On the road: developments in traffic signs
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By Sophie Matthews-Paul
25 January 2012
A reflective traffic sign being digitally printed by Morelock Signs
The world of traffic signs doesn't typically generate great excitement in the display world but, suffice to say, these are vital elements that help everyone circumnavigate roads in an orderly manner. During the years there have been subtle changes to how traffic signs are produced and, although redesigns might not be obvious, comparing today's offerings with those of a few decades ago shows how much things have altered.
Not long ago, the Department for Transport (DfT) reviewed its traffics signs policy, which took the best part of two-and-a-half years and was the first exercise of its type for some 40 years. One of the results of this review confirmed that the needs of road users have changed; the way we all view and understand signs today has evolved over the decades by changes in style, fashion and a shift in observation criteria. The purpose overall is to ensure we all behave ourselves on the roads by making sure we comply with legal requirements issued in a visual manner.
In much the same way as corporate and retail branding has become the de facto method of identity, so road and traffic signs have evolved to be determined by different sets of criteria. But strict rules are in force, even down to the specific use of the Transport alphabet which comes in two versions, Medium and Heavy. The DfT has plentiful publications, spread across various documents, with Chapter 7 being probably of most relevance to the sign industry. Very specific rulings, down to the last bit of spacing, have to be adhered to and these, overall, have led to absolute consistency now being the rule throughout our country's roads.
Perhaps not surprisingly, traffic signs are also subject to materials which have to meet the relevant EN or BS number, with the former being a European standard which covers use in the UK. We all know the idiosyncrasies of our climate and, wisely, not only are specific material types specified for visibility but, also, for how they stand up to every imaginable type of weather condition. Added to this are more general performance factors, including durability, resilience to the muck thrown up by our roads and water ingress.
Materials introduced back in the 1990s have largely remained, with high intensity and diamond grade products being accepted as the correct standard to meet the requirements for traffic signs. Heavier materials provide structures which need to last for several years, carrying with them durability, strength and resistance to corrosion. Steel and aluminium composites provide some of the criteria needed but these materials are privy to being stolen for the resale value. The use of MP GRP is now proving to be beneficial as it is worthless as scrap and easier to handle, along with fewer price fluctuations.
Noticeable in the past few years is that some versatility has crept in, still meeting standards, with products like variable message signs whose information can be changed remotely. Safety is paramount with permanent traffic signs and the way they play a major role not only in providing information to road users but, in traffic management, options often have to altered quickly to provide fast updates.
Bespoke traffic signs have become the province of companies such as Morelock Signs, which has years of experience working with the idiosyncrasies of this particular type of display. Others concentrate on temporary signs, such as AA Signs, whose Belfast depot produces traffic management applications for the events industry using a Mimaki CJV30-130 print-and-cut system to generate the black lettering which is squeeze-rolled onto a reusable yellow background sheet.
Taking the digital route in the traffic sector goes further than merely investing in a wide-format printer and hoping it will do the job. The inks need to meet with the DfT's criteria; Durst's Rho 161TS was able to pass the necessary tests using 3M's UV-curable 8800 series inks. The combination of retro-reflectivity and the use of red instead of magenta in the four-colour ink set reaches standards and qualifies for 3M's MCS warranty conditions. It's a shame that Mutoh's Zephyr TS UV-curable machine for traffic sign production was a victim of the manufacturer's rationalisation programme in Ostend and is discontinued.
The language of traffic signs is drummed into us from an early age. They are hugely symbolic in their design and might seem pretty ugly and basic but they serve a vital role, providing essential information in an easily digested, safe format.
Comments in chronological order (Total 1 comments)
31 January 2012 12:19PM
A little update - since this article was published, the Mutoh Zephyr TS will now be available for the next 12-18 months.