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Sign Fabrication

Sign fabrication offers an additional source of income, but what are the benefits of bringing this work in-house? Rob Fletcher finds out from manufacturers and suppliers from across the sector

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There has been a rise in demand for 3D numbers and letters

Raising the bar

Although sign-makers are currently enjoying a rather buoyant market with work in plentiful supply across a number of sectors, competition is at an all-time high, partly due to companies from outside of the market moving into the sector to access the work available.

One of the most effective ways sign-makers can differentiate themselves from other companies is to offer something that their competitors cannot. If you are able to bring work in-house and take greater control over production, this will help you stand out in what is now a very busy market.

Sign fabrication offers sign-makers a route to a range of profitable work, but how can they move into this market without breaking the bank? Is bringing this type of work in-house a realistic option for sign-makers operating on a tight budget?

Smart investment

While many larger sign companies already offer sign fabrication services due to the economics of scale and for control of the project, the same cannot be said for smaller businesses, which are more restricted in terms of budgets.

David Catanach, director of the ISA-UK, says sign-makers must invest properly if they are to make a successful move into sign fabrication work

However ISA-UK director, David Catanach, says that this can prove a successful move for some small- to medium-sized sign-making companies, depending on their situation.

“If you are prepared to invest and train – or employ those with experience – and providing the work is going to continue to justify capital expenditure, then serious consideration should be given to bring the work in-house and under your control,” he says.

O Factoid: In July 2018, the British Sign & Graphics Association (BSGA) agreed an affiliate programme with the International Sign Association (ISA) to become the ISA-UK Powered by BSGA (ISA-UK) on January 1st, 2019. O

“However, because of the diversity of jobs and projects landing on your doorstep, it may well be more advantageous for you to use trade suppliers who should have all the right equipment and skills at their disposal to provide you with a trouble free and efficient service. It depends on your business, the type of customers you have and where you want to take your company in the years ahead.”

For those that do opt to make the move, Catanach has one simple piece of advice: invest properly in the right technology, or risk disaster.

He says: “I have seen too many times in my career in this industry, jobs go wrong simply because the wrong equipment was used to manufacture a product or where the sign shop owner wasn’t prepared to invest properly and suffered the consequences as everything fell apart or failed.

If you are serious about your business, then invest in the right equipment and personnel and the rewards will follow

“It may be more expensive initially but if you are serious about your business, then invest in the right equipment and personnel and the rewards will follow.”

Expand your offering

Before investing in kit, it is important to consider what type of work you want to take on and if there is a demand for this among your customer base. Automatic Letter Bender (ALB) has noted a sharp increase in its equipment, due to a rise in demand for 3D channel letters in the UK market.

Karolina Mieszko, sales manager at ALB UK, comments: “The 3D letters market is starting to move fast, with particularly high demand for 3D letters in advertising. Investment in 3D channel letter benders allows sign-makers to cut production time as the machines allow the user to prepare even the most difficult job in terms of calculating the size, cutting and bending.”

ALB supplies both Automatic Channel Letter Bender and Laser Welder machines, which allow sign-makers to produce 3D channel letters

In terms of how this kit can help sign-makers that are not necessarily new to the 3D letters market, but instead taking work in-house, Mieszko says ALB is able to support them throughout the process. Mieszko says in addition to supplying letter bending machines, ALB will provide training to ensure company staff are up to speed on how to work the machines and ensure the best possible output.

Mieszko comments: “More and more customers that had been outsourcing or they prepared letters manually they decided to buy an Automatic Channel Letter Bender. In addition, companies that previously only offered printing services or prepared exhibition stands can use this type of kit to expand their offering and take on new work.

“Companies that decide to buy one of our 3D channel letter bending machines will enjoy increased production capacity and also become much more competitive in the market.”

ALB also offers Laser Welders, which, as Mieszko explains, use neodymium-digital lasers to produce high quality letters, without any burns distortions of material. Laser Welders are able to produce letters out of stainless steel or aluminium sheets.

Mieszko add: “A lot of customers decide to invest in both machines straight away as they realise how many benefits they can receive from this kit.”

Meeting demand

Elsewhere in this market and Indasol supplies sign-makers with consumables that form a key part of the sign fabrication process, such as tapes and adhesives. Sales manager Nick Taylor says by bringing this work in-house, they can place themselves ahead of the competition.

Indasol stocks a range of consumables products key to the sign fabrication process, including tapes and adhesives

Taylor says: “In such a competitive market where lead time, innovation, costs and quality all share the same importance, the sign-maker has to look for ways to stay innovative and current without losing their core values. It is important for the sign-maker to take a balanced view on whether to outsource product design/manufacture or retain the work in-house in order to meet the customers’ demands.

“The argument for retaining the work is that they can have a greater say in not only the design and quality of the product, but also what materials are used in its production. As there are so many products on the market claiming to do the same thing, this is a vital consideration for providing the end customer with a long-term quality product.”

Although Taylor admits that in-house design and manufacturing is not always the most cost effective way of creating a product, with external companies boasting bespoke kit an attractive proposition for sign-makers on a budget, it is possible to take work in-house without breaking the bank.

Taylor says: “If general cost control is important, which of course it is, then managing the process and using the Indasol range of sign-makers tapes and adhesives allows the sign-maker flexibility, control of quality and of course control of costs.”

For those making the move, Indasol offers a free introductory sample kit for them to get to grip with its products. Indasol also offers free technical support to customers, as well as free on-site assistance with product selection.

Taylor adds: “Our range has been developed over the years by listening to what our sign-making customers need and by taking innovative technologies from other industries and applying them to the sign-making industry.”

Thinking bigger

Expansion into sign fabrication may require investment in large-format digital print kit and materials related to this type of production. Suppliers like Antalis can help out with the latter, boasting a wide range of materials for use across sign fabrication projects.

Paul Duffy, hardware development manager at Antalis, says benefits of taking sign fabrication in-house include greater production control and increased turnaround times

Paul Duffy, hardware development manager at Antalis, says when looking at any investment in a large-format kit, sign-makers need to look at the bigger picture and consider not only the investment they’re making in the printer, but also look at what investment may need to be made in the finishing.

Duffy expands: “By adding cutting, laminating or specialist finishing to their range of in-house services, a sign-maker can really increase profits. Other benefits such as production control and increased turnaround times can also offer a real competitive advantage and help a business clearly differentiate itself.

“Antalis can advise and guide them through the process by helping to identify the different applications their existing machinery may be capable of producing and looking at new or complementary hardware and finishing equipment to sit alongside existing kit.”

As part of this support, Antalis offers a free consultation service for any company considering investing in large-format equipment. The supplier works with several different partners offering equipment from the leading brands, and can offer an impartial consultative approach with solutions to meet the unique needs of a business as technology, applications and requirements change.

Antalis encourages any sign-maker investing in large-format print kit to also consider the finishing materials and technology they will require to produce applications 

Duffy adds: “We will work with clients to understand exactly what it is they’re trying to achieve and advise them on the best way to invest in the latest technology that would fulfil their needs and that of their customers. We are, of course, then able to provide the best and most diverse portfolio of media to cover all applications with key, trusted brands such as 3A, Coala, Drytac and Orafol.”

While outsourcing sign fabrication work can ease some of the pressure on your production process, taking this type of work in-house can give you a greater sense of control and allow you to become much more flexible. By working with the top manufacturers and suppliers in the market, sign-makers can establish whether a move into sign fabrication will work for them.

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