“We do all the hard-to-build things,” says Matt Newton Sr., owner of CES. “We just keep pushing the envelope on things. If someone comes up and asks us for something weird, sure we’ll try that.”
All of the shop’s equipment is in-house, so it’s able to turn around even “weird” custom jobs quickly.
“We have a niche unfortunately for fast turnarounds,” says Newton. “The problem with what we do in our industry is that everybody wants something yesterday.
“And the more that you don’t put in-house, the more you lose that control and that touch and you’re relying on a second or third party. And then their variables become your variables, and you’re worrying about the end product in play.”
CES keeps control of all of its projects by keeping supplies stocked and by stocking its business with a variety of equipment. The company boasts a full vinyl department, a laminating section, and welders and associated equipment. (Note: One of the shop’s partners even brought their landscape business onboard, which allows the company to landscape around signs.)
But one of the machines that gets the most play is the shop’s 1993 Gerber Sabre™ 408 CNC router with a four-by-eight-foot table.
“That [machine] is like my right hand,” says Newton, who purchased the router used from a shop in New York and rebuilt the entire machine. (Note: See sidebox for a list of updates Newton made to his router.)
This CNC router continues to handle a demanding workload with cutting tolerances of plus or minus zero.
Thanks to its pull-through capability, the router can also handle material beyond the length of its table. Newton says having a pull-through capability is important. “You don’t have to have a huge shop,” he says. “All you have to do is turn the machine on, and you can just keep pulling the material through.”
The CNC router has not only allowed CES to keep jobs in-house, but it also automates many processes.
Gerber’s OMEGA™ 5.0 software can electronically file and store project info, so repeating a job is simple and automated. Thanks to Newton’s filing template system, he can find a job while on the phone with a client and, as a result, offer them more detailed information. “It gives them that extra personal touch and makes them feel that we understand them and have them covered,” he says.
The shop also uses the software to save on material waste by cutting on pieces of material that have already been used. “We output the coordinates,” says Newton. “Everything is a saved file, so after we cut something, we can take it back off of the shelf, put it back on the router, and know exactly where the things are cut out of it.
“Then we can continue to reuse the material.”
In addition, the OMEGA software works with other machines, like the shop’s Graphtec cutter and Mutoh ValueJet 1324 printer. This allows for greater integration between machines and, as a result, a better workflow.
“All of the print-to-cut projects and vinyl jobs go to the Graphtec plotters from Gerber OMEGA, and all the routing goes to the Gerber Sabre 408,” says Newton. “Printed and cut vinyls line up perfectly on routed parts from the Sabre and all complement each other for the finished product.”
Above all, however, one of the greatest benefits of the router is that it’s allowed CES to enter markets beyond the sign industry.
“The sign industry is such a beautiful base for so many things. Shops just don’t realize it,” says Newton. “As long as people
understand what a router what it has, the possibilities are endless.
“These things are incredible machines, but if you don’t know what to do with them, it just sits there; it’s just a paperweight.”
One of the first places to begin looking for new markets is from a business’s existing customer base.
“The sign industry gets to see a private back view of a lot of different industries,” says Newton. “While you’re talking to a customer, you get to see the backend workings of their company and what makes their company work— totally unrelated to yours.
“It also lets you see that they have needs that you can fulfill that you’re not even marketing.”
These needs often aren’t signs, but Newton urges shops to think outside of the four-by-eight-foot router bed.
One of the markets in which CES has found success is prototyping and parts. These are things companies normally don’t think of a sign company for, but for which a shop actually has all the capabilities to do.
“Once you get in the door for doing some cutting, you have these machines. These people still need details for these machines, they need parts,” says Newton. “You have every single thing at your beck and call to use and utilize.”
Newton has even made spare parts. One of his clients owned a discontinued excavator and couldn’t find a replacement gasket. So Newton cut one out for him.
“I traced his old gasket into the computer and used Gerber software to bring it in,” says Newton. “I put it on the router and plotted the full thing out first, which worked.
“Then we actually bought gasket material, which can be held down on the Sabre, and we cut out his gasket on the Sabre.”
If machine parts are too far outside the box, what about templates? By giving materials another consideration, shops can put a new spin on patterns for channel letters, for example.
“People used to make a lot of patterns with paper for mounting letters up on the wall outside. And you have to worry about the wind and the water and everything else. We use styrene,” says Newton. “We don’t care if it gets wet. We don’t care about the wind or it getting ripped. The stuff is pretty indestructible.”
By branching a bit outside the sign industry, shops can also begin to supply templates for industries like construction and architectural. Newton has created acrylic templates for products like granite countertops, which saves a lot of time for his clients (who are used to making the templates by hand).
In the construction/architecture business, there are a lot of opportunities for remodeling work, as well. A specific example of this is the work Newton did for a local beauty salon called Studio Brow.
CES provided a number of elements such as signs with push-through acrylic letters and a pan sign with push-through letters—both illuminated with SloanLED VL-Plus LEDs.
Acrylic logo signs above the stations were edge-lit with International Light Technologies’ LEDs. CES also created banners and large vinyl prints, as well as second-surface stand-off signs.
“You kind of have almost every single type of sign in there,” says Newton.
However CES went beyond signage on this job by also creating all of the displays, desks, and wall elements in the store.
CES purchased IKEA cabinets and then customized them on the router. He covered them in fold-up shells of gloss black Omega-Bond™ with brushed aluminum Omega-Bond accents, which sandwiched acrylic edge-lit panels for a custom look that matched the store’s surrounding walls and colors.
The project was a large one, and Newton ordered anywhere from eighty Omega-Bond sheets at a time from his supplier, Garston Sign Supply.
Over the years, CES has fabricated and designed all of the elements for two more Studio Brow locations. It has also gone back and redesigned the first locations to match the layouts and concepts it developed for the new stores.
Clearly owning a CNC router can lead to many avenues of profit, which aren’t all limited to the sign industry.
“This is a new era of the economy,” says Newton, “You really need to put your eggs in a lot of different baskets to survive, stay busy, and thrive.”
View this slideshow to see more of CES' work: