Mark Andrews’ route into print wasn’t a particularly conventional or direct one. He set up his own one-man wide-format business about five years ago, building up signage and graphics work from local customers around Exeter and recently moved into labels.
Both space and time were getting tight, so last year he bought one of the first Smartstation roller mounting tables from Mounter’s Mate. Aimed at small businesses on a budget, these devices offer a useful combination of low cost and fold-down framework to fit into small spaces.
“I spent the first 25 years of my working life in the motor trade, repairing vehicles,” Andrews explains. “When I was working in the paint shop or the body shop repairing stuff, when anything that came in that needed coachlines or stickers or some sort of embellishment, I found out how to make it work.”
Moving to joint ownership of a pet food shop was complete change of direction, he says, and one that didn’t quite work out the way he expected. “I started making some signage for the shop in a back room and went from there. I acquired some better equipment and learned a few skills.
“We decided to call it HPS Signs because the pet shop was called Heart Pet Supplies. We’ve since gone our separate ways on good terms and the shop is still going, but I kept the name as it was easier.”
Andrews started out with a secondhand 1.6m-wide Mutoh ValueJet 1625 eco-solvent inkjet purchased from Spandex in Bristol, followed by a Summa contour cutter and a Vivid EasyMount laminator of the same width.
“Originally I’d produce anything and everything, but I’ve whittled it down now,” he says. “It’s basically general signage and graphics – prints applied onto board, hence the reason for the Mounter’s Mate – and graphics, which include vehicle graphics, race car liveries, that sort of thing.” This is all onto self-adhesive vinyl.
A growing part of the business has been cut-out labels on clear vinyl, produced for his former pet shop partner’s own-brand dog food, which has in turn led to more orders from the supplier that actually makes the food.
The Smartstation is a 2.7x1.4m glass flatbed roller mounting table, with a primary role of applying self-adhesive vinyl onto another surface, easily, smoothly and without bubbles. The 130mm silicon-coated roller has pneumatic lifting with adjustable pressure. The target substrate can be pretty well anything, but usually it’s either rigid board, or application tape (for transferring lettering and cutouts to vehicle panels or shop windows).
What became Mounter’s Mate was originally an exhibition and graphics company called DMI Vision. The decision to design a mounting table and accompanying laminator (called 1600HS) came out of the company’s own experience. It designed the original Workstation in 2013 and was ready to sell it in 2014. “Available machines cost upwards of £20,000, which was a lot for small signage companies to afford,” Mounter’s Mate general manager Omar Benmez says. The current price for the Workstation 315 is £10,500.
Workstation was designed as a solidly built unit with a 130mm heated main roller and a second bridge support to feed application tape. It includes features such as media holders, lamps and 10mm glass as standard. Benmez says they were often options with competitors. DMI was using Chinese-made routers, so the same company was commissioned to build the mounting table to Mounter’s Mate’s specifications. “At first I was going out to China about once a month, but I don’t need to now, they understand what we need and the quality is very good.”
Smartstation was a second table introduced last year to target even smaller printers, with tight budgets and often tight spaces. Again it’s Mounter’s Mate’s own design, built in China as a joint venture.
Smartstation has a similar 10mm toughened glass table to the Workstation so it’s completely flat (some rival machines use MDF or acrylic), but replaces the solidly fixed metal frame with a new one that has folding aluminium legs, making a much more compact package on delivery. This can fit through doors and can be manoeuvred into tight spaces, thanks to casters with levelling adjustments.
Variable pneumatic lifting pressure to the roller is supplied by a silent compressor. The standard 5mm clear cutting mat enables the table to function as a normal workbench when not being used as an applicator.
Unlike the Workstation, the roller is not heated and there’s no bridge for feeding application tape from a roll. There are no LED lamps, but Benmez says that these could easily be added by a competent electrician if needed.
Why choose the Smartstation?
“I initially found it on Facebook,” Andrews says. “I was familiar with the brand already because had done some research, looking into models and other manufacturers. I knew I needed one, but nobody else was ticking the box in terms of budget and something that would fit into the room.
“I saw a Facebook advert for the Smartstation in September, when it hadn’t been out long. That led me to their website and I put in a customer request. Craig Morel from Mounter’s Mate phoned me the next day and within two weeks I was up at their place having a look at it.”
The Smartstation’s compact package size, thanks to its foldable lower framework, was really necessary to get the unit into HPS Signs’ small factory unit. “It just fitted, but I had to take some doors off,” Andrews says. “I might have been able to fit a larger table inside, but it would have meant rearranging the walls.”
It was delivered and set up by Benmez and Morel. “They installed it, adjusted and levelled it, then they told me how to use it. It took a while to learn what to do and not to do, as anything does.”
How has it been in practice?
Having the Smartstation has enabled HPS to take on more work. “Within its first week I had two jobs that came to me at the same time,” he recalls. “One was from an existing customer and one was from somebody completely new. Previously I would have taken on one of the jobs, but if the second one had come along I just wouldn’t have had the time or the wherewithal to do it. Within the first week or 10 days I’d probably mounted about 120 boards, which would never have happened manually. In the first month I had done more boards than I’d done in the rest of the year!”
Andrews uses his Smartstation for mounting self-adhesive vinyl to all types of rigid boards, such as Foamex, aluminium composite materials or Correx. “The Smartstation has also been an absolute godsend for application tape. It’s proved its worth for that alone,” Andrews says. “There’s a knack to doing it by hand, but you don’t get the consistency of the flatbed applicator. Or the speed.”
With space at a premium, he appreciates its versatility too: “If I’m not using the roller, the Smartstation is in constant use as my main work bench.”
Not really, says Andrews. “If I’ve had any questions over the phone, Omar has helped immediately and I’m happy as Larry! Anything else is down to pilot error!” Would he recommend Smartstation to others? “Yes, no question. You can spend more money, but this one ticks all the boxes for budget and size.”
Bed size 1,450x2,900mm
Max bed working area 1,410x2,600mm
Bed 10mm toughened glass with powder-coated aluminium frame
Cutting mat 5mm as standard
Frame Collapsible for delivery and installation
Caster wheels With levelling adjustments
Head bearings 26mm V-style linear bearings (two sets per side)
Rails 25mm cylindrical guides
Power requirements single phase 110/220V
Footprint 3.1x1.9m flat-packed for delivery
Weight 214kg excluding compressor
Contact Mounter’s Mate 01491 877707 www.mountersmate.co.uk
Based in Clyst St Mary on the outskirts of Exeter, HPS Signs is a one-man company run by Mark Andrews, offering signage and labels based on wide-format inkjet printing and finishing. Primary production equipment is a Mutoh ValueJet 1625 eco-sol printer, a Summa contour cutter and Vivid EasyJet, all 1.6m wide. The Mounter’s Mate Smartstation is used to apply self-adhesive vinyl to rigid media or transfer tape.
Why it was bought...
Andrews wanted to be able to do more work in-house and get it done more quickly, and the Smartstation met all his requirements. It is a low-cost, compact roller-mounted mounting table with a collapsible frame to allow installation into small spaces. It has a pneumatic pressure control for the 130mm silicon roller, with a head that is moved by hand (as are most such tables). A cutting mat is suppled to allow the table to double as a workbench for other wide format media preparation and finishing work.
How it has performed...
“Smartstation has allowed me to take on jobs I probably would have had to turn away before,” says Andrews. “Within the first week or 10 days I’d probably mounted about 120 boards, which would never have happened manually. Within the first month I had done more boards than I’d done in the rest of the year!”