Ion Art Beefs Up Sign Program for San Antonio HEB Grocery

Design reflects produce markets
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Carrie Wood is a project manager for Ion Art (Austin, TX).
Equipment and Materials
Coatings: Acrylic-polyurethane paint, from Matthews Paint (Delaware, OH), a PPG Co., (800) 323-6593 or www.signpaint.com; rusting agent, made from homemade chemical compound;
Cutters: CNC router and plasma cutter, from MultiCam (Dallas), (972) 929-4070 or www.multicam.com;
Equipment: Accu-Bend channel-letter bending machine, from Computerized Cutters (Plano, TX), (800) 310-2887 or www.computerizedcutters.com; MIG welder, from such vendors as Miller Electric Mfg. Co. (Appleton, WI), (920) 734-9821 or www.millerwelds.com
Lighting: Neon tubing, from Voltarc (Orange, CT), (800) 825-9465 or www.light-sources.com; transformers, from Tech22 (Vista, CA), (800) 748-6644 or www.t2-neonpower.com
Substrates: Aluminum sheet, from such vendors as Southern Aluminum Finishing (SAF), Atlanta, (800) 241-7429 or www.saf.com; MDF, chipboard
and plywood, available from hardware and home-improvement stores; Sintra PVC panels, from 3A Composites (Statesville, NC), (800) 626-3365 or www.graphicdisplayusa.com; corrugated metal, from building-supply stores; CenCore high-density polyethylene, from Centennial Plastics (Hastings, NE), (866) 851-2227 or www.centennialplastics.com
HEB Grocery, a San Antonio-based chain founded in 1905 that operates approximately 350 stores throughout Texas and northern Mexico, hired Ion Art to fabricate and install a comprehensive, multi-phase sign program for one of its San Antonio stores. HEB, which designed the system, contacted Todd Sanders, proprietor of Austin’s Roadhouse Relics. This was beyond the scope he could produce; he referred HEB to us, and we successfully bid on the project.
Making signs of this size – to be installed on an existing, onsite framework – presented one of the project’s biggest challenges. The project’s various sign sizes and styles required as much standardization as possible in both construction and installation. The “Design for x” approach, which originated with the production of nanoelectronics and accommodates production variables, saved time. Implementing a different installation approach for each sign would’ve taken three times as long.
Like any project, even the best plans encounter speed bumps. However, because we standardized almost all materials and fasteners, the various alternative supplies could be greatly reduced, and adaptations could transfer directly from one application to the next.
The fabrication and installation of the signs were assigned into three phases, which Ion Art based on expected completion, and grouped for installation with like signs. In addition to streamlining the manufacturing process, this also allowed specialized installers to deal with all of a certain sign type in a single trip. By prioritizing the signs in the order of potential for completion, we were able to shift our efforts, to bring one ahead of schedule, and, when we hit any delays in materials or in processing, replace one with another.
Phases I and II
The first two phases of fabrication and installation involved signs that don’t contain any electrical/lighting components. Most of these signs measured approximately 30 ft. long; these signs were primarily constructed of corrugated steel or chipboard (paperboard made from reclaimed material), with 2-in.-diameter, aluminum-angle frames. The major components of each sign comprised two main panels of interlocking, full-length, aluminum frames, which we designed to self-support on an existing framework inside the store.
Making the signs in this way allowed for faster installation, and eliminated the need for someone to hold the signs in place while they were fastened. Also, we chose to produce horizontal runners that follow the signs’ full length to offset any inconsistencies in the building’s framework. This step made any further leveling or alignment unnecessary.
Here’s a rundown of the materials and machines used to produce this phase of HEB sign types:
Produce “Organic” and “Go Local”
• Frame: Two-in.-diameter aluminum angle, MIG-welded
• Face: Corrugated steel cut to size and distressed with a rusting agent, and handpainted with satin-finish Matthews paint
• Letters: 1-in.-thick MDF, CNC-routed on a MultiCam 3000, sealed and hand painted, pin-mounted
• Leaf: Pine, ¾-in.-thick, plywood, CNC-routed, clearcoated, pin-mounted on 3-in. spacers
• Chalkboard: Sintra® ½-in.-thick PVC board cut to size on a table saw, mounted on custom brackets,
and overlaid with printed vinyl text
• Texas outline: CNC routed, ½-in.-thick plywood, with tags arranged, attached and trimmed to shape with tin snips. “GO” was handpainted with a paintmask, and installed on a 3 x 1-in., aluminum frame.
