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Paying Dividends

(May 2017) posted on Tue May 09, 2017

Pro Image Design (Rapid City, MI) relied on their router for Riemer Eye Center project.


By Grant Freking

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Alan Hubbard cut a familiar path when he decided to purchase a router for his sign shop, Pro Image Design in Rapid City, MI. He wasn’t sure if Pro Image Design could justify the investment with the amount of work needed to offset the cost.

But this was a path Hubbard had beaten before when purchasing equipment for his company; once Pro Image Design has the machinery under its roof, it designs around the equipment’s abilities, and eventually the shop discovers new processes and fabrication techniques. Hubbard qualifies this approach for acquiring a router with one caveat: “Just make sure you can afford it even if you are not using it, especially given the learning curve.” However, Hubbard reiterated the need for a business to take an occasional leap of faith: “If you wait until all the lights are green, you’ll never get to town.”

LIFTING THE ROUTING LID
Hubbard and his co-workers put their MultiCam 1000 router to work when fabricating a project for Riemer Eye Center’s fourth location in Cadillac, MI: a custom-routed, aluminum-faced sign cabinet with Principal LEDs illuminating push-through acrylic lettering on a steel base and an aluminum composite pole shield. The monument also features a Sign•Foam® 4 HDU icon with LEDs and push-through acrylic elements.

Pro Image Design used Gerber Omega software to set up the routing process; start-up of the actual router requires a 30-minute procedure, which allows for the spindle to warm up and the substrate surfaced to be indexed. According to Hubbard, Pro Image Design routes aluminum whenever the shape of the face has “anything but square corners or lettering routed out of the face.” The odd shape of the Riemer Eye Center sign’s cabinet and push-through lettering were the determining factors in the decision to use the MultiCam 1000, according to Hubbard. “You can cut an offset leap on the acrylic, allowing it to be ‘pushed through’ on an internally lit sign that can create some pretty unique effects,” he said. “No other machine will allow for this type of fabrication in 3D.”

Hubbard, who opened Pro Image Design in the spare bedroom of his house 18 years ago, estimated that 20-30% of a job – and occasionally as much as 70% – that involves routing is dedicated to the routing itself, including preparation, cutting and cleanup. He routinely sees a series of common mistakes from beginners, including not turning on the vacuum table prior to cutting and not being familiar enough with the proper speeds and feeds; the latter leads to damaged materials, and broken bits and tools.

Hubbard advises other sign shops to do their fair share of routing research: accumulate references, witness a few practical applications and randomly call other shops to gauge their satisfaction. But ultimately, Hubbard puts his full support behind routing signs. “If custom signs are the way you are looking to grow your business,” Hubbard said, “no other piece of equipment will help you better than a router.”


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