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Trade Finishing

Quality of finish is as important as the quality of a completed sign. Brenda Hodgson looks at some of the key players in the trade supply finishing sector to find out more

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Sign of the Times has grown over 35 years, developing its services and technology

The finishing touch

It is an undoubted fact that the quality of the finish is what makes the difference between an acceptable product and an outstanding one. It is those final details that enhance the completed job that can make a huge difference to bottom line profitability, as they influence customer decisions as to whether or not they will place repeat business with a company. And this applies equally to sign and print as it does to other industry sectors.

However, as with other industries, for those finishing touches that they are unable to undertake themselves, sign and print manufacturers are in the happy position of being able to call on the services of expert trade suppliers who specialise in or share their in-house expertise in a variety of finishing disciplines.

The benefit of experience

From its beginnings over 35 years ago as a sign manufacturer, Sign of the Times, based in Kettering, Northamptonshire, has grown and developed its facilities to provide a comprehensive range of display and promotional services, from design to installation, embracing the latest technology and manufacturing facilities.

The company’s reputation has been further endorsed over the years with a number of awards and accolades, including the Gold Award in the Non-Printed Signage category at FESPA 2016, and Sign of the Year at the British Sign Awards in both 2014 and 2015.

These solid foundations, combined with their breadth of in-house knowledge, experience, skills, and machinery, led Sign of the Times to open out its expertise to other sign and print companies, offering a trade supply finishing service.

This Nationwide logo was created by Sign of the Times using layers of 10mm acrylic fusion-glued together, which were then ready to be flame edge polished with a brushed stainless steel effect

"The skills and in-house capability and investment that we have built up over the years means our trade customers can be confident enough to offer a full solution to their own clients, safe in the knowledge that they are supported by a reliable strategic partner,” says director, Darren Roughton.

The skills and in-house capability and investment that we have built up over the years means our trade customers can be confident enough to offer a full solution to their own clients

Among the services offered to the trade by Sign of the Times are CNC routing and milling, including a 3D carving solution, for rigid substrates such as wood, metal, plastics, and acrylics; and router or laser engraving and chemical etching of almost any material from wood through to stainless steel. In addition the company offers vinyl cutting using a Zund CNC cutter, which features an optical eye that enables contour cutting of both vinyls and digitally printed materials. Alongside this is an upright roll-feed cutter that offers fast and accurate cutting, and is ideal for large runs of vinyl text and complicated detailing.

“For us, and the variety of work we do at Sign of the Times for clients such as Heinz, Nationwide, Coca-Cola and VW, we have to offer it all, and we have to have the capability in-house so that bespoke work in particular can be adjusted, perfected and turned around quickly and expertly,” Roughton explains.

He continues: “We have over 35 years of experience in handling all manner of different substrates from acrylics, plastics, wood and metals, and more importantly, our highly qualified operators understand the different characteristics of the media and what can and can't be achieved. Whether laser cutting, engraving or carving, our continual investment in the latest tech means that we can ensure we are economical when cutting materials for example, saving on wastage and thereby reducing costs. It's only this expert understanding of finishing solutions that allows us to work smart.”

The power of dedication

Similarly, dedicated trade print and signage solutions provider Group 101 is rooted in the in-depth knowledge and experience of its founder and managing director James Sohata, who is passionate about the sign and print industry.

Group 101 operates state-of-the-art routing hardware, assuring its trade customers the benefit of the highest quality production

It is this passion that has seen the business evolve from a small bedroom in East London to the fully equipped trade partner that it is today, heavily involved in a wide range of large-format printing and finishing services.
Continued investment in the latest technologies has seen the company relocate many times in order to cater for the ever growing needs of its wide ranging customer base. Most recently, the company moved in the autumn of 2015 to spacious new premises near Thurrock in Essex, which house the company’s entire operation under one roof.

Group 101’s finishing services include CNC routing and cutting, using a state-of-the-art CNC router with 18 tool changer, camera, and knife cutting options, catering for direct-to-substrate contour cutting on a range of materials from soft cards, foams, woods, and even metals. The range of knives and creasing tools available makes it possible to cut, fold, and crease on a variety of soft cards, soft foams, and Foamex boards.

In addition, Group 101’s facilities include mounting and print finishing to a range of different board materials, including MDF, Foamex, ACM and Kapa boards, acrylic, Correx, and reverse mounting to glass.

“What differentiates us from other companies is that I understand printing, and I understand signage. It’s all I’ve ever known —and frankly, it’s all I will ever do,” says Sohata, clearly demonstrating his passion for the business, adding: “I’m not a salesman turned trade printer; I’ve always been in this line of work.”

All sewn up

Nottingham-based DC Hoult specialises in the supply of blank banners and finishing of printed banners for sign and print companies.

As well as hemming and eyeleting, making scaffold pockets and stitching on Velcro are among other finishing services that are available on request. The company also offers a welding service for larger banners that need to be manufactured in more than one piece.

DC Hoult has built its reputation on fast delivery, responsive customer service, and the quality of its products and services.

Manual and mechanical finishing operations such as banner sewing at DC Hoult require a skilled eye and technique to create a smooth finish

“We believe in customer satisfaction and in providing a high quality, fast efficient service at competitive prices,” expands director, Julia Hoult, continuing: “We always make sure we deliver what we promise and understand the needs of our customers.