• “More”: Constructed from pallet wood, and handpainted with a pounce pattern
Dairy “Organic”
• Frame: Two-in.-diameter, aluminum angle, MIG-welded
• Face: Handpainted, ½-in.-thick chipboard
• Letters: One-in.-thick MDF, which was CNC-routed, sealed and handpainted, and then pin-mounted
• Chicken: Pine plywood, CNC-routed, hand-painted text with a paint-mask, clear-coated, aluminum frame with 3-in. stand-offs
• Egg: Hand-cut, corrugated metal, CNC-routed, ¼-in.-thick Sintra letters with vinyl applied to the faces, with letters pin-mounted on 1-in. spacers “floating” above the signface
• Chalkboard: Sintra, ½-in. thick and cut to size on a table saw, mounted on custom brackets, and
overlaid with printed vinyl text
• “More”: Constructed from pallet wood and handpainted with a pounce pattern
Dairy “Go Local”
• Frame: Two-in.-thick, aluminum angle, MIG-welded
• Face: Half-in.-thick chipboard, handpainted
• Letters: One-in.-thick MDF, CNC-routed, sealed and handpainted, pin-mounted
• Barn door: Constructed of 1 x 4-in., cedar boards, handpainted with a pounce pattern, with CNC-plasma-cut, steel hinges, mounted on spacers 3 in. above the signface
• Chalkboard: Sintra (½-in. thick), cut to size on a table saw, mounted on custom brackets and overlaid with printed vinyl text
• “More”: Constructed from pallet wood and handpainted with a pounce pattern
Fish Market
• Frame: Aluminum, 2 x 4-in. frame with supports
• Face: Plywood (½-in. thick), pounce-patterned and cut with a jigsaw, with a handpainted image created from an image projected onto the face
Shrimp Boat
• Frame: Aluminum, 1 x 1-in. tubing
• Face: Corrugated steel, cut to size, distressed with a rusting agent and handpainted
• Texas Coast: Sintra (½-in. thick), CNC-routed and overlaid with
a vinyl print and mounted on
spacers 1 in. above the face
• Arrow: Plywood (½-in. thick), CNC-routed, handpainted with a pounce pattern and mounted on spacers 2 in. above the face
• Boat: Plywood (½-in. thick), CNC-routed, handpainted with pounce pattern, and mounted on spacers 1 in. above the face
• Installation: This sign was hung from ceiling with suspended, steel cables.
Constanzo Family
• Frame: Aluminum, 1 x 1-in. tubing
• Face: Corrugated steel, cut to size and distressed with a rusting
agent, handpainted with a pounce pattern
• Family: One-in.-thick MDO, overlaid with a vinyl print
• Chalkboard: Sintra (½-in. thick), with a printed-vinyl overlay
• Arrow: Plywood (½-in. thick), CNC-routed and handpainted with a pounce pattern
• Washtub: A tub (you guessed it!), handpainted with pounce and
projected patterns, and mounted on brackets thru a chalkboard into the store’s framework
Meat Market “Natural”
• Frame: Aluminum, 2-in. angle, MIG-welded
• Face: Corrugated steel, cut to size, distressed with a rusting agent and handpainted
• Letters: One-in.-thick MDF, CNC-routed, sealed, handpainted and pin-mounted
• Leaf: Pine, ¾-in.-thick plywood, CNC-routed, clearcoated and pin-mounted on 3-in. spacers
• Chalkboard: Sintra (½-in. thick), cut to size on a table saw, mounted on custom brackets and overlaid with printed-vinyl text
• “Naturally Good”: Constructed from pallet wood, handpainted with a pounce pattern
Phase III
The third and final phase required the fabrication of signs that contain neon lighting and the “Cooking Connection” station. These signs were exciting to produce; who doesn’t like neon? We installed the meat-market sign at the store’s highest point, which provides a backdrop with compelling visual impact when you first step through the door. Combining this with the fish- and produce-market signs evokes the ambience of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco or Seattle’s Pike’s Place Market.
