This is a force multiplier.

In the average modern sign production center, the amount of technology in use is staggering. Large format printers that use advanced ink technologies to produce full color graphics quickly and easily. Plotters with optical technology to cut decals and graphics in record time and with incredible accuracy. Even the lowly laminator has take-up reels, pressure controls, and heating elements that make the task faster and easier than ever. The squeegee, masking tape, and wooden work table that started our industry play such a backup role at this point that we just take them for granted.

Well forget all of that, because one of the biggest emerging technologies of 2016 and 2017 is changing how we perceive one of the least exciting fixtures in our facilities. Roller mounting tables have been around for a few years now, and I’ll be honest, when I saw them the first time my impression was “well I guess that’s nice for the folks working out of their garage that don’t have a laminator”. Then I found out that some were priced well over $10,000 and I assumed that after their initial gee-whiz factor wore off they would go the way of all the other gimmicky sign tools we’ve all seen over the years. Seriously, a $14,000 TABLE?? A few centers though went out and bought some, and when the feedback came pouring in it, I had no choice but to take notice.

After researching the players, CWT, a Swedish company distributing their tables through Amcad Graphics in Texas, emerged as the clear juggernaut in the space. A combination of build durability, component quality, and attention to detail positions them as the current leader in mounting table technology. We are currently testing their 1640 Premium model and it quickly has become a favorite of the staff here in Columbia. Aside from the basic table, the Premium model includes a feed roller, LED lighting for use as a light table and graphic alignment, and some convenient hand tools. We are testing the air compressor that Amcad sells with the device but any compressor will drive the table. Their model is very quiet though and has been utterly reliable.

First, let’s dispel the myth that this is just a table, or just a laminator. This is a force multiplier. In seventeen years I’ve laid a lot of vinyl and transfer tape. I’ve tried every method, every trick, every device I could get my hands on. This is the best one - no questions, no debate. I’ve never seen a process so foolproof, so fast, or so utterly brainless. Line up your material, drop the pneumatic roller with a button, lay one side and then the other. There’s no tape, no scissors, no shifting of material, no wrinkling, and frankly no mistakes. To put this in perspective, we’ve laid nearly three hundred projects using this table, with twenty or more employees with wide ranges of experience trying it out (including our fearless leader Ray Palmer). Zero losses. Zero. Everything from a taped cut vinyl parking sign to a full four by eight sheet of thin printed film, all applied quickly and easily with no mistakes.

Waste reduction isn’t its only trick though, and where the dollars start to make sense is when you look at how it affects productivity. We measured a 23% speed increase in our most experienced employees, staff that are whizzes with a laminator or a squeegee. The biggest change though was with inexperienced staff, people that are just learning the processes and challenges. We observed a staggering 37% increase. Imagine that staff member you just hired with no prior signmaking experience producing 37% more work with fewer mistakes. That’s where the machine sold me personally. I’ve trained a lot of people over the years and watched them struggle with handling the material properly, fighting with the laminator, and getting frustrated as I watched them throw away perfectly good prints and substrates. The value of the CWT lies in its ability to get new staff productive, efficient, and confident in a period time I never would have imagined possible, while also making experienced staff more effective at the same time.

Now that isn’t to say that it isn’t without shortcomings. As a laminator it has some downsides compared to a purpose-built device. Long runs are always going to be the domain of a roll-to-roll device, the CWT requires you to cut down your graphics to the length of the table. For wall wraps, vehicle graphics, etc that can be cumbersome compared to loading a fifty yard roll and doing it all in one shot. Heat is also a feature that is conspicuously absent from the roller, and that results in a little more silvering than we were used to. At the end of the day though how often are you laminating excessively long runs of graphics? Feedback from centers was that they laminate more than ten feet at a time less than 10% of the time. For existing centers obviously you aren’t getting rid of your roll-to-roll device in most cases, so that functionality is still on-site.