Sign Ink, LLC, located in Ashland, Va., provides wholesale large-format signage solutions, such as banners, cut vinyl, roll decals, wraps, displays, floor and window graphics as well as plastic, wood and metal signage. To meet growing demand for unique, creative and highly technical products, the company recently invested in SEI Laser’s Mercury plotter and FLEXI BLU high-speed laser system. The combination of Mercury and FLEXI BLU provides Sign Ink with a fully automated laser production system. Mercury delivers a large cutting area for diverse substrates, and FLEXI BLU offers precision engraving, etching and other details.
Sign Ink’s previous laser system was underpowered and unable to cut thicker materials and metals, which resulted in lost opportunities and revenue. Known for being innovative and having advanced technologies, Tom Matherly, chief financial officer of Sign Ink, began to research alternative laser systems. In addition to lasers for the printing industry, he investigated large lasers used in manufacturing. These technologies were not engineered or built to meet the speed, flexibility and footprint requirements for a signage manufacturer.
Matherly discovered SEI Laser at the Printing United show. SEI’s equipment is distributed and serviced in North America by Matik, Inc. During his visit to the SEI Laser/Matik booth, Matherly saw a live demonstration of the Mercury wide-format laser cutting and marking machine.
“We didn’t realize that there was a company with laser machines compatible with the sign environment,” says Matherly. “We wanted a machine that could cut and engrave metals, plastics and other materials. We were pleased to see laser equipment engineered to meet our specific needs.”
Faster and more productive than competitive machines, SEI Laser’s Mercury high-speed laser plotter replaces traditional methods for cutting, kiss-cutting, engraving, marking and dot etching. This system is compatible with a wide range of materials. They include acrylic (PMMA) and other plastics, paper and paperboard, textiles, glass, wood, leather, marble, metals, steel and more. Delivering increased throughput and better quality, Mercury offers the flexibility needed to finish signage, displays, POP, LED light guide panels (LGP) and many other products. Mercury is available in various configurations equipped with laser power sources from 150 to 2000 watts and work areas from 61 x 39 inches (1500 by 1000 mm) up to 78.75 by 157.50 inches (2000 by 4000 mm). The 800-watt laser system purchased by Sign Ink also has a sliding table configuration and enclosure that covers the entire bed, which minimizes the footprint as well as concerns for indoor air-quality and safety.
“Our previous laser was unable to cut thicker materials and metals,” says Matherly. “We were forced to turn down jobs because it was unable to cut certain substrates. Engraving on our old system was extremely slow, making it too expensive. As an alternative to engraving, many of our customers had been choosing UV ink and vinyl laminate.”
Sign Ink’s customers prefer the durability of engraving with its rich depth and texture. . SEI’s FLEXI BLU galvo laser system delivers precision engraving, dot etching, intricate cutting, marking and other details of diverse substrates. Up to 10 times faster than conventional machines, FLEXI BLU also provides high-speed production of LED LGP for backlight applications.
When the SEI laser systems that Sign Ink purchased were built, Tom and Lisa Matherly traveled to Italy to see the two machines in operation and for preliminary training. There was a half day of learning and practicing with Mercury and another half day with FLEXI BLU.
“The acceptance run-off went extremely well,” says Matherly. “One of the big selling points of the SEI systems is that they are well-constructed. Additionally, SEI has developed a robust, proprietary application for their laser equipment that allows you to do virtually everything in one platform. Our old laser required us to use a graphics program to get a file ready. Then it needed to be sent to the print driver provided by the laser manufacturer, which is an extra step and very inflexible. Some things you couldn’t even do without using other programs.”
The Mercury and FLEXI BLU laser systems further distinguish Sign Ink in markets that require more creative solutions. As part of this process, the company is researching and identifying the distinct substrates that they will be offering. Once defined, the company will be adding their new product line to the website. These new capabilities will allow Sign Ink to work with many new customers in the high-end design segment.
To accommodate the new lasers, Sign Ink is adding two bays to the seven bays they already have, increasing capacity significantly. The company also plans to construct a new building soon.