This year our leadership team attended the International Sign Exhibition and Annual Sign Biz Meeting in Orlando, Florida. Over 600 exhibitors come every year to display their latest substrates, production equipment and sign-industry products. With a little more than two days in Orlando, we knew we’d have to prioritize what we wanted to get out of the event. Our main goal was to understand and potentially purchase production equipment that would provide cost and time savings.
Our last day in Orlando also involved meeting with our Sign Biz Network partners. While we are independently owned and operated, we are proud to be in a network of over 200 sign companies spanning across the U.S. and Bahamas. Working together means more brains to find creative solutions, tips and tricks. With a jam-packed 3 days ahead of us, we knew we’d have to plan out how to divide our time. Our fearless leader Joe had a plan for us which we (mostly) followed.
Day 1: Travel and Sign Expo
With a 7am flight, our lead Graphic Designer, Jake, our President, Joe, and our Director of Client Services, Alexandra boarded a plane and enjoyed the non-stop flight to Orlando. We love Kansas City, but we weren’t sad to say goodbye to the cold weather and hello to palm trees and sunshine. Travel can be hit or miss, but we ended up arriving to Orlando early. We took a taxi to our hotel, and after a free hot cookie we dove straight into the expo.
Our first day was spent looking for specific production equipment that we were looking to purchase. Our top priority was to visit the CNC router displays. Having an in-house computer controlled cutting machine allows us to produce a variety of custom signs, including dimensional letter, custom logo and ADA signs. It also vastly cuts down on turn-around time and saves on costs, which we can then pass onto our customers.
There are several CNC manufacturers on the market, so we had over 10 booths to go to. At each booth we were able to see the various machines at work and ask the experts questions. The expo provided a unique opportunity to be able to view and compare the various CNC machines in-person. Motor specifications, braille capability and automatic tool changers were just a few of the components we were comparing across machines. Each manufacturer sells several sizes of CNC machines as well, but we already had decided on a 4’ x 8’ router table as fits the standard substrate size.
After talking in-depth with each CNC booth, we enjoyed a complimentary happy hour at the expo in the afternoon. A little time to rest in our hotel rooms, and then a bite to eat finished out our first day.
Day 2: Sign Expo
Day 2 involved a full-day at the expo and some serious shopping. Not wanting to miss anything, we planned to start at one end and work our way through each aisle. It would be impossible to stop at each booth for more than a couple minutes, so we just said a quick hello to the exhibitors we already do business with while moving onto booths we hadn’t seen before.
While walking around to various booths, one piece of equipment we hadn’t thought of purchasing was a flatbed vinyl applicator. These large beds assist with the laying of cut vinyl and laminate. It has a large pneumatic or electric roller that moves up and down as well down the length of the table. This allows for vinyl to be laid on substrate perfectly the first time, with no squeegee or other tools needed. It also means an 80-85% savings in production time. More staff is able to lay down vinyl as no special skills are needed. After seeing these on the expo floor, we knew we needed one in our shop. We compared each manufacturer and ended up purchasing the CWT Flat Bed Applicator.
Looking for other tools that could help us speed up fabrication time, the next booth that really impressed us was the International Welding Technologies booth. They have a line of Arc Stud Welding Systems that allow for quick, easy and perfect welds every time. Studs are commonly mounted to exterior and interior signage for installation. As soon as we saw a demo of their stud welding gun, we knew we had to have it.
After viewing several more booths and stopping for a free 15-minute chair massage, we called it a day. We went back to our hotel to watch the KU game. Fresh seafood and a Sweet Sixteen victory topped off our night.
Day 3: Expo and Sign Biz Reunion
We had originally planned on spending all of the third day at the Sign Biz Reunion, but still having questions about CNC machines and their various manufacturers, we headed back to the expo in the morning. The two most pressing questions we had regarded if an automatic tool changer was needed, and if we truly needed a 4’x8’ table. We got enough information to affirm that the answer was yes to both questions. Since a CNC is a large investment, we passed on purchasing at the show and decided to do more research, although getting to see the machines and talk to the people that make them did help us make a decision. We ultimately purchased one a few weeks later from a CNC vendor that was at the show.
With just minutes to spare, we headed into the meeting for the Sign Biz reunion. We got to see and talk to sign companies from across the United States that are in the network. We also got to hear from companies like 3M, N. Glantz, and Avery Dennison on the latest technologies hitting the sign industry today. The day concluded with a gala and presentation of awards. GrandMark Signs was even recognized for hitting a new high in monthly sales revenue!
Our trip to Orlando was a whirlwind from start to finish, and was extremely valuable. We came away understanding the current and future trends in signage, as well as the best production equipment on the market. Several of our questions were answered in reference to CNC machines, which led us to ultimately purchase after the show. We got to meet up with Sign Biz network members and even catch a couple of NCAA tournament games.
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