CHICAGO—George Kochanowski hatched an idea while looking at vandalized stop signs on a long drive from Alabama to Florida in 1990: make a plastic stop sign that paint can be easily removed from and that would not be stolen for its valuable aluminum. Seven years later, his polycarbonate stop sign is ready for market. The company has sold 1,000 test models and is waiting for an expected sign-off of the regulation 30-inch, superreflective sign by the Federal Highway Administration in August.
Kochanowski's firm, Allsign Products Inc. of Coral Springs, Fla., and its partner, Hallmark Technologies of Windsor, Ontario, plan to have the sign made by JFJ Mold Processors Ltd. of Old Castle, Ontario. Kochanowski, who is president of the firm, would not disclose the size of the run, but said the company sees strong opportunities in a sign market estimated at $4 billion a year.
The firm is targeting the Southeast and Southwest because the current aluminum stop signs fade quickly there from ultraviolet light, said Rich Mazur, sales and marketing representative for Allsign. Eventually, the firm hopes to expand production to cover more areas, he said.
The 10-pound sign — which catches light and shines it back like a big bike reflector — is on display at the Bayer Corp. booth at NPE (Booth N5539) and is in use at 13 locations around McCormick Place. Bayer has not put any money into the project but has helped with development since 1994, he said.
Kochanowski said the sign has several advantages: It is much easier to see, lasts longer, is recyclable and graffiti washes off with nail polish remover. But the product will require people to overcome skepticism about plastic signs.
``View us as the people coming into the market with a 3.5 inch disk when every single computer on the planet has a 5.25 inch drive,'' he said.
The sign looks like an oversized version of old taillights and reflectors, but according to Kochanowski, it posed several technological problems to make.
No one had ever made a mold that large — 750 square inches — with molded cube corners to reflect light, and the fact that it had to be two-color presented problems.
``In the industry, they thought that was a real big problem,'' Kochanowski said. ``They thought they'd have to make the wall so thick it would lose its reflexiveness.''
The company uses gas-assist molding to reduce the thickness of the back wall of the sign, which also cut costs, he said.
The sign is made from a Bayer polycarbonate and has a PC film on it to provide UV resistance. Kochanowski said he also is talking with GE Plastics to get resin. The firm is planning to make other signs from plastic, he said. The sign also is priced a little cheaper than many of its aluminum competitors, he said.