CHICAGO — George Kochanowski hatched an idea while looking at vandalized and stolen stop signs on a long drive from Alabama to Florida in 1990: Make a plastic stop sign that paint can be removed from easily 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 on the regulation 30-inch, superreflective sign by the Federal Highway Administration in August.
Kochanowski's company, Allsign Products 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 aluminum stop signs fade quickly there from ultraviolet light, said Rich Mazur, Allsign sales and marketing representative.
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 — was displayed at Bayer Corp.'s booth at NPE 1997 in Chicago, and was 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 claims the sign has several obvious 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 31/2-inch disk when every single computer on the planet has a 51/4-inch drive,'' he said.
The sign looks like an oversized version of old taillights and reflectors, but according to Kochanowski, its manufacture posed several technological problems. No one had 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 a challenge.
``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 PC film on it to provide UV resistance. Kochanowski said he also is talking with GE Plastics about procuring resin.
The company is planning to make other signs from plastic, Kochanowski said. The sign also costs a little less than many of its aluminum competitors, he said.