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The Quality Focus

Keeping an eye on quality is crucial to long-term success.



The world’s most successful manufacturers share a revolutionary approach to quality control. Leading firms recognize that a strong quality focus enables them to be more competitive and profitable. To reap these benefits, however, manufacturers must place quality at the center of their production planning. As long as quality remains a secondary focus, a company can’t reach its full potential.

Conventional factories typically monitor quality by inspecting products either during or after fabrication. Then, they must trace any defects back to the sources and correct the conditions causing them. This piecemeal approach to quality, still prevalent in many signshops, increases production costs and adversely impacts customer satisfaction.

Instead of devoting precious resources to identifying and correcting defects, why not design your production process to prevent defects in the first place? In the sign business, as in other manufacturing industries, this starts with using the highest quality materials and curtailing ad hoc substitutions on the shop floor.

Efficient supply-chain management, therefore, helps maintain quality. For example, if your shop has depleted its supply of a certain type of stainless-steel bolt, your employees might substitute regular steel bolts or pop rivets to avoid production delays. But this decision could eventually lead to rust-stained sign faces and loose socket raceways, which can degrade a customer’s image. Inappropriate materials or hardware can lead to serious problems for customers.

Effective inventory control ensures that the proper materials are available, and it avoids the costs of carrying surplus inventory. Efficient supply-chain management delivers sufficient quantities of materials to the appropriate production stages when these materials are needed. The theory is simple, but the practice is not. $image1

Practical improvements


The old slogan, "If it’s not broken, don’t fix it," is a prescription for failure. Continual product-quality improvements, therefore, shouldn’t be viewed as extravagant, but as crucial investments in your company’s long-term success. Create a roadmap for product improvement by asking what happens during an electric sign’s lifetime.

For example, moisture destroys neon and fluorescent lighting. Thus, assign a high priority to waterproofing outdoor sign cabinets and channel letters. Avoid designs that place access panels or other openings atop sign cabinets. A top-access design works well if the cover is undamaged and properly fastened, but gaps or missing screws incurred in the cover’s subsequent removal and handling may allow leakage.

Holes or gaps in metal returns or the trim cap frequently cause enclosed channel letters to leak. Plastic trim cap frequently cracks when letter faces are removed for maintenance. Thus, it’s important to specify UV-resistant trim-cap materials, which don’t become brittle. Assuming that some water eventually will invade outdoor channel letters, place drain holes at the bottom of metal returns.

In previous decades, neon-sign builders isolated GTO wires by using glass sleeves and porcelain standoffs to prevent moisture-induced failures. But contemporary sign builders frequently ignore these crucial safeguards. It’s critically important to make proper connections, correctly load transformers and isolate high-voltage conductors — in other words, protect neon secondary wiring.

When building fluorescent, cabinet signs that incorporate two or more ballasts, connect lamp sockets in a staggered configuration to reduce maintenance costs. Most cabinet-sign ballasts operate consecutive lamps. Thus, when a particular lamp series malfunctions, a dark area partially obscures the sign’s message. $image2

But when you stagger the lamp circuits, one circuit’s failure minimally affects the sign’s appearance. From a customer’s perspective, a sign that operates for longer periods without repairs represents a superior product. A sign incorporating staggered lamp circuits, however, should carry a tag or indelible marking inside the cabinet to notify service personnel of the socket-wiring configuration.


High-quality channel letters and modular signs (in which a separate cabinet forms each letter of the message) incorporate impact-resistant plastics, which resist UV and weather damage. Sun fading prevents accurate color matching when replacing faces in existing signs. By specifying modified acrylic, polycarbonate or polyester sheet materials, you spare customers the difficult choice of either living with a mismatched sign or footing the bill to replace every sign face when only one is damaged.

If improperly designed, sign faces that open via top hinges can present major maintenance problems. Hinged faces are more prevalent in larger signs that incorporate heavier faces; aluminum, piano-type hinges usually don’t withstand the rigors of periodic service. If your design specifies piano hinges, use adequately sized and gauged stainless-steel hinges and fasten them securely to the cabinet frame with stainless-steel bolts secured via hex nuts and lock washers. Don’t use sheetmetal screws to fasten weight-bearing hinges, because they frequently strip out under mechanical stress (especially when attached to aluminum extrusions).

Installation affects quality

Quality concerns don’t end after you crate a sign and ship it to a customer or local installer. If the installation work is mishandled, even the best-designed sign can disappoint a customer.

Installation-related problems commonly occur when a sign’s installed location or orientation hinders maintenance. For example, if a sign is installed on a recessed wall surface that incorporates a slide-open face, and the recessed area is deeper than the sign-cabinet depth, the face may not open far enough to access lighting components.

Another common example involves a double-faced, freestanding sign that hinges open on only one side. If the pole-to-sign connection allows this sign to be installed with the hinged face pointing in either of two opposite directions, installers may inadvertently mount the sign facing the "wrong way," making it inaccessible for maintenance. For example, installing a freestanding sign, located within 2 ft. of the edge of a steep embankment, with its hinged side facing the bank, could make service impossible.


Because the sign installer may not be concerned about future maintenance, sign builders must take every precaution to prevent these situations. A thorough, preliminary site survey helps circumvent ordering the wrong type of sign for a particular location. But sign builders should also include conspicuous labels on their products to notify installers of any special installation or maintenance requirements.

Never assume that a subcontractor will properly complete the project without clear instructions. Regardless of a project’s stage, therefore, quality issues inevitably fall back on the manufacturer’s shoulders.

Built-in quality

Quality guidelines, which should be integral to each stage of manufacturing and installation, eliminate the snowballing effect of ad hoc decisionmaking at various project stages. In years past, large sign manufacturers have occasionally lost important accounts due to inadequate production planning and poor communications with local installers.

When the proper materials are specified and available in your shop, and when your employees understand the importance of using approved materials and fabrication techniques, the finished products will reflect these high-quality standards. Likewise, when your products incorporate features that make them simpler to assemble and install in the field, you drastically reduce the possibility that improper installations will compromise quality.

If you focus on quality at each stage of your process, you’ll essentially eliminate the need to conduct post-mortem investigations. You’ll also avoid calls from angry customers. Add up the extra costs, lost time and customer dissatisfaction resulting from these snafus, and you’ll see how dramatically quality impacts your bottom line.



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The Sign Industry Podcast is a platform for every sign person out there — from the old-timers who bent neon and hand-lettered boats to those venturing into new technologies — we want to get their stories out for everyone to hear. Come join us and listen to stories, learn tricks or techniques, and get insights of what’s to come. We are the world’s second oldest profession. The folks who started the world’s oldest profession needed a sign.

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