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Organize your materials

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

As tight as the margins are today, working efficiently is an important part of making a profit. Time is generally more costly than materials, so any time you can save will pay off in the bottom line. Why spend extra time handling material when you could be knocking the next sign out?
Chris Lovelady, Vital Signs LLC [], finds that the time he spent organizing his materials frees him and his staff to sell and produce signs—rather than spend time looking for materials. It’s also cut down on waste. His approach makes it easy to get roll goods, scrap vinyl and sign substrates under control.

“A while back, I had built a few drawers to store scrap vinyl in,” says Chris. “It was so convenient that I built a whole cabinet full of them. They’re 2-ft.-by-8-ft. shallow trays that let us store scraps by color. So if you’re doing a small project, you check the drawer first for a piece that will work, and if not, you go to the roll. It has really cut down on vinyl waste, too. Some shops roll their scraps, but they often get bent or rippled. That’s why I lay it flat.”


The drawers were made using a frame of 1-by-2 stock with a groove cut about a half-inch from the bottom. A piece of luan plywood slid into the groove serves as the drawer bottom. Chris glued them together, then mounted them on ball-bearing drawer slides.

Roll stock storage is another way to save time and space. Chris stores rolls of vinyl on two 24-foot long wall mounted racks that he built above their two work stations. With room for over 120 rolls, it puts their entire inventory at their fingertips. Intermediate film is on one side of the room; high performance and reflective on the other side.


He made the racks by first cutting triangles of scrap plywood that were 24-in. tall, with a base of 5½ in. The slanted side turned out to be about 25 in. He mounted that side to another scrap of plywood with the 90-degree corner facing out. That gave a slanted bottom that tilts the rolls back. He fastened these brackets to the wall, 16 in. apart.


“Next, I screwed 1-by-10 pine boards to the bottom of the plywood brackets. I ripped three 2-by-8-ft. pieces of luan plywood and fastened them to the front of the brackets. The rack was ready to use.”


Like many shops, Chris used to lean his sheet goods against the wall. That was a hassle, because you often had to flip through the whole stack to find the piece you needed. He recently built racks that project from the wall to hold this material.

“Now when we look for material, we can quickly see the edge of each piece in the rack. You just slide it out to see if it is the size you need. Every shop uses their scrap sheet stock for smaller signs, and this makes doing that really easy. It saves you time and money.”
These racks are made from triangular dividers that are made from 2-by-4 stock. The racks extend 4-feet from the wall at the floor, and stand just over 8 feet tall. A 1-by-2 brace that comes up from the back corner helps support smaller pieces of scrap.


PVC and other plastic and paper panels are stored at in a rack at the end of the work space. “When we get down to the smaller pieces,” says Chris, “they go into smaller bins under the benches. If we get odd shaped off-cuts, we cut them down into more common sizes and store them ready to use.”


Plywood, ACM, acrylic sheet and foamcore panels are stored in a larger rack in the shop.  This sort of organization saves pays off every day in the time you save. Materials are used more efficiently, and work gets out the door faster, too. Working smarter sure beats working harder.


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