October 26, 2017
By Carl Weger
For Canada’s recent 150th anniversary of Confederation, Sleek Signs printed graphics on perforated films and installed them on Harvard Developments’ two Hill Centre Towers in downtown Regina. While the company’s slogan is “We print big,” this project was as big as they get, comprising more than 929 m2 (10,000 sf) of graphics—but the biggest challenge would be wrapping them onto the towers’ sloped faces, in a prairie city known for temperamental wind fluctuations, right downtown along Scarth Street, the busiest pedestrian corridor in the city. As such, plenty of planning was needed.
Support for this show of national pride came only from Harvard and its downtown business partners, without financial assistance from any government agencies, but in many ways, it was the highlight of Regina’s Canada 150 celebrations, with the end results showing up in countless photos and social media posts. Given its scale, it was certainly the largest.
While the team at Sleek Signs was proud to work on the project, putting it together was a very challenging task, particularly with timelines for implementation that did not leave any room for error.
Planting the seed
The project’s beginnings were more aspirational than practical when Sleek first approached Harvard to pitch the notion of potentially wrapping the downtown towers at 1874 and 1881 Scarth Street, which are iconic features of the Queen City’s skyline. The team was pleasantly surprised to hear Harvard’s managers had already been considering just such an idea and there might be an opportunity to turn it into reality.
Armed with a few crude corrugated plastic mockups and a ballpark estimate, Sleek planted the seeds of what would eventually become a nationally acclaimed project.
Same but different
Sleek had previously undertaken a similar project in 2010, wrapping both towers for centennial celebrations of the Canadian Football League’s (CFL’s) Saskatchewan Roughriders. That project had earned an outstanding reaction and publicity, but in some ways was fundamentally different, as Sleek worked through the Roughriders’ football club, which handled negotiations with Harvard for the space and also had to work with a third-party advertising agency.
This time around, Sleek worked directly with the buildings’ owners on all aspects of the project, from the planning and design to the installation timeline. In some ways, this made the process much simpler.
The timelines, however, added to the project’s complexity. Sleek approached Harvard in December 2016 and the work would only need to be completed by July, which sounds like a lot of time, but the wheels can end up moving very slowly when getting a project of this size planned and approved. In fact, it was not until the middle of April 2017 that a formal commitment was made by the client.
Getting the paperwork
At the same time, the project involved many aspects that are not typical for Sleek given its focus on print production and, given the need for special permits, insurance caveats and training, all of which had to be in place in time to meet an installation completion deadline of June 1, 2017.
Acquiring the permits from city council was a surprisingly smooth, straightforward process. Given the application of the graphics would be a similar operation to washing the towers’ windows, Sleek followed the same protocol and was able to gain the necessary access without much hassle. One challenge was the restriction of days for the wrap, due to other events, which further reduced the ‘window’ for the work and, thus, any room for error.
In terms of insurance, confirming liability coverage and ensuring the full scope of the project would be supported also proved relatively straightforward, but it was difficult to ensure sufficient training was already in place, to clearly demonstrate Sleek’s team was prepared. When providing fall prevention instruction for the six-member crew, Sleek had to arrange specialized training through the manufacturer of the swing stages that would be used for the job, as well as support from Western CML Cleaners, the Regina-based provider of the aforementioned window washing services for the towers.
Western CML helped prepare the crew for tie-offs, swing stage launching and emergency procedures. The company provided technical support and even acted as an on-site professional resource in case of questions or concerns during the wrap installation.
Designing the graphics
Concurrent to the logistical planning, Sleek’s design team was busy designing and producing the artwork. One of the company’s original designs for the graphics essentially served as the inspiration for the final design.
While the graphics were not overly complex, one of the major topics of discussion during the design process was the need to consider colour contrast and readability. Dozens of proofs were produced over the course of several weeks, under the oversight of design lead Stephanie Frandsen. Modifications continued until mid-April before finally settling on the approved design.
