Although the products rolling out the big door are nearly always “one of a kind,” and often highly artistic or creative, at the base of it all, Metro Sign and Awning operates around a factory. Every day, artisans and support staff deal in actual, physical goods that have to be cut, bent, shaped, carved, welded, sanded, finished, painted, and more.
Nothing happens until that material and the requisite supplies for the various manufacturing processes are procured. So in a real sense, Craig Wondrasch sits at the very heart of the Metro Sign and Awning complex.
Pricing the Materials and Supplies – Putting It All Together
“In my purchasing role,” explains Craig, “I look at a complete set of drawings for a project and figure out the bill of materials: how much do we need of each item.Some of it we have on hand. Some of it we have to order. Prices change, minimum quantities vary, delivery times are fluid. I have to make sure that everything we need to complete each project is in the shop on the optimum schedule so the fabricators can work effectively and meet our delivery times.
“Once the customer signs off on a project, we have a ‘release’ meeting that includes Purchasing, Production, and Project Management. That’s where we make the final decisions on the materials we’re going to use. Although every sign is unique, 75% of them use very similar materials, including: aluminum extrusions, tubes and sheets of acrylic or PVC, and high density urethane foam (it looks like very dense Styrofoam, but when finished it feels like hard wood or metal).”
Craig also functions as Metro’s Cost Estimator. In this role, he’s the Sales and Production teams’ go-between. Requests for signage quotes come to Craig. Looking at blueprints, specifications, sometimes even sketches on napkins, he calculates the costs of the materials. He also estimates the project’s production costs. (Separately, the Installation Group adds their own costs, as well.)
Before he came to Metro Sign and Awning, Craig had done the same work for Bell Labs’ large photo-electronic factory in North Andover, MA.
Value Engineering for Architects
“It’s part of my job to estimate how many pieces we’ll need: one big piece? two smaller pieces? or whatever. So I get involved in figuring out the simplest and best way to make something. Of course, some architects spell it all out for us – even if they don’t know the best way to build it. When that happens, we’ll give them a price on doing it their way, and then we’ll also offer an alternative way to make it that we think is better, or less expensive, or more practical. Often, this kind of ‘value engineering’ can save them a lot of time, money, and potential problems.
“Calculating some of the processes,” Craig admits, “you take a guess. For others, you talk to the fabricators and think through how long the job is likely to take and how well the specified materials will work for the design. Sometimes our shop guys will have much better ideas on how to build a certain sign than the architects or the contractors, who aren’t specialists like we are.”
“Here’s an example: on a recent mall project we did, the architect specified an acrylic panel 1.5″ thick for a large sign. That material is not easily available and very heavy. Installing it would be difficult, and then it would always be hanging over people’s heads as they walk through the mall. So we suggested making the same sign hollow. That way, the same appearance is cheaper to fabricate, lighter and less of a hazard, and easier to install. The architect liked the idea and approved the change.”
“Everybody was happy.”
“One of the neatest things about working within Metro Sign and Awning – and I must admit I’m very impressed with how we operate – is that with every price quotation we give customers a mechanical drawing of all the signage we propose to make: overall dimensions, a list of all major components, the specific colors we’ll be using. Once they sign off on that, it’s very clear and straightforward for me to do my job. There’s hardly any question about what I need to purchase for any given project.”
“It’s also great,” says Craig, “that we show the customer what the new signage will look like by superimposing a picture of each new sign onto a picture of the planned installation site. This mock-up photo helps customers visualize exactly how the new signage will look when we’re done.”