From the streets of Dubai to those of Maplewood, Minnesota, traffic signage is essential to helping improve road safety and mobility worldwide. How will drivers know to stop at a four-way intersection if there is no signage present?
Keeping up with the demands of traffic signage production is very important: coordination of printers, reflective sheeting, overlay films and sign regulations, is no easy task, which is where the 3M Transportation Safety Division (TSD) comes in. Innovative digital printing solutions driven in part by 3M science offer a simplified, customizable, and cost-effective solution to tackle the complexities of improving transportation infrastructure and mobility worldwide.
“The transportation industry has been slower than other markets to adopt digital printing methods because of tight budgets and knowing signs have to last over 10 years on the roads,” said Shelly Toscano, Global Marketer of Traffic Signing, Digital Print Solutions. “We work to meet rigorous imaging requirements and strict industry specifications around color, retro-reflectivity and durability.”
A desire for a more flexible and on-demand option, as well as a growing interest in the ability to create low-volume, high-impact custom signage has driven a recent shift from analog imaging methods to the possibilities of digital printing solutions.
An End-to-End Solution Built on Strong Relationships
TSD has been a leader in the reflective sign manufacturing space since 1939. Its efforts to qualify digital printers, develop UV-Inkjet ink and optimize relationships with printer manufacturers have resulted in a diverse digital printing solutions portfolio, meeting the various needs of customers globally.
“We collaborate with multiple printer original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s) to support digital imaging with sheeting and overlaminates,” said Brent Batchelor, Global Portfolio Manager of Traffic Signing. “These OEMs aren’t customers, but rather our partners. They’re the experts of the printer.”
TSD works closely with some of the top printer manufacturers to ensure 3M reflective sheeting runs through the printer without negative effects to the sheeting or the printer. They also work with their ink partners to create specific colors that match strict signage regulations.
“It’s almost like an art class, mixing colors to create ink recipes,” said Toscano. “We’re mixing to reach that specific color while also looking to keep colors transparent enough to allow the reflective messages to come through.”
To give its customers the most flexibility, 3M works to constantly foster and grow its collaborations with its portfolio of printer manufacturers to provide customers with options for the right printing solution for their business.
Global Challenges and Opportunities
Global color, retro-reflectivity, transparency, brightness and other traffic regulations vary from country to country. With TSD supplying signage solutions for over 70 countries worldwide, it is a steep challenge to find solutions that work across the world.
“You have to get it just right to meet every regulation,” said Batchelor. “3M’s perspective on digital printing is different than that of others. We pride ourselves on our deep relationships with multiple OEM partners to provide a variety of digital solutions to sign fabricators and convertors.”
While it’s important to understand the requirements when installing new signs, it’s equally important that the signs continue to deliver consistent, reliable performance over time as they’re exposed to environmental conditions. To predict the performance of materials, 3M’s state-of-the-art Weathering Research Center (WRC) allows us to analyze the durability of the ink and product quality over time. The WRC conducts standard industry tests specified by the various industry organizations. In addition, it runs proprietary weathering methods to detect and quantify a sign’s sensitivity to heat, light and water and predict its durability in different environments.
Customers are looking for a whole-solution approach to their digital printing needs. They need printers, ink and sheeting that work together seamlessly and last over time. “We are excited to qualify newer, better and faster equipment and processes,” Toscano said. “It’s essential we stay on top of the times and help our customers get the quality of signs they expect and need.”
To learn more about TSD’s innovations designed to improve transportation infrastructure and mobility, visit 3M Road Safety.