From there, the next task was to ensure the graphics were tiled and spliced properly. Sleek planned to use custom slit perforated film, unlaminated and printed from edge to edge on an HP Latex 3000 roll-to-roll (RTR) inkjet press. The challenge was ensuring control for stretching while using a marking and labelling system to make it clear for the installation crew where to start wrapping each column of graphics. Unlike the earlier Roughriders wrap, the starting points varied and, in the heat of the summer sun, controlling for stretch was a major concern.
In the end, Sleek used a different approach, noting the projected window end points and printing the full columns, with trimming to be handled on-site. The marks would allow the installers to reference the previous column each time and adjust the film as needed to ensure proper alignment.
Sleek printed test versions to scale and full-colour proofs for the client to sign off on, all the while steering the design changes to maximize contrast against the towers’ blue window panelling.
Custom production to order
The timeline also posed some challenges for production. Since Sleek would need to work with a particularly large order of custom-cut perforated window film, the order could not be processed until there was a final commitment in place from the client.
This limitation and the custom nature of the job forced Sleek initially to use a non-local supplier, since local companies could not meet the turnaround demand. In total, 33 rolls of film were custom cut to 0.97-m (38-in.) and 1.1-m (44-in.) widths to match the graphic column sizes.
The order arrived on May 2 for an installation scheduled to begin on May 7, so the production department needed to get rolling immediately. Halfway through printing, at the end of the workday on May 5, they discovered 10 of the rolls had been incorrectly slit to 0.91 m (36 in.) instead of 0.97 m (38 in.). As this was a Friday, there was almost no time to source replacement material, leaving Sleek in a very difficult bind.
Fortunately, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of another supplier, Grimco, Sleek was able to source air-shipped stock from Vancouver to arrive the following Monday, at which point the printing could be completed with other supplementary shipments. In the meantime, installation had begun, using the first half of the printed graphics.
Grimco saved Sleek from what could have been a disastrous delay. The printing continued flawlessly, requiring zero reprints and without any production or finishing errors.
The timeline would again prove difficult when it came to installation. Due to maintenance deficiencies found during the certification of one of the swing stages, the on-site operational training was delayed until May 4, just three days before the planned installation start date of May 7.
Fortunately, the training was comprehensive and well-conducted, leaving the six-member crew ready to tackle the project on time with a sense of confidence. Rainy and windy weather, however, prevented them from beginning as planned—and the delay on the swing stage prevented the window washing, which pushed the work back yet another day.
So, finally, the crew was able to start on May 9, although only on a single tower, since the other still needed to be washed first. The delays put them 2.5 days behind schedule, within a mere three-week window.
Thanks to thorough planning, teamwork and good weather, the project proceeded faster than expected. All of the graphics were applied in columns separated into two sections, i.e. the leaf and the sash, and as each column was individually labelled outside the roll and packaged individually, the installation was well-organized.
The crew wrapped the tower faces from the centre out to the left side and then the right. The approach taken to ensure proper alignment was successful in achieving accuracy despite the challenges of applying unlaminated, perforated film on a sloped surface in the summer heat and high winds.
Whenever possible, two teams worked simultaneously, with each swing stage manned by a lead and a helper. The ground crew included a security staff member, who could help keep pedestrians away from the zone immediately below the work, along with a runner, who was available to address any potential concerns, restocking and/or unforeseen needs. The ground crew switched with a tower crew every three to four hours, so the installers would get a break. This rotation pattern continued for more than 12 hours each day until the installation was completed.
This process was very successful, as an installation that was planned to take three weeks—with more than 488 m (1,600 fit) of lineal material applied by hand, using squeegees—was completed in less than seven days, even though some of that time had to be limited to only one tower, due to events and maintenance.
Overall, the project required well over 500 hours in training, design, planning, preparation and installation. The next step is removal, which at press time is scheduled for this fall.
Carl Weger is president and CEO of Sleek Signs in Regina. For more information, contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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