ICE Signs in Leeds are excited to have just installed their automated metal shaping machine to boost 'their production of built up letters'.
Rebecca Bairstow from ICE Signs said: “Bespoke, premium quality built up letters have been at the core of our signage business for many years, and we have built a reputation for producing them to the highest standard for both trade customers and end users alike.”
They supply their letters in a number of finishes, from powder coated to RAL colour references, wet sprayed to an individual specification, brushed or mirror polished stainless steel and acrylic faced. They provide a comprehensive service and can provide letters only or mount them on to trays or fascias manufactured in the their factory. They also do installations for 'complete signage solutions'.
“We fit LED lights with either Face or Halo illumination,” she said. “Great care is taken when we select the appropriate number and type of LED modules as this is an area where skimping or cutting corners can really detract from the finish and effect.” They tend to use the brightest modules with good light dispersion to avoid the pitfalls of 'spotting' and shadows. They also believe the correct depth of returns is critical and 'their extensive knowledge and experience of fitting LEDs is key to producing illuminated signs to the satisfaction of their clients'.
For some time ICE Signs had been looking to invest in an automated metal shaping facility to 'improve on lead times and price but without compromising the quality of the end product'. Rebecca explained: “The traditional method for making hand built letters has been to carefully and accurately fit returns to the faces or rims of a letter. But in order to end up with a product which has the necessary blemish free appearance it takes considerable skill and time.
“But cheap prices and fast lead times are not always all that a customer requires. For example, we recently tendered to supply sets of 3.5m high built up and powder coated aluminium shapes and letters for a warehouse. Unfortunately we initially lost out on price and delivery times but the customer then returned to us, as the cheaper, machine made product supplied to them was found to be inadequate. Both the aesthetic quality and the strength and rigidity were not suitable for such a large and high level external installation.”
In this case it was found that to get sufficient thickness and a smooth finish with no visible marks from welding, only hand crafting would work.
One of their recent projects that needed some 'lateral thinking and innovation' to meet the brief, was supplying a client with a series of huge steel 'cogs' interlocked to represent a magnified version of the inner workings of a watch. The project was installed in the Tag Heuer Pavilion at the Goodwood Festival of speed.
About this and other high profile jobs, Rebecca said: “The only downside to consistently producing top quality signage, is that production times can sometimes be lengthy owing to the nature of hand made signs and our dedication to supplying products that meet our exacting standards.” This is where automation comes in for them for them as it means quicker turnaround and less costs. Although they are keen to stress that the machine will not compromise the quality of their work.
Rebecca said: “Our customer ought not to be able to distinguish between the hand machine made product without internal inspection. Research has taken several years for us to find a machine we are confident will produce built up letters to the same standard as our hand made products. With a significant increase in production capability we plan to offer our trade customers much faster quotations and shorter order to delivery times.
“Interestingly we do not see the addition of automation to our existing built up letter production as a means of reducing our workforce in order to save costs. Conversely as production of built up letter increases, it's likely that the requirements for complete signage packages will also increase, leading to needing more staff for general signage manufacture.”
Part of the cost of the new shaper and laser cutter was paid for with grant funding from the Leeds City Regional Local Enterprise Partnership Business Growth Programme (BGP). They give funding of 20 per cent of capital costs between £10,000 and £100,000 provided at least one new job is created. They envisage at least two will be created in the short term and continued growth should lead to another vacancy.
“There will always be some projects that are too large or complex for the new machines that will demand traditionally made hand shaped letters, and the skills required to build them,” says Rebecca.
“So at ICE we intend to continue to train and develop staff in the necessary skills for making beautiful, high quality signs.”