How are traffic signs manufactured?

From traffic street signs to large-scale pylon signs, custom metal sign fabrication varies from basic sign techniques to elaborate custom sign manufacturing. Sign-making skills and equipment are essential to manufacturing basic traffic control signs and simple flat-panel signage. However, monument signs, architectural feature signs, and pylon signs require a high level of experience and talent from design, engineering, fabrication, and installation.

Sign Material

Basic flat-panel aluminum signs can be fabricated using pre-finished aluminum which can be sprayed with an assortment of paint finishes and films. Typical street signs used for traffic control may be manufactured from .080 or .125 aluminum sheet. They are often coated with a reflective film for maximum visibility at night.

Traffic signs must follow federal guidelines as dictated by the Federal Highway Administration. These design details are found in the Manual on Uniform Control Devices, also known as “MUTCD.” Sign installers must also ensure that all jurisdictional codes are met for the state, county or city. It is not uncommon for specifications required to meet local jurisdictional code for Accessible Parking signs and Fire Lane signs.

What applications require sheet metal fabrication?

Sign manufacturing projects that involve large-scale monument signs, directional signs, pylon signs, or architectural features all require sheet metal fabrication. Building-mounted signs including aluminum channel letters also require metal fabrication, and many of these sign design projects include options such as acrylic faces, aluminum returns, and backs, and they are often internally illuminated with LEDs or neon. Backlit or halo light letters have metal faces and returns with internal LED lights that create a glow of light around the letter at night.

The Sign Making Process

Once a sign design concept is created, structural engineering is used to ensure the integrity, safety, and longevity of the signage. Often an engineer’s stamp or seal is required for permitting and the stamped drawings then become the blueprint for all fabrication and installation. Metal fabricators should be called Metal Artisans since they use talent and engineering to create a sign’s unique shapes and designs, converting metal into art.

Bringing a sign design from paper to reality requires a highly skilled and imaginative craftsman and a wide range of custom manufacturing equipment. Metal fabrication includes routing, bending, shaping, drilling, and altering raw material to form both structural and decorative pieces. Sign fabrication can be performed through traditional hands-on methods or by modern methods.

After analyzing the design, the pieces are then cut to the proper size using techniques that could include cutting with a hydraulic shear, forming with a computerized brake, CNC routing, waterjet cutting and more.

If structural items need to be fastened together, holes may be drilled for bolts or rivets to be introduced later. Depending on the shape of the pattern, a roller, automated brake machine or other functions might be used to make curves in the metal. After the shapes are created, welding is often used to fuse shapes together for both structural and decorative applications.

Completing the Process

Once the structure is complete, it is sanded smooth to fill any irregular surfaces. Then a final primer and architectural-grade urethane coating are applied. Any defects in the metalwork will be obvious if this finish work is not performed meticulously.

Illuminated Signs – LED lights, acrylic, wiring, and power supplies must be integrated into illuminated signs to create the letters and logos. The signage may also require final design elements or embellishments.

Non-Illuminated Signs – For signs without illumination, sign manufacturers may use a wide variety of methods to create the final letters, logos, and decoration, including cut and applied vinyl film, dimensional acrylic, and dimensional aluminum.

Once a quality control inspection of all aspects and components of the sign system is complete, the sign is ready to be installed. Following specifications from the drawings, the signs are mounted or installed. The field services team utilizes everything from basic hand tools to cranes to ensure that the sign is in place precisely according to plan.

Need a custom sign or signage system created for your business? Contact SMI Sign Systems to get started!