Reflective Materials - July 2015

ORAFOL - Crafting reflective materials for traffic safety signage

ORALITE 6910 Brilliant Grade Prismatic reflective films ORALITE films have a wide range of applications

German-based manufacturer ORAFOL takes pride in crafting reflective materials that can be used primarily in traffic safety signage. The global teams are managed with framework that includes both ISO 9001 and ISO 14001.

This commitment to quality and the reduction of environmental impact can be seen in the many products found in their product range, such as in the line of ORAFOL reflective films.

All materials are sold under the ORALITE® brand, and the vast majority of these are manufactured in Germany. According to Tina Andersen, Global Marketing Manager, ORAFOL, there are products available for both standard and niche applications. “Today the ORAFOL range includes materials of all reflective grades, from the lowest grades of glass bead reflective films to the highest grade prismatic films available in the market place today,” she says. “Some products in the ORAFOL film range for example contain photoelectric materials, where the retro-reflectional properties are used in order to make optical systems in elevators work. There are many such niche markets for these materials, but when we talk signage, most applications are obviously of an industrial nature.”

According to Tina, ORAFOL’s R&D department is constantly working on new products to meet current market demands as well as foreseeable future market trends. A lot of the developments are driven by new safety regulations coming up in different parts of the world. Another driving factor is looking at the needs of manufacturers themselves, and what they need to best service the end-user.

“We are seeing a trend in the market towards an increased need to be able to produce small quantities of customised unique signs with a quick turn-around time,” says Tina, adding that this has lead to the inclusion in the range of a special comprehensive UV printing system for sign makers. It includes a UV Traffic Sign Printer as well as ORALITE inks, and it has been specifically developed for optimal printing quality on the ORALITE materials. “The system is approved for printing also CE certified signage,” says Tina.

Nuneaton Signs - Traffic Signage

Wide format matt finished printed banners Multi Panel ADS Motorway Sign An up close look at the new technology in reflective printing

For Steve Wright, General Manager, Nuneaton Signs, the supply chain involved with manufacturing reflective safety and traffic signage has as much to do with the staff as it does the end user.

At Nuneaton Signs, 70 per cent of the staff are disabled, leading Steve to re-valuate the production methods in order to best grow the business, improve capacity, and leverage the skills of his workforce. “We changed our supply chain totally from Nippon Carbide material, which is manufactured in China, to ORAFOL, which is manufactured in Germany,” he says. “We also spent a considerable amount of money on a digital printer to enable us to print permanent road signs.”

According to Steve, the sign market has driven the price of road traffic signage down over the past five years, and so investments such as an in-house printer serve to make the manufacturing process more cost-effective. The faster it can be produced, the better for end-users, and for business. “You also have to look at your environmental footprint,” says Steve, adding that sustainability is at the forefront of conversation for both copmanies and consumers today. The manufacture process previously involved products being manufactured in and shipped from China to Ireland, shipped to Northwest England, and then sent down to Nuneaton Signs. Now, products are shipped directly from Germany to Nottingham, roughly 45 minutes from their premises, cutting the distance by about three quarters.

German technology, and ‘forward thinking’ businesses

The ORALITE® UV Traffic Sign Printer has been developed specifically for printing on the ORALITE® reflective sheeting, and the system also includes a special ink series, ORALITE® 5019 plus appropriate ORALITE® laminates.

According to Steve, choosing an Oralite UV traffic sign printer from ORAFOL was a simple choice. “Modern sign manufacture, especially in the traffic market, requires companies to be forward thinking and innovative. This print platform will allow Nuneaton Signs to digitally print sign faces conforming to EN12899.1:2007 quickly and economically. The use of digital print will dramatically reduce our waste compared with the traditional cut vinyl method of sign manufacture. Nuneaton Signs can comfortably predict a recycling figure of 98% resulting from the introduction of this new technology.”

While Steve and the team do delve into other areas of signage, currently the workload is around a “60/40” split between traffic signage and other commerical projects. Historically the way road traffic signage has been made is with cut vinyl, followed by what Steve describes as “lots of weeding and lots of waste.” This is eliminated with the digital printer, enabling the team to tackle even big projects such as large motorway signage.

Tennants UK - Temporary Road Signage

Tennants UK Logo Road signage from Tennants UK A Zund cutting machine in action ORAFOLs printer Reflective signage being installed for the 2012 Olympics

Tennants UK has been using reflective material in sign manufacture since 1967, affording the Nottingham-based company a unique perspective on the development of the reflective market.

“Fundamentally, the understanding of the customer’s markets is crucial to developing relationships and providing excellent customer service,” affirms Phil Craig, Operations Manager. “Our mantra is ‘Reliable, Responsive, Reflective’ and we firmly believe these values are shared by our customer base.”

Tennants supply reflective signage in to a range of markets, the primary market being Temporary Road Signage. In 2014, they expanded into the manufacture of Permanent Road Signs using new technology developed by Orafol Europe, who have produced a compatible system using the Agfa Anapurna 2050 UV digital printing machine to produce 100% compliant legal sign faces. This enables them to meet the highly demanding specifications the UK market requires.

Tennants is the UK master distributor of ORAFOL® reflective products, a partnership that dates back to 2007. “They have invested heavily in developing and manufacturing glass bead to prismatic reflective sheeting to meet government standards throughout the world,” says Craig. “The German-based manufacturer encapsulates everything you associate with German manufacturing – reliability, quality and efficiency.” Tennants cites this relationship with their supplier, along with their own continued commitment to build strong customer relationships, as having been essential to building success in the reflective signage market. Craig reveals that they are continuing to move forward engaging new customers and new end-users by building on the successes of the Olympics, Tour de France and other major road schemes in the UK through to work on projects such as The Channel Tunnel.

