Thomas Sign & Awning Catches Lightning in a Bottle for Big Storm Brewing

Impressive freestanding entry sign aids pub's growth

Patti Canady is marketing director for Thomas Sign and Awning Co. Inc. (Clearwater, FL).
Equipment and Materials
Elliott HiReach 65-ft.-reach lifts, from Elliott Equipment Co. (Omaha, NE), (402) 592-4500 or
EMC: Double-sided, RGB, 10mm-pitch electronic display, from Optec Displays (Ontario, CA), (800) 876-1668 or
Printer: UV-cure-ink GS EFI-VUTEk 3200 printer, from EFI (Foster City, CA), (650) 357-3500 or
Lighting: White LEDs, from Hanley LED Solutions (Miami), distributed by Grimco, (800) 542-9941 or
Metal benders: Accu-Bend channel-letter bender, from Computerized Cutters (Plano, TX), (800) 310-2887 or; Kombi auto-brake machine, from Roper Whitney (Rockford, IL), (815) 962-3011 or; aluminum angle, and aluminum and steel sheet material, available from building- and metal-supply stores
Paint: Acrylic-polyurethane paint, from Akzo Nobel (Pontiac, MI), (800) 233-2303 or
Router: MultiCam 3000 Series CNC router, from MultiCam (DFW Airport, TX), (972) 929-4070 or
Software: CorelDRAW X6 software, from Corel Corp. (Ottawa, ON, Canada),
Thermoforming: Polycarbonate rigid sheet, from such vendors as Covestro LLC (Sheffield, MA), (800) 628-5084 or; Thermoforming machine, from Plastic-Vac Inc. (Charlotte, NC), (800) 438-4139 or
Vinyl: Translucent vinyl, from 3M Corp. (St. Paul, MN), (888) 364-3577 or
Welder: MIG-welding system, from such vendors as Miller Electric Mfg. Co. (Appleton, WI), (920) 734-9821 or
The local craft beer and brewpub phenomenon has caught on virtually everywhere in the US. No longer do Americans simply look to Milwaukee or St. Louis – or England or Germany, for that matter – for their beer. In the Tampa Bay area, too, craft beers have taken the region by storm.
Big Storm Brewing, that is. They opened their first brewpub in 2012, and surging popularity demanded an expansion by spring 2015. One of our sales representatives, Kevin Hunsicker, observed the construction and took the initiative to stop in to see if the pub’s management team had already purchased signs. Thankfully, they hadn’t; Kevin became our point person as the project progressed.
The Thomas team worked closely with Big Storm founder Mike Bishop, CEO Jonathan Golden, and the owners, father and son Leo J. and L.J. Govoni. The wanted signage that would reflect their distinctive brews and stand as community landmarks. As we discussed concepts with them, our design staff devised a large beer mug as the sign’s focal point using CorelDRAW X6. Instead, Golden suggested the signage better represent the Big Storm name. With this suggestion, we developed the lighthouse concept that would anchor Big Storm’s signage. We added a polycarbonate railing that encircles the lighthouse, as well as lighted windows to enrich its authenticity.
From the ground up
To create a foundation for the 25-ft.-tall sign, we roughed out a 3-ft.-wide, 12-ft.-deep base with an auger. We fortified the sign’s footing with rebar before pouring concrete, and then installed baseplates and anchor bolts for securing components. There may be a “Big Storm Brewing,” but this sign isn’t going anywhere; it’s engineered to withstand wind loads up to 165 mph.
The sign’s proposed height was on the borderline of compliance with local sign-code standards, so we applied to the city zoning board for approval. They requested full engineering schematics and structural details. The review process was completed within two weeks, and the project moved forward.
We built the cabinet’s outer skin from 0.090-in.-thick aluminum, which we formed with a Roper Whitney Kombi Autobrake CNC machine, which bent the material at angles up to 145°. The cabinet, which resembles the lighthouse, is made from rounded aluminum. Its footprint entails an 8-ft.-wide base that tapers to 4 ft., which also required special zoning approval.