We always make sure we deliver what we promise and understand the needs of our customers

“Most of our customers drop off banners to us and collect them later the same day, ensuring a quick turnaround. Customers that aren’t local to us will send their goods by courier, taxi or post for us to finish and send back. For example, we have a customer in Essex who regularly sends banners to us for finishing.”

In or out?
Recent years have seen a trend in sign and print companies moving to bring finishing in-house. So what has been the effect of this on trade suppliers and how are they responding?

DC Hoult has seen some reduction in demand for its banner finishing services. “We have lost some work as a result of this,” comments Hoult, “For example, some companies choose to stick their banners with banner tape, and we do actually sell the tape to the customers who prefer to do this.

“Of course, the advantage to the customer of finishing their own banners is one of cost but, on the other hand, if they take on extra people to do this work they will have higher staff costs. In addition, our finishing will be of a higher quality as we have the experience, and sewing is a skilled job. However, it really is up to the customer and we have diversified into other products to make up for this.”

DC Hoult offers a comprehensive trade supply service for a wide range of services. But the jewel in its crown is the ability to offer finishing services such as banner sewing and hemming, a real nightmare if you do not have the right skills and equipment

To compensate for the shrinkage in demand for trade finishing, DC Hoult has expanded its manufacture and supply offering to embrace other PVC and canvas products, such as bespoke trailer covers and skirts, and boat canopies.

Sign of the Times’ Roughton emphasises the case for outsourcing: “In the industry these days, it's vital that trade customers are able to outsource their finishing, and trust that their work is still completed to the highest specification. This option ultimately saves them substantial up-front costs in the investment of technology, machinery, maintenance and in-house staff training. Why go to the expense of purchasing and running a Tekcel CNC router system if you don't intend to have it running all day, every day like we do?"

An industrial Tekcel router ensures trade customers can be confident in the finishing solutions offered by Sign of the Times

In the industry these days, it's vital that trade customers are able to outsource their finishing,
and trust that their work is still completed to the highest specification

Cut it right
Another very important factor when considering which trade finishing supplier to go with is to really quiz them about the tooling they run on their machines, as this can make a vast difference to the quality of the finished product.

This is an issue that Industrial Tooling Corporation (ITC) very much takes to heat and was keen to extol at the recent Sign and Digital UK exhibition, and should be taken note of by all those running routers and cutters. Here it launched a raft of new product lines and really emphasises that there is no excuse for a poor finish with the sheer range of technology now at the disposal of sign-makers and trade suppliers of signage finishing services.

Industrial Tooling Corporation was out in force at Sign and Digital UK 2016, extolling its message that there is no excuse for a poorly finished sign when there is always a right tool for the job in hand

“During the show it was our colourful new stand design and the latest edition of the Folio catalogue that really grabbed attention and created a new level of awareness about the product range and how easy it is to ensure faultless quality by using our tooling,” says ITC’s technical sales manager Sally Hunt.

She continues: “The new catalogue is full of new product ranges such as the balanced routing tools that caters for the upsurge in buyers of digital flatbed cutting tables. The tables run at very high speeds and it is essential that high quality balanced tools are used to optimise the performance of the machine investment. At the Sign Show, it wasn't just our availability of these tools but also our expertise in understanding what tool geometry and coating to use on specific materials that won new business at the show and through the summer months since."

Nowhere was this knowledge more prevalent than among sign-makers and point-of-sale print companies cutting Di-Bond materials. The aluminium composite Di-Bond can be layered with challenges such as inconsistent material quality and impurities in the material that exhibit 'hard-spots' that quickly diminish tool life and performance. To make short work of such difficulties, ITC has extended its renowned 180 Series of tools to now include a unique new Vitreo coating technology that eases through the most troublesome of materials.

O Factoid: Finish: To complete the manufacture or decoration of an article by giving it an attractive surface appearance (Oxford Dictionaries). O

Also extremely popular at the show for ‘easing through material’ was ITC's latest line of knife tools and blades for CNC cutting tables. The extremely popular line of knife and blade tools was recently extended with new cutting geometries being added for the efficient cutting of all materials including thicker materials like re-board.

Not only does ITC offer a remarkable extensive portfolio of blades and knife tools, but it also offers a comprehensive re-sharpening and re-grind service for end users. This service has proven extremely popular among customers, as the cost benefits of re-sharpening as opposed to buying new tools is evident.

The arrival of new balanced tool ranges, knife tools and next generation coating technology was met with genuinely high interest levels at Sign and Digital UK. Hunt says for manufacturers using digital cutting tables and also companies using alternate tooling suppliers, a key differentiator for ITC during and after the show has been the service it builds around its products.
“Unlike most cutting tool vendors, ITC has a complete manufacturing facility in Tamworth that is loaded with state-of-the-art machine tools,” says Hunt, who adds: “This facility offers a complete re-grind service to customers, so we can re-grind and return tools to customers in an ‘as-new’ condition with a rapid turnaround time. This facility also enables ITC to develop new tooling solutions here in the UK. The result is that we can react to the challenges that face the industry before our competitors.”

So, with all that in mind, the debate over whether it is better to outsource or bring finishing operations in-house is clearly very much a hot one. Cost and control are among the many reasons why in-house finishing may appear to be an attractive option. However, before taking the leap, consideration needs to be given to whether the use of floor space, investment in staff and training, and return on investment will be cost-effective.

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