By Tony Fulco
Exterior signage is an important investment for a wide variety of brand owners and facility managers. Retail outlets, office buildings, and other locations depend on exterior signage for both wayfinding and brand building. Depending on the size and scope of the signage, the financial commitment can be substantial, which is why it is so important to choose the right materials from the start.
It is inevitable that outdoor signs will be exposed to harsh weather conditions, which can shorten their lifespan. To ensure optimal durability and longevity, it is important to consider location and climate before installing an exterior sign. Sign faces will experience elements like water, UV rays, wind, heat, humidity, dirt, and more. It is important to understand how the materials will respond to those elements and if they will last under such conditions. While there are several seasonal variables that add to the weathering of a product, the fundamental principles of weather include:
- Light (solar UV radiation), which may initiate some type of degradation reaction
- Heat, which accelerates the reaction rate from light
- Water, as the presence of moisture adds additional stressors
Weatherability tests play an important role in the decision-making process, because they can help identify which materials are the best match for the environment in which they will be used. 3M conducts such testing on its products, and this testing is completed at the 3M Weathering Research Center (WRC). It is a single-site accelerated weathering facility, and a hub of durability testing that runs approximately 100 artificial weathering machines that operate 24/7. Additional 3M outdoor weathering programs are conducted in five major climates including tropical monsoon, desert, tropical savanna, Mediterranean, and humid continental.
Some industrial weathering methods can rely too heavily on UV exposure alone, ignoring the combined effect of light, water, and heat. At the WRC, 3M recreates climates by adjusting combinations of light, UV, temperature, and moisture cycles. Our service-life predictions are distinctive in the industry, and our researchers hold primary authorship of several ASTM and SAE weathering standards. Ultimately, weathering tests provide brands with signage films and materials that can withstand the test of time, temperature, and more.
Exterior Signage Maintenance
While weathering tests can help determine the potential lifespan of an exterior sign, achieving that potential doesn’t end there. After the sign has been installed, maintenance is key to extending durability.
Exterior signs should be cleaned at least once a year. Cleaning is easy, and it helps maintain the luster, bright color, and the overall sharp appearance. Dirt and dust accumulate slowly on sign faces, and the day-to-day change may not be noticed. However, the change in color, visual appearance, and the loss of sign brightness from this accumulation can become significant in a relatively short time. Contaminants may also cause premature wear and staining of the product. Signs located in areas with heavy atmospheric pollution such as in dense industrial areas, or areas of heavy pollen and insects, may require cleaning at least four times a year.
General dirt and dust contaminants can be cleaned using water and mild detergent solutions. Follow the liquid detergent manufacturer’s directions for mixing and using the water and detergent. If possible, warm water should be used to enhance the cleaning process. Use a sufficient amount of detergent for good cleaning; too much dilution reduces the cleaning efficiency. After applying the cleaning solution with a pad or cloth, rinse the cleaned area with warm to cold flowing water while continuing to rub with a cleaning pad. Do not allow the solution to dry on the sign face and be sure to rinse the area thoroughly within 20 minutes. If high levels of dirt with grease, diesel, or road film are present, a stronger cleaning solution, perhaps one with a degreaser, should be used.
Exterior signage plays an important role for any brand owner. Not only can these signs draw attention and help direct traffic to a brick and mortar location, they are an opportunity to embolden a brand. Choosing the right materials is the best way to make the investment pay off.
Fulco is marketing manager of the 3M Commercial Solutions Division. He has 30 years of business experience including 20+ years in sales and marketing leadership roles at 3M. Currently he leads the company’s signage and lighting businesses in the U.S. Previously, Fulco held positions at Cargill and U.S. Bank. He received his B.A. in Economics from the University of Minnesota and his M.B.A. from the Carlson School of Management. An active community volunteer, Fulco has served on a number of non-profit boards and is a frequent lecturer at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.