Lean and Green

Harbinger’s green initiatives have helped its sales grow threefold.
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Harbinger (formerly Quality Sign) is a national sign-engineering and manufacturing firm that specializes in creating effective and durable signage by implementing the latest innovations in technology, design and manufacturing. Harbinger, headquartered in Jacksonville, FL, has remained under single-family ownership
since its founding in 1962.
Our company has extensive, successful project experience in many markets, including petroleum, commercial, education, entertainment, food service, grocery, healthcare, nonprofit, retail and sports.
Harbinger has worked with top national and international organizations, including 7-Eleven, Gate Petroleum, Edwin Watts Golf, Goodwill, InMotion Entertainment, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Maxwell House and PepsiCo.
In our 48-year history, we’ve always worked to stay on the cutting edge of technology and innovation. Part of that effort is our emphasis on green initiatives. Our decision to use green products in our signage and implement green-friendly lean manufacturing has touched every aspect of our business, helping Harbinger provide high quality signage and greatly increasing our sales.
Our implementation of green materials started in 2000 when we began using LED products specifically designed for channel letters. At that time, the energy-saving benefits hadn’t reached today’s standards. The lights were only available in red, and the cost was high – nearly three times the cost of neon. Now, LED lighting costs less than neon, and the modules are available in various colors.
When we learned China, and many other countries, were migrating away from fluorescents toward greater use of LED technology, we knew it was the right choice for our clients. Members of our team traveled to China to learn more about “green” technologies.
When implemented in signage, LEDs represent significant energy cost savings for customers, particularly when used in large, single- and double-faced sign cabinets. Estimated energy savings can range between 60 and 80%.
LEDs can be applied in various indoor and outdoor signage, including menuboards and channel letters, and the lights offer more design versatility because of their smaller size. Although initial upfront costs are incurred, the benefits related to operations and energy cost savings yield positive ROIs for most customers.
For our multi-location clients, Harbinger creates new LED-lit signage, and we also perform green, retrofitting services on existing signs. Currently, our team is fulfilling a contract with one of our largest clients to replace fluorescent lights with LEDs in pylon-sign cabinets.
To show clients the benefit of retrofitting their signage with LEDs, our teams conduct energy audits to assess the energy used by existing signage. An onsite consultant examines the current lighting products in use and estimates the financial benefits that LEDs could provide. Some clients can save as much as $7,000 per locationper year, resulting in an 80% savings on the electric bill and an ROI of 2½ to three years.
Retrofitting signage with LEDs has represented a major portion of Harbinger’s sales in the past couple of years. As a result of this success, our company increasingly emphasizes our green program and products, and Harbinger’s long-term goals greatly revolve around green technology.
Learning about LEDs’ many bene¬fits jumpstarted our research into other green products that could benefit our customers and our company. Harbinger has adopted additional green materials and processes, such as using low-VOC paints and practicing responsible disposal techniques. We started using low-VOC paints in 2005 to continue our efforts to produce a green, cutting-edge product. At the time, it increased our costs by 10% and required our team to learn a new application process because of the paint’s thinner consistency.
Harbinger also practices green initiatives through lean manufacturing. More efficient and organized lean practices reduce waste, increase output (helping us to be more profitable) and elevate product quality.
Harbinger first adopted lean manufacturing 2½ years ago. Because lean requires an intense, academic journey and a full commitment from your team, the initial conversion posed challenges. To help make the transition, we hired a consultant. The first day, our consultant measured how many footsteps our team members were taking to walk work orders to our foreman’s office in a two-story building in the middle of our work area.
The consultant determined we spent an extra $30,000 each year marching work orders up the stairs to that office. The next morning, a wrecking crew tore down the foreman’s building.
Today, Harbinger has been recognized as a fast-moving, top-performing lean organization. Members of our leadership have been quoted as experts in lean by top publications, and the company has been recognized by the Jacksonville Lean Consortium for its hard work.
A key lean principle that has benefited Harbinger significantly is one-piece flow. One-piece flow is a first-in, first-out philosophy in which one workpiece at a time moves between operations within a workcell. This method has helped us cut the turnaround time for standard products from 30 days to nine. Benefits include a higher quality product, because we can easily monitor each process and each piece that goes through the cells.
Our manufacturing space is divided into several, independently operating cells, each of which produces a specific sign compo¬nent, before the product moves on to the next cell.
Each cell is set up with the concept of “everything has a place, so everything is in its place.” Each tool board has a photo that shows where and how the tools should be placed. If something is missing or out of place, our manufacturing team notices immediately.
For example, we’ve even outlined, on the floor, where the trashcan goes. This has made our team more efficient because they can quickly and easily find the tools that they need.
Future plans
We continue to invest in research and development of green techniques and technologies. Harbinger’s team members travel to China often to research the latest in advanced lighting technologies. They bring back and test anything that could be a fit for our business. We’re testing many new products now and look forward to releasing more information on this in the near future.
Harbinger anticipates that, like the other green solutions we’ve implemented, an increase in green offerings will lead to continued growth and success. In the past year, Harbinger’s sales have increased threefold, largely due to our use of green products and services.
In addition to increasing our green-product offerings, we also hope to expand our internal green practices, including recycling a greater percentage of our waste and having team members go through the LEED-certification process.

Steve Williams is president of Harbinger Sign Co.