The “brewing storm” was depicted by two LED face-lit lightning bolts that measure 18 x 48 in. The channel letters were secured to meet engineering requirements by through-bolts with interior wall bracing.
The “Big Storm Brewing Co.” graphics feature a double-faced, pan-formed, embossed polycarbonate signface, which we formed on our PVI thermoforming machine. Computerized Cutters’ Accu-Bend channel-letter bending machines were used to fabricate the lightning bolts.
Fabricators MIG-welded aluminum and steel components together using the gas/metal arc-weld method, or GMAW. Through this process, an electric arc forms between a consumable wire electrode and the piece of metal being worked on. The heat causes metal layers to melt and join.
To fortify the sign, Thomas Sign & Awning constructed a 2-in.-thick, aluminum-angle skeletal frame installed as an underneath layer, and a buttressing, two-part steel column in the sign’s center. We coated the sign’s metal components with Akzo Nobel acrylic-polyurethane paints.
We shaped the metal components on a MultiCam 3000 Series CNC router with a vacuum table that secured the machined parts. We printed the lightning-bolt graphics using our EFI-VUTEk GS 3200 UV-cure-ink, high-resolution digital printer with 3M translucent white vinyl. The windows that wrap up the side of the lighthouse were similarly printed, and lit internally with Hanley white LEDs for a unique, realistic nighttime appearance.
We installed a double-sided 5 x 10-ft. electronic message center (EMC) to serve as the sign’s focal point. The display incorporates twin 10mm, RGB full-motion Optec Displays boards. The EMC highlights pub promotions and the craft beers available inside. To operate the displays, we installed
a full-color, full-motion video-capable RF modem. Optec Displays pre-programmed the EMC so everything was ready simultaneously. Additionally, Optec trained the company’s workers on EMC installation and operation best practices, and assisted in developing compelling messages to attract customers.
Raise your glass
To facilitate onsite installation, we assembled the entire sign in our facility. To transport the sign, we enveloped it in a steel cage, strapped it in and laid it on its side in our largest flatbed truck. With such hefty cargo, we decided it was necessary to bring it to the site during the morning’s wee hours.
The tower was installed by Thomas Sign’s in-house installation crew, which was led by
Christofer Alberti. We employed two of Thomas’ Elliott Hi-Reach 65-ft. cranes onsite, as well as our auger truck. With these resources, workers were able to lift and set the lighthouse in one day.
The client was very pleased with the end result, and Big Storm continues to enjoy tremendous success. Earlier this year, the brewery opened two new taprooms in Pasco and Pinellas Counties in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, and plans for a third brewery are underway. Thomas Sign is excited to work with Big Storm on a new design that is sure to include another quality electronic display. Meanwhile, Big Storm continues to make their mark. At the 2016 Florida Beer Championships, its Oktoberfest Märzen Lager won a Gold Medal and the Best of Show Award, and two other brews earned silver and bronze medals.
We’re proud when our clients’ businesses prosper. After all, our success is their success. Cheers!
More About Thomas Sign
Thomas Sign & Awning Co. was established as a custom-sign shop in St. Petersburg, FL. Today, under the same ownership, the company now serves local, regional and national clients. Its manufacturing facility in Clearwater, FL spans more than 100,000 sq. ft. same ownership group has directed the company since its inception. During its first decade, the company served customers primarily within Florida. Gradually, Thomas Sign and Awning began successfully competing for national accounts.
The company moved into its present facility in Clearwater, FL in 1994, its third location. Its current manufacturing space spans 100,000 sq. ft.; Thomas Sign and Awning currently employs 189 workers. The company offers offering project management, code review, surveying, design, permit, manufacturing, logistics and installation services. It manufactures exterior and interior illuminated and non-illuminated signs, as well as window graphics, interior wall murals, banners and other types of sign fabrication.
Thomas Sign has made annual capital expenditures to improve workflows, reduce cycle times and implement cost-saving technologies. These investments include machines that automated manual production processes, and in other instances, additional machines that accommodate increased volume that’s resulted from growth.