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Designing Award-Winning Signs: Monument Creation Overview

The steps you need to take to get from the drawing board to construction

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Building a monument sign – An overview of the process

The customer has approved the design, the deposit has been paid and permits and approvals are in place. You are ready to build a monument sign. However, the last two major projects you built didn’t go quite as planned and thus it cost the company several thousands in lost profits. You realize you didn’t have a step-by-step, compartmentalized process to follow, which was one of the reasons you had problems. You were no doubt handling the process in much the same way you build a simple set of channel letters. Monuments involve dozens of steps that if “shoulda-coulda-woulda” had been followed, the previous projects may have been more successful. By planning ahead-before you start fabrication-you will improve your chances for a successful project.

Step 1: The pre-fabrication planning meeting
This is the most important step to ensuring a smooth process. This is where each team member discusses their role in the project, their fears and doubts, complaints and ideas. Each team member gets the chance to know when their role is complete. At that point the job is handed off to the next department or team member to work on, and passed along to the next department, etc. The act of openly discussing the steps to be taken by each department allows for input from individuals who may see opportunities that might save time, money and avoid potential problems down the road. By investing 30 minutes to review all the steps of the job, you will eliminate the lion’s share of the problems you could experience.

Step 1a: Creating a timeline for on-time completion

Creating a realistic timeline for each phase of the project is one of the most important tasks for an on-time completion. This can be done with a gravity board or by using an in-house sign tracking system you may already have in place. Knowing where you are in the fabrication process is key to isolating and fixing problems as they occur. This timeline is what you will use to gauge your progress along the meandering path to completion, called “the process.” The project manager will use this timeline as the project’s roadmap. Make sure it’s doable.

Step 2: Verify twice, build once

This is where your assigned project manager takes the lead and manages the many aspects of the project-making sure every detail is completed on time and correctly.
Just for review, let’s first talk about the most important fabrication step there is, and that is a second verification of the installation site. Can it be installed as planned based on the notes from the first survey? Before you start on the sign, take the time to send experienced fabricators/installers to the install site to verify that the sign location is going to be ready for installation. The project manager will be asking questions such as:

? Is the mason prepared for this job and will the foundation be ready for the sign attachment?

? Where will the foundation be poured and the footers or caissons placed?

? Is that location exactly right and who said it was the right spot? Can it be proven?

? Do the center-to-center pipe measurements match up with the saddles inside of the sign cabinets? Are the masons following the engineer’s plans exactly as shown?

? Are there new landscape or structural features added that might hinder access for the mason, crane or bucket truck?

? Is there adequate parking for the equipment needed?

Step 3: Securing parts and pieces

Making sure the materials are in stock when they need to be there is critical to a smooth fabrication process. How much room do you need for these “larger than normally handled” materials? Are you prepared to handle 12-foot-long panels and square tubes safely and efficiently? Your project manager and shop foreman/production manager will have the answers to these questions.

Step 4: Secure your router table time

Keep in mind that if your shop has other projects being worked on, scheduling router time may be crucial to your shop’s workflow. Planning your build will eliminate most of these types of conflicts. Working on the project after hours is also an alternative that many shops embrace-with a willing team, but may incur overtime. Your project manager can work with the appropriate team member/shop foreman about this matter.

Step 5: Floor space planning?

It may seem too obvious to state, but building a monument sign takes up a lot more vertical and horizontal space than you would think. Is it a one-piece construction or several parts? If it’s two 12′ tall x 20′ long bases, that doubles the amount of required space for the project. Where will the sections be worked on and when? Will you be able to move a 12′ tall cabinet, on dollies, under the ceiling beams and out the door safely? Where will you store it while it awaits additional components? How will you guard the corners and “tool belt level” painted panels against damages? How will you secure it against wind damage? Do you have other meat and potatoes projects that might interfere with this monument job? How will that be remedied for a win-win on both projects’ timelines?

Step 6: Assembly-plan your plan

Where in the shop are you going to assemble this monument sign at? (Hint: Pointing at the middle of the shop and saying “there” doesn’t cut it). If your shop is already set up for this type of production, you may have already addressed the following scenarios and conditions. Either way, it’s always a good review for possible changes that might improve productivity.

If your shop is new to this production process, you may want to ask yourself the following questions: Are the chop saws, router tables and panel saws located conveniently for the fabrication floor? Where are your materials stored, and how will you get them to the assembly floor? Is there room on the shop floor for laying out all the parts and pieces needed for stick-built assembly?

Planning this step well ahead of time so that you are ready to go when the job comes in will save you loads of headaches, and help other jobs reach their completion dates on time. The project manager wouldn’t necessarily be tasked with these details as it’s a function of the shops’ set-up per the production manager’s needs for the types of signs the shop normally fabricates. If you’ve always wanted a good excuse to rearrange your production floor, and you want to do more monument work, now is the time to do it.

Step 7: Electrical

Wiring the sign per UL/NEC600 code and having your team of fabricators up to speed with your shop’s sign wiring requirements and documentation will save you thousands of problems down the road. This one should go without saying.

Step 8: Paint and final finish planning

Will you be able to fit the parts and pieces inside of your paint booth? How will you move the sign cabinet into the paint booth without damage? Will your painter be able to reach the top of the cabinet safely? Will you be forced to sub-out the painting? If so, how will you transport the large parts that won’t fit within the booth? Where will they be stored once painted? Planning for this step is critical and costly if not planned for in the beginning, during the planning phase.

Step 9: Loading, delivery and installation planning

How do you move a 25-foot-tall monument sign out of your shop?

Do you use dollys or an overhead hoist? Planning for this may seem like an obvious and or silly scenario, but much like anyone who’s assembled a table inside of a room and then realized it can’t be removed without disassembling the legs again can understand how easy it is to forget to measure the shop’s overhead door opening. Measure twice, build once.

Once you get it loaded onto the truck, what obstacles will you be facing on the long road to the installation site? Avoid routes that are under construction-the sign and trailer may prevent you from maneuvering the cone zone properly. Planning the trip to the job site is critical because backing up an Elliot pulling a 20′ trailer is no easy task. Avoiding all fast food drive-throughs should be a given.

Once you get to the install site with the sign, how will it be unloaded and readied for install? Crane or bucket truck? Who’s bringing the EMCs and will they be attached after the sign is in place or before? Are there adequate parking areas with finished pavement for the crane’s outriggers? Are there power lines in the way? How about customer’s vehicles? Are there plans made to mark off the parking lot to prevent customer parking? Will there be any landscaping or other obstacles in the way? Knowing the site’s challenges are key to a smooth install and taking steps up front, prior to the install date, will make things go a lot smoother on install day.

In conclusion

In case you didn’t notice, I mention “planning” about a thousand times, and I can’t emphasize it enough. The monument sign fabrication process is clogged with lots of small situations that, if not handled properly, can quickly become assumptions. Those assumptions will then become compromises. When compromises dictate the fabrication of your project, you are done before you even begin. Start with a good survey, good design, a pre-production meeting and a team of fabricators that are all on the same timeline and your monument project will go as smoothly as pie.

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Matt Charboneau

Since 1985, Matt Charboneau has owned and operated Charboneau Signs in Loveland, Colorado. He is a consultant and designer for monument, channel letter and pylon sign projects. His book, "The Pre-Sale Sign Survey Field Guide - The how-to guide on sign surveys for the professional sign salesperson" can be ordered on his website: www.CharboneauSigns.com or by emailing him at Matt@charboneausigns.com.

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