My personal favorite is the dairy-section sign. With a 5-ft.-wide, corrugated-metal backdrop that’s painted and aged like the Texas flag, the 5-ft.-tall, neon-lit, reverse channel letters illuminate the largest sign in the store. We mounted the letters on a custom, freestanding framework in front of the corrugated wall. As the wall turns and diverges from the sign, it reminds me of driving down an old dirt road lined with wooden-framed billboards and barns fading into a blurry background.
Ion Art constructed the neon signs to stand on horizontal frames that rest on the existing structure. For these signs, we used 2-in.-sq., aluminum tubing, which provides rigidity while concealing and protecting the wiring. Because the Pharmacy sign contained only one neon component, we framed it with aluminum angle to accommodate the non-illuminated, pin-mounted letters.
Instead of installing individual letters and running wiring onsite, we mounted all the letters and aligned them on their respective frameworks before they left the shop. By building them as self-contained structures, we minimized the chance of any damage occurring to any of the neon
lighting during transportation or installation.
Although we fastened the signs to the store’s structural framework, we also designed them to be free-hanging and stable without hardware. Working in bucket lifts, the installers could secure the signs without having to wait for them to be fully attached. This allowed some installers to return to the shop sooner, which saved manpower for other, ongoing projects.
Meat Market
• Frame: Steel, 2-in.-square tubing
• Letters: Aluminum, reverse-illuminated channel letters, CNC-routed backers, returns shaped on
an Accu-Bend letter fabricator, MIG-welded, spraybooth-painted with Matthews acrylic-polyurethane paints and SATA equipment using paint masks, with vinyl lettering applied inside the “cow”
• Electronics: Each letter contains its own Tech22 transformer
• Neon: Voltarc tubing bent, pumped and painted by Ion Art’s Mark Westphal
• Banner: Aluminum (0.125-in. thick), CNC-routed and spraybooth-painted, with pin-mounted,
white acrylic lettering
Dairy
• Frame: two-in., square steel tubing
• Letters: Reverse-illuminated,
aluminum, channel letters, aluminum construction, CNC-routed backers, Accu-Bend-formed
returns, MIG-welded, spraybooth-painted
• Milk jug: Aluminum construction, CNC-routed backers, Accu-Bend-formed returns, MIG-welded, hand-rendered and booth-painted with paint masks for letters and drop shadows
• Electronics: Each letter contains its own Tech22 transformer
• Neon: Voltarc tubing bent, pumped and painted
• Background: Corrugated steel, cut to size, distressed with a rusting agent, and handpainted
Pharmacy
• Frame: Aluminum, 2-in.-thick angle
• Letters: CenCore high-density polyethylene, CNC-routed, booth-painted and pin-mounted
• “Rx” symbol: Aluminum, reverse-lit channel letters, aluminum construction with CNC-routed backers, Accu-Bend-made returns, MIG welded and booth-painted
• Electronics: “Rx” contains its own Tech22 transformer
• Neon: Voltarc tubing bent, pumped and painted
The opportunity to work with HEB on an artistic project of this scale provided a welcome challenge. We’re grateful to have our hard work and talent showcased in an architectural backdrop, as impressive as the Stone Oak HEB in northwest San Antonio. HEB’s satisfaction with our execution of their vision has us excited to work with them on future projects. We’ve bid on fabricating signs for two additional HEB stores, and are confident about our chances.
More About Ion Art
Ion Art was founded in 1986 by husband and wife Greg and Sharon Keshishian. Combining their expertise in glass and metalwork, along with the talents of their team, has enabled Ion Art to produce unique neon and metal signs, architectural lighting and innovative environmental solutions. The company has grown into an Austin icon, and expanded into the design and custom fabrication of sculptures, water features and architectural décor.
Leveraging more than 25 years of experience and a growing list of high-profile clients, the Keshishians are confident in Ion Art’s ability to tackle every aspect of any project. Ion Art is currently certified as a Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) by the Texas Building and Procurement Commission (qualified businesses must be minority- or woman-owned by a Texas resident, and receive priority for contracts on state-funded projects). Ion Art is a certified Austin Green Choice Partner, as well as a member of the Intl. Sign Assn. and the Texas Sign Assn.

 

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