Using technology to tackle theft

According to Craig, traffic signage theft is becoming an increasing problem.

In order to provide a higher quality sign and offer services that can help prevent theft, Tennants are actively investing in new technology in order to improve efficiency and capacity when it comes to the manufacture of reflective signs.

In addition to the Agfa Anapurna UV printer, they now have three Zund Cutting System machines. “These are used to through-cut reflective, kiss-cut vinyl, and to routing base substrate accurately to the legal requirement, thus saving time in finishing by automating the start of the process,” he says. “It also allows us to offer our customers the option to engrave their signs with the company logo.

Theft of road signage is a big problem in the Traffic Management industry and having permanent identification on your signage gives our customers a high degree of confidence against competitors using their signs.”

Investment in three new roller beds has made the manufacturing facilities more flexible, and allowed Tennants to provide customers with a reliable and responsive service. This year, they will be investing in a new business system that allows them to be even more responsive to the customer’s requirements and better track performance. “Throughout all of these investments, the customer has been at the forefront of our thoughts,” adds Craig.

When it comes to investing in machinery, Craig reveals that he commonly encounters businesses choosing products for the wrong reasons. Ill-equipped to do the job at hand, these machines can therefore produce sub-par signage, something that can be potentially hazardous where things like traffic signage are concerned. “Making decisions based on initial cost and a good sales pitch rather than the quality and reliability aspect of the purchase is probably the most common mistake in our industry,” he says. “We have always been selective in our supplier partnerships, working on the principle that reliability and responsiveness are the keys to success. We may pay more at the outset but, in the long-term, that additional initial investment provides cost-effective manufacture, efficiency savings and ultimately a better customer experience.”

William Smith - working with 3M

3M Diamond Grade Vehicle Marking Tapes CEN performance standards A high visibility reflective tape application

For over 85 years, leading trade supplier William Smith has been manufacturing reflective signage products that are used primarily for road traffic signs and safety markings for commercial and public service vehicles.

These products are based on reflective signage technology developed by 3M, a company with which William Smith has forged a successful business partnership. Reflective signage is of course most often used for traffic signage, and although the primary purpose of reflective materials has remained static, 3M are continually examining new ways in which they can improve upon the quality and performance. “3M are constantly innovating to ensure our products and solutions meet customer needs, and new technological developments are a critical part of this,” says Katherina Lewis, Segment Marketing Manager - Traffic Management, at 3M Traffic Safety and Security Division.

Some of these products include the development of protective overlay films that can be applied to the signs to reduce the effects of vandalism such as graffiti, or stickers. The Series 1150 Protective Overlay Film (POF) can be applied to the sign face at the time of manufacture, and should the sign be defaced, the overlay will act as a buffer to prevent damage to the actual sign itself. This can be incredibly useful in signs that are affording a lot of direct sunlight, as continued exposure can bond the graffiti to the sign ir-reparably, calling for a complete removal.

According to Katherina, there are many benefits to 3M reflective signage solutions, including the amount of light returned to the driver from products such as signs, road studs, road marking tape or vehicle conspicuity solutions. “This better enables drivers to have the greatest amount of time to make any changes to their driving, i.e. take an exit, keep within the lane/road, or spot a vehicle faster in the dark,” she adds. However, some of the high performance products are better suited to some roads than others. “A drawback is that our products perform so well that in very rural areas, they may be too bright for the environment.”

Helping drivers stay safe on the roads

BS EN 12899; 2007 became mandatory two years ago this July, and William Smith has successfully achieved accreditation covering the manufacture of vertical fixed road traffic signs as well as attainment of the latest CE Mark.

Due to its full compliance with these standards, William Smith is able to provide other sign manufacturers yet to achieve this accreditation with the facility to provide their customers with signs that are fully compliant. “Our products meet all relevant CEN performance standards and are backed by what are recognised as among the most comprehensive currently available,” reveals Chris Bradley, Marketing Manager, William Smith. “The requirement means that any road traffic sign erected on a public highway must be manufactured in accordance with this CE Mark standard or it can be legally and forcibly removed.”

For the manufacture of permanent road traffic signs, William Smith specifies 3M reflective and non-reflective materials, all of which have the same CE accreditations. These include 3M Scotchcal 7725 and 100 series of non-reflective films that are compatible with 3M Diamond Grade DG3, 3M High Intensity Prismatic (HIP) and 3M Engineer Grade Reflective Sheeting products as part of 3M’s renowned MCS (Matched Component System) warranty.

A major contribution to road safety is of course visibility, and reflective marking tapes from 3M can assist with this. These products can not only be of interest to customers in heavy goods transportation, but can even be utilised by sign makers themselves when using large vehicles to transport products to site of installation.

3M Diamond Grade Vehicle Marking Tapes 983, 997 and 997 are reflective tapes that enable the owners of heavy goods vehicles to meet the requirements of ECE 104, a mandatory European vehicle safety standard that was introduced in July 2011. The standard has established guidelines for the use of retroreflective safety markings in order to make HGVs over 7.5 tonnes and trailers over 3.5 tonnes more visible to other road users, thereby reducing accidents and invariably saving lives.

All 3M Diamond Grade retro-reflective marking tapes are fully ECE 104-compliant.William Smith applies them to both rigid and curtain-sided vehicles that are subject to the requirements of this standard. The markings clearly outline the rear and sides of a vehicle, making them visible to other road users at night for up to 1000 metres.

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