of a trade show such as this, as you could come and discover that perfect product for your next big job, or a tool that could make your working life that much easier.

Smith Sign and Display (stand K09) will showcase a wide selection of signage and display solutions that are manufactured in the company’s purpose-built and state-of-the-art facility and supplied exclusively to the trade.

Visitors will be able to view a range of signs in both illuminated and non-illuminated versions, including bespoke sign tray, projecting, suspended, and wayfinding systems.

(Above & below) Smith Sign and Display will be showcasing its impressive array of products at
Signlink Live

Bespoke sign trays that help increase brand awareness are manufactured using an advanced CNC router in 2 or 3mm aluminium with a choice of vinyl or powder-coated finish. The illuminated versions use advanced LED technology that is more environmentally-friendly and cost-effective by comparison with traditional neon or fluorescent. The signs incorporate fret-cut, flat-cut or push-through lettering and logos and can be halo-illuminated to create special 3D effects.

Fully customised illuminated or non-illuminated projecting signs are available in various shapes and sizes. The extremely strong fixing brackets are crafted in solid steel for enhanced longevity. Slat signage manufactured by Smith Sign and Display feature interchangeable metal slats. These signs are ideal for locations that are subject to constant change and the need for frequent updating.

For wayfinding applications, the company manufactures and supplies a choice of wooden fingerpost or the Stylos metal system that is exclusive to Smith Sign and Display. The wooden fingerpost system is crafted in solid oak using a CNC router and coated with a wood stain finish. It is a popular choice of local authorities for sign systems that will blend harmoniously with rural environments or places of historic interest. Each fingerpost can be engraved and infilled with a chosen colour.

The Stylos system is a popular choice of directional and information signage installed at inner town and city locations. Due to the presence of a special encapsulated security fixing, the signs are less prone to vandalism and thus require fewer repair or replacement costs.

Using its in-house HP Latex printers, the company also supplies digitally printed large-format graphics in virtually any kind of material and for any type of application.

Meanwhile, power conversion specialist Power Pax (stand L22) has spoken out in support of Signlink Live and encouraged the UK industry to get behind the inaugural show. Lee Allen, managing director at the company, said that he is “very excited” to be part of the event and is looking forward to showing off various solutions from Power Pax: “Signlink Live looks to adopt a broader, more forward thinking approach and go beyond looking to showcase the same companies in the same way. This is why we have decided to partner with them in showcasing the Power Pax core LED drivers, LED strip and LED module ranges.

“With its industry-wide reach, Signlink Live 2017 will provide the perfect platform for us to showcase our new ranges of LED Strip lighting and LED Modules, as well as the extended range of ultra slim 12vdc and 24vdc constant voltage drivers which carry a warranty up to five years and meet the latest safety and efficiency legislation. The new super thin LED drivers are available as both standard and waterproof options.”

So dear reader, if you have not done so yet, then mark off a day in your diary and come up to The International Centre in Telford between October 11th to 13th. I can personally promise you will not go away disappointed, and I can also affirm with complete confidence you will take away at least one highly-valuable new piece of business intelligence, a product idea, or a solution to help you overcome some of the key challenges facing your business.

As Allen concludes: “Many trade shows have become fairly one dimensional, being largely dominated by the biggest companies all offering the same kind of solutions. And as such these types of events can become fairly mundane. I think Signlink Live will be very important to the UK market, as it looks to cover all aspects of sign-making.”

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