Mobile growth introduces challenges to big wrap

Second Time Around

Mike Antoniak is a freelance writer based in Dowelltown, Tenn. He’s covered digital imaging since its inception in the early 1980s, then covered early developments of digital printing as photo labs made their initial forays into wide-format printing. Since then, he’s written about varied aspects and applications of digital printing for several publications.

As drivers cruise I-95 through Middleton in Bucks County, Pa., they can’t miss the pitch for Sesame Place. Just off the roadway, a two million gallon water tower—wrapped in bright color graphics and photos of Elmo, Big Bird and happy children—announces the popular family theme park in nearby Langhorne.

In the eight years since the tower was first wrapped as a giant billboard for Sesame Place, dozens of cell antennas have been installed at its top, compounding the challenges of an already complex project. The entire wrap was printed on LD823TG, a high-performance, seven-year reposition-able cast vinyl PSA film from LG Hausys. 

This gargantuan vertical billboard stands 145 feet tall, and 160 feet around, making it a leading contender for the world’s largest tower wrap when it first got the digital treatment eight years ago. Scott Segan, principal with ADPrint LLC, and former CEO of Burton Imaging, oversaw that ambitious project. Earlier this year he was contacted by representatives of Sesame Place for a complete redo of the tower.

NEW SPONSOR, NEW WRAP

“What prompted the refurbishment was they wanted to feature a major new sponsor, Aquafina, on the tower,” says Segan. “A project like this is not like wrapping a bus...There aren’t a lot of companies who know how to pull something off on such a large scale.”

However, Segan quickly discovered that the soaring popularity of mobile communications over the past decade made this wrap a more complex undertaking than the original job. “Eight years ago, there was only one cellular company with antennas on the tower,” he explains. “Now we’ve got Verizon, Sprint, Clear Channel, Cricket and others, with dozens of antennas all over the top.” To support cellular transmissions to and from the site, the ground around the tower had also filled in with operational hubs for the varied cellular providers.

“The logistics and engineering of this installation were the biggest challenges,” Segan continues. “When we did this the first time, we were able to use a 140-foot articulating lift for the installation,” he explains. The job was now a two-part process: removing the old wrap as the new graphics went up. “We had to use a crane with a 300-foot reach, over 200 feet in the air, just to get close enough. And then, the entire time, we had to worry about not hitting any of the antennas with the cable.”

Compounding the logistical challenges was the scheduling. Plans called for installation during what can be breezy days of October in Pennsylvania. Anything more than a slight wind could suspend activity for hours, or days. Despite these many challenges, work proceeded without any significant disruptions. Installation started Oct. 7, and the tower was entirely transformed with its new look on Nov. 1.

In addition to the bucket crew, a three-man ground crew had to steadily secure the bucket and monitor wind and weather conditions.

DETAILED PLANNING

Segan attributes the success to the thorough planning that went into every aspect of this job, with his long-time production partner, Sean McLaughlin, CEO of Great Big Color, Denver. “We talked about his job for months. It probably took 50 hours of planning time, visiting and revisiting the site, working out all the details, getting the crane in place,” says Segan. “Everyone knew exactly what needed to be done before any of the work got under way.”

McLaughlin notes, “It’s 80 percent planning and 20 percent actual production, which makes a job like this a success. I got everyone in our plant involved—from printing to cutting to packaging the job for delivery—to walk through every situation on our end so when we actually started production, it would be flawless.”

The old graphics were removed and new ones put in place by a pair of installers, working in a bucket suspended from a large crane.

Their arrangements called for Segan to handle the Pennsylvania end of the project, dealing directly with his client Sesame Place and tower owner Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority to secure all necessary permits and coordinate the installation. In Denver, McLaughlin and his staff focused on printing, preparation and delivery of the more than 17,000 square foot of printed vinyl the job entailed.

That translated into 702 separate panels, most measuring 4 x 6 feet. To make this a manageable project, the two devised a plan to divide the tower into 49 quadrants, each composed of as many as 16 printed panels, “We didn’t want to go any larger than 4 x 6 because of the wind. Even a breeze can cause problems when you’re trying to work 100 feet off the ground,” notes Segan. 

“It’s a big job that we turned into a lot of little jobs,” McLaughlin adds. “We worked together to combine quadrants and sub-quadrants into 26 individual jobs for printing and installation.” These smaller jobs easily could be integrated in his company’s workflow without delaying production on other projects. “We knew the plans for installing each section ahead of time. We worked two days ahead of their schedule to take care of the printing and get each section to the site just as it was needed.”

Suspended by a cable from a crane high overhead, workers had to remove old graphics then immediately install panels of the new wrap.

All the work was printed from files supplied by the client on Great Big Color’s HP-Scitex TurboJet solvent inkjet printer at 40 dpi. “We saw this as a huge opportunity for manufactures to show off the capabilities of their media,” McLaughlin adds. Vendors were invited to submit materials for consideration on what would be a high profile project. 

“We did a lot of extensive testing, wrapped a trailer and spent some time analyzing the results to make sure we were using the best material,” he says. ”One of the things we were really nervous about was what would happen in the air if the wind blew and the adhesive folded back on itself.”

The entire wrap was printed on LD823TG, a high-performance, seven-year reposition-able cast vinyl PSA film from LG Hausys. The entire job was given added durability and UV protection using LG Hausys’ LP 80990G cast laminate, a 2.3 mil high-gloss film. 

“We found the LG vinyl had very low tack for the first few minutes, and could be easily repositioned. But then it bonded really well—exactly what a job like this requires,” McLaughlin notes.

Panels were printed by section with marks identifying where each fit, cut and laid out on the plant floor prior to packaging for shipment. These sections were photographed, and a copy of that image included in each box along with a diagram for that section of the installation.

OPERATORS, INSTALLERS AND STABILIZERS

On site, the installation team included a pair of crane operators, two men working in a suspended bucket who actually handled the removal and installation of the wrap, and three more men at street level. The ground crew worked to stabilize the bucket, and to make sure none of the antennas on the tower were damaged by the crane cable. 

Compare this earlier shot with the first photo and you get an idea how much has changed on and around the tower, and how much more complex the installation was the second time around.

“It was a real engineering challenge getting that bucket in place and around those cell antennas,” reports Segan. “At times, that cable was within two or three inches of an antenna. There was a lot of communication back and forth to make sure we didn’t damage any of those antennas.”

Removing the old graphics proved surprisingly easy. “That tower is something of an anomaly; it acts like a heat exchange,” Segan explains. “Because of all that water constantly moving through it, the surface temperature is usually 20 degrees cooler in the summer, and 20 degrees warmer in the winter. That helped keep the graphics and adhesive fresh, even after eight years.”

As the old panels came down, new ones went up and the job proceeded smoothly, weather permitting. “We had to constantly watch the wind, and it was the perfect scenario for a problem if ever a storm came up, or there was lightning in the area” he says. Nov. 1, after 15 working days in the air, the tower boasted an entirely new look and new cast of Sesame Street characters. 

“Logistically, this is one of the most complex projects you could ask for,” Segan admits. “But by working closely with Sean, careful planning, the right material, and professionals who know what to do, everything worked out right, and the client was thrilled.”