By Mark Crawford
A sign is more than just a locator of place – it is an art form that can convey a company’s mission, theme, attitude and sense of creativity. When properly designed, signs compel people to admire their shape, color and craftsmanship. For designers, precast concrete offers a blank slate from which any conceivable sign can be created. For owners, precast offers an attractive solution that’s set to withstand the test of time. Below is a sample of attractive precast signs manufactured by NPCA members.
Ed’s Concrete Products – Stratford, Ontario
Prica Group, a construction management firm in Waterloo, Ontario, needed a large address sign with a design and color scheme that complemented its facility.
“The benefits of using precast concrete for signs include color and texture options, knockouts and formliners, efficiency, drag-and-drop installation and longevity with minimal maintenance,” said André Timmermans, product coordinator with project precaster Ed’s Concrete Products. “Design options are virtually limitless with precast, so the sign can be structural and aesthetic at the same time.”
Different textures and colors used on the sign create sections that resemble natural wood and other materials. Two lifting inserts placed in the top eased placement and grouted tubes in the back secured the sign on-site. Installation, which included setting the signage, leveling and grouting the reinforcement, took only one hour.
Olympian Precast – Redmond, Wash.
Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Wash., approached Olympian Precast for a monument sign that required an integral pigment and two different finishes. Computer numerical control (CNC)-cut, high-density foam was used to form incised letters and a plastic formliner helped create the sign’s varying depth recesses.
According to Olympian Precast President Clarke Jewell, the sign first went to the acid-etch area, where workers applied a finish that created a fine, sandy texture. This finish helped accentuate the crisp, clean lines created by Dayton Superior’s Variable-Depth Random ABS Formliner. Acid-etching also helped highlight the dark natural sands of the Pacific Northwest.
The production team then sent the sign to the sandblast area, where the lower formliner portion was protected with plywood while the upper “smooth” portion received a light sandblast finish to provide contrasting color and texture to the formliner below.
“A sandblast finish tends to lighten the aggregate and soften the crisp lines,” Jewell said.
Constructing the formwork at the edge of a casting deck to accommodate the stubbed reinforcing that was eventually cast into the footing was a challenge, he noted.
The company also undertook a multiphase gateway project for the city of Des Moines, Wash., that consisted of several precast signs made with a blend of white and gray cement as well as white aggregate and sand. The production crew applied a light sandblast finish on all exposed surfaces to highlight the light-colored aggregates in the mix.
The project architect specified organic shapes reminiscent of waves and sails for the sign to reflect the city’s proximity to nearby Puget Sound. Bronze letters and sailboat shapes applied in the field after installation satisfied this need and provided an artistic flair.
The ribbed patterns unique to each of the three multiple sign pieces – as well as the overall shape changes – provided a design challenge.
“In order to accommodate the changing shapes, the ribbed patterns were first fabricated by creating a ribbed wood sheet for each one of the changing ribbed patterns,” Jewell said. “We then cut the ribbed pattern to shape using a full-size AutoCAD template. Each ribbed shape was then laid into the overall mold.”
Sanderson Concrete – Surrey, British Columbia
When Stewart Bulk Terminals, a private port in British Columbia, contacted Sanderson Concrete for a sign in a remote area almost 1,000 miles away, Jan Antorp, president, knew it would be challenging.
“Everything was done remotely,” he said. “We never saw the site, the client never came to the plant. From start to finish, we were able to create a sign from the initial sketch and letterhead the client sent us.”
The 10-foot-wide, 5-foot-tall, 6-inch-thick sign included cast-in conduit to accommodate lighting support arms. Sanderson Concrete custom-fabricated the sign in its in-house fab shop and then powder-coated the arms. The conduit cast into the sign was precisely placed to match the conduit in the existing on-site walls.
The letters were created based on an old letterhead.
“Our foam supplier researched the historic font, duplicated the arch in the logo and cut the letters that we set into the formwork,” Arntorp said.
After casting, the finishing crew painted the inset letters in black.
Officials with Stewart Bulk Terminals were pleased with the result.
“The client was looking for a permanent sign rather than a wood or plastic sign,” Antorp said. “Precast construction provided an attractive, durable sign that was installed seamlessly and will last for generations.”
Cuz Concrete Products – Arlington, Wash.
The city of Arlington contracted Cuz Concrete Products to manufacture four concrete signs for specific entrances and exits into town on major roadways. All four 15-foot-by-9-foot signs present a “rolling hill” look, each with a different wildlife theme (blue heron, eagle, salmon and deer). A major challenge involved coordinating proper insert placement for the bronze wildlife images, which a local company designed.
“Precast was ideal for this project,” said Aaron Zachry, vice president of sales for Cuz Concrete Products. “Not only does precast provide excellent longevity at low cost, it also gave us considerable artistic freedom. We worked closely with the local arts council and provided some creative input, which was very rewarding.”
Other communities took notice – after seeing the signs, the neighboring town of Marysville hired Cuz Concrete to manufacture a 14-foot-by-8-foot welcome sign for the roundabout on the main highway entering town.
Precast is perfect
Precast concrete is the ideal building material for signs. Not only is it highly durable and cost-effective, but it also allows for more design freedom. As a result, precast signs can integrate various shapes, colors and textures, as well as other materials like embedded electric lines and lights.
Ed’s Concrete Products has manufactured signs for more than a decade and each year, according to Timmermans, the projects become more detailed and complex.
“With CNC routers and stencil cutters, mold-making capabilities are endless with what you cast into a piece of concrete,” he said. “We recently quoted a job that had 12-foot-high, stand-alone letters as the welcome sign for a city. We are hoping it will come to fruition as we always like a challenge and showing the industry what can be done with precast concrete.”
Mark Crawford is a Madison, Wis.-based freelance writer who specializes in science, technology and manufacturing.