Converting to flexface

Texas_Signmaker

Very Active Signmaker
Is there an easy solution to converting a cabinet from leaxan to flex face? Would using something like 1/2"x2" flat aluminum bars fastened to the inside of the frame be a stupid tension system?
 

Richard2717

New Member
If it is a normal square/ rectangular cabinet I always use Signcomp retrofit extrusion. There used to be some decent write up on the web on proper assembly
20200829_091450_resized.jpg
 

Rocco G

New Member
While I'm in favor of the signcomp retrofit kits (they make the installation SOO simple), you could also make a stapled system similar to how "milliken" style awnings are produced. To over-simplify it - you take the awning extrusions, make the frame and staple the face in place. The completed "flex face" then gets attached to the cabinet. I've seen it done a bunch of times and have done it once or twice, but then you have to use sheet metal moldings or something similar to make it look decent. In Philly I've seen it just screwed to the old retainers which is quite ugly imho. It's cheaper than the signcomp retro system and that's why people do it. I.E. a signcomp single 4x8 kit is ~$275 (mill finish) where you can get two lengths of the awning extrusion for ~$110.00 - enough for two 4x8 faces. The stapled system has a higher initial cost (staple gun, compressor, clamps, staples) but once you have them you can make awnings too. Ten clamps (vice-grip 9R welding clamps to be specific - and DO NOT buy the harbor freight ones, they are worthless) is a starting point. If you get heavily into awnings, a couple hundred clamps isn't too many. Oh, and one or two of the vice-grip sheet metal clamps makes tensioning the fabric easier as well. The signcomp system basically only requires their tensioning tool. For extra large faces, signcomp is really the only way to go because you can easily add supports set back behind the face to keep it tight.

I've also seen very junky jobs where someone just took aluminum tubing and tek screwed the flex material to the "frame system". They are never very tight and are usually full of wrinkles.

YMMV
 

signbrad

Member
Is there an easy solution to converting a cabinet from leaxan to flex face? Would using something like 1/2"x2" flat aluminum bars fastened to the inside of the frame be a stupid tension system?

Most cabinets are not strong enough

One problem with a retrofit is that most cabinets are not strong enough to support a flexible face. The returns will tend to "concave inward," on the long dimensions especially. If the cabinet is made with angle iron and a metal skin, the odds are better this won't happen. But most people these days build lightweight cabinets made out of aluminum extrusions. So...fastening flat aluminum to the inside of the cabinet to anchor the face may not work well, since it would be relying on the strength of extruded returns to tension the fabric.

The best way to retrofit is with the retrofit kits available from extrusion makers. The support for the flexible face is provided by the frame rather than the cabinet, and the assembly can then be attached by a top hinge to the top face flange of the cabinet. This allows for a flex face that is easy to service safely by one person and does not rely on the cabinet for strength. Of course, these kits are not cheap.

Regarding wrinkles, this is generally not the fault of the frame system. Rather, it's a fabricator issue. Duck-billed pliers, both the locking kind and the kind that do not lock, are essential, in my opinion. I have even used homemade stretchers successfully. These were bar clamps with a locking duckbill welded to one end of the bar. The duckbill clamped the fabric while the stationary clamping leg hooked over the edge of the sign cabinet. The trigger leg, in the middle, pulls the fabric when actuated. Turning the trigger leg around, so that it faces away from the permanent leg, allows for better pulling power. (I wish I had a picture.) They aren't pretty, and they're a little hard to weld up, but they work. I used them in addition to handheld duckbills.

Homemade frames

Using one-inch aluminum tube to make a homemade retrofit frame actually does work. Yes, it's cheap. It's a pain in the butt and requires at least two workers for any future service work. And you need to lower the whole face to service the sign. But, it's cheap, it works, and can be done without wrinkles. The trick is to add center braces so the perimeter frame members do not bend inward too much. The braces need to be installed parallel to the florescent lamps so they do not create shadows. To do this, you position the braces a few inches behind the frame, attached with diagonal pieces of tube welded to the perimeter frame. (Again, I wish I could show a picture.) The braces then lie protruded into the spaces between the lamps, floating beside them without obstructing light. The small diagonals need to be welded to the frame in a way that the frame can still lie flat against the front of the cabinet.

Careful tensioning of the fabric using truss-head screws an inch or inch-and-a-half on center can be done with no wrinkles. The finished unit will cup somewhat on the dimension not braced, but attachment to the cabinet flattens it out. A hassle? Of course. But so is installing and servicing a large polycarbonate face when there is no hanging bar to help do it safely. Two or three people and two trucks either way, right? And the polycarbonate will turn yellow; the flex face will not. Also, you can strip and re-letter a flex face in situ. I have even done eradication while the face was in place.

Homemade frames like this don't allow for extreme tensioning, but they work, they're cheap, and most people won't notice that the sign is jerry-rigged. Make sure the customer understands that the cost of service calls will eat up any savings from the initial conversion. An engineered retrofit kit is always superior and safer for servicing.

Brad in Kansas City
 

JBurton

Signtologist
Ugh, can't get lexan? I'd tell the customer to wait it out. I know Reece had a 100" roll just last week... GSG has been getting some as well.
 

JBurton

Signtologist
Oh, and the Sign comp frames work beautifully. It's just a whole lot of work unless you're getting them fabbed somewhere. Need a saw, aluminum welder, that weird two forked signcomp tool, measuring tape... But if they're built right, they pop right in. If they're built wrong (Too small to fit over the cabinet), the sign looks like a trapezoid from a profile view, because they tend to get hung from the top and let the extrusion rest against the front side of the frame at the bottom.
 

signbrad

Member
My description above of a homemade stretcher using a bar clamp is faulty, just in case you had a hard time visualizing it from my description.
If you lay a bar clamp on a work table along with the duckbill locking pliers, and think about it, you can figure out how to make this.
We had four of these at a shop I worked at about 15 years ago. They had already made two of them. And I made two more. I should have taken pictures.

Brad
 
a good 2nd hand way to tension awnings and flex is to weld a large washer on the duckbill vice grip screw knob. 2 of these and a rachet strap are handy as hell in the tensioning process.
 

Andy D

Active Member
Just a FYI if you end up buying a retro fit kit; The kits we used had a 6" retainer, which means you have to remember to leave
a lot more negative space around your design, than you normally would.
 

Texas_Signmaker

Very Active Signmaker
Just a FYI if you end up buying a retro fit kit; The kits we used had a 6" retainer, which means you have to remember to leave
a lot more negative space around your design, than you normally would.
Wow... that seems excessive.


Thankfully polycarb is coming back in stock sporadically
 
Top