We are all busy and often time passes without notice. It is easy to overlook some parts of the process when manufacturing ADA-compliant signage. Ultimately, it is all about the details. This means that paying close attention to the very last detail is the key to success in the business of custom sign fabrication. One of the most common mistakes fabricators make during the sign manufacturing process is not changing the bulbs on their equipment. Typically overlooked in the sign-making process, your bulbs can make or break the quality of the signs you produce. Below is how you can evaluate the effectiveness of your bulbs.
1. Exposure Time
When it comes down to polymer sign manufacturing, there is a direct correlation between proper exposure times and bulbs efficiency. The sign industry is heavily reliant on photopolymer, which reacts to light – the light from the bulbs in your exposure unit to be exact. The right amount of UV light exposure is vital to ensure the pattern in a sheet is properly transferred. The light from each bulb needs to pass through the clear areas of the negative to expose and transfer the design into the substrate.
Additionally, each photopolymer sheet has an ideal exposure time; however, these estimates are only accurate if your bulbs are in perfect condition. If your bulbs are worn out and have not been changed in a while, the UV light reduces in strength, decreasing the overall quality of the photopolymer sheet. To prevent this, it is critical to make sure you are regularly changing your bulbs.
2. Old Bulbs
Your bulbs dim over time, just like regular household bulbs. Constant usage results in reduced brightness and strength, this weakening negatively affects the exposure process, as mentioned earlier. Yet, some manufacturers keep their bulbs for 3 to 7 years without changing them. Worn-out bulbs are not strong enough to transfer all the detail your signage requires, resulting in lost text and braille and possibly making your signs not ADA compliant.
Do you know when it is time for a bulb replacement? This answer will ultimately vary depending on how much your bulbs are being used. Standard recommendation, bulbs should be changed every three years. Many factors impact bulb efficiency ranging from time, use, and general condition of bulbs when they are manufactured. Keep in mind that bulbs are a lot cheaper than the material that is getting wasted with a low-quality sign, so it makes sense to change your bulbs often. Specific scheduled quality checks of bulbs using the Stouffer Scale is the best practice.
3. Stouffer Scale
The Stouffer Scale is a method to measure light exposure in the photopolymer process, which relies on small strips of negatives with numeric values. When exposed to light, the scale reacts to it just like photopolymer plates. Its numeric values gauge the exposure in the process. As such, the Stouffer scale allows you to regularly ensure that your bulbs are functioning at their maximum output. As the bulbs age in your equipment unit, they will produce less light which increases the overall exposure time. The Stouffer Scale will allow you to better oversee the output of your bulbs so that you know when to modify its settings to get it back into ideal conditions. Ideally, you should be using the Stouffer Scale every single week and keep a log of the results next to the processing times. This will allow you to better monitor and manage your bulbs in real-time. For PT Materials, the Stouffer Scale should read 15-16. For EX Materials, the Stouffer Scale should read 12-13.
How To Manage Your Bulbs
Bulbs might appear like a small and insignificant factor in the overall photopolymer sign manufacturing process; however, they are actually one of the most essential aspects in creating high-quality signage. Implement a bulb quality check recording process. Use the Stouffer Scale positioned in varying placement locations within the exposure draw. (The rotating Stouffer Scale location test not only indicates bulb efficiency but also can indicate a bulb is failing or burned out). Record and track these bulb quality checks.
The quality of your polymer signage fabrication is directly tied to the quality of your UV bulbs. It is important to always remember the common sense that your bulbs can dim with time, burn out, or simply lose strength from constant usage. Fabricators who want to stay ahead of the fray must take the time to regularly evaluate their workflow operations, quality control processes, and equipment maintenance programs. Regularly checking bulb effectiveness and changing your bulbs when efficiency degrades below exposure standards will allow you to produce higher-quality signage and achieve more profit in the long run.
Nova Polymers has the capability to identify and solve any of your bulb issues or other unexpected complications. We help you implement solutions to ensure the quality of your signage and workflow operations. Reach out to us today for more information.