Signs of the times at RGI
Moving with the times, but keeping the best of what made the company great, seems to be the philosophy at Rice Graphic Images (RGI), says Graham Lockie, General Manager of the display specialist business based in north eastern Victoria.
The operation began as Warren Rice Signs in Kyabram 45 years ago, established by Warren and his wife Barbara as a signage and graphics provider for transport companies and corporates.
Today, it is a vibrant, dynamic print business, specialising in outdoor media, offering automotive vehicle wraps, curtain manufacture, site signage, brand implementation and graphic design for an array of national and multinational clients, says Graham.
RGI’s know-how is part of Australia’s moving landscape – its work is displayed on a three-trailer combo that runs across the Nullarbor for Mainfreight. A white band containing the company’s logo and blended edging was applied to the blue Western Star prime mover, together with Mainfreight hand-blended curtains to the three trailers, all of which were designed, manufactured and installed by the RGI team.
RGI is the company of choice for a number of high profile clients around Australia and beyond who use RGI as preferred branding supplier.
Let’s rewind to the 1950s. Warren Rice had become interested in signwriting as a young man in 1956 and signed up for his apprenticeship in Sydney.
“Over the years, Warren developed a reputation for quality and became well known in the area. Son David also joined the business and started his apprenticeship in 1982. Both worked extremely long and hard to further cement Warren Rice Signs as the company of choice when you wanted a quality, long lasting sign,” says Graham.
The 1980s were still the heyday of signwriting as a craft, with steadily rising demand for images and graphics, hand-drawn in charcoal, then hand-brushed in.
However, screen printing technology was making inroads, and in 1992, the company relocated to Albury-Wodonga on the NSW-Victoria border to accommodate new processes and an expanding customer base.
“The move to a new purpose-built site enabled the company to change its focus to keep pace with changing customer demands,” says Graham, “while retaining a skills base in traditional signwriting, gold leaf application, lining and scrolls.
“At the same time, RGI has grown to include an experienced team and a second generation of family members, each committed to maintaining the high standards laid down by Warren Rice.”
With a staff of 23 and an additional 15 full-time contract installers, RGI is now in a period of growth.
Driven by increased sales in NSW, it has established a new site in Sydney and there are also plans for expansion into other states, and beyond.
The company restructured some years ago to embrace the growing diversity of its services, says Graham. It now comprises several specialised departments, including client services, project management, sales in four states, production, procurement, graphic design, signage application, spray painting and manufacturing.
All of these departments are underpinned by a support/team structure which ensures RGI runs as a streamlined and productive outfit.
In fact, says Graham, it is RGI’s strategy to enhance its productivity through a focus on human resources and the needs of its customers. “We seek to embrace the principles of lean manufacturing and to continue to grow and develop our most valuable asset, our people.”
Graham gives an example of what the company can offer. Inhouse graphic designers can produce creative content for truck curtain and vehicle graphics, logos, corporate livery, signage and large-format displays.
The company provides signwriting services for vehicle wraps, curtain imaging and buildings, and corporate signage.
Its state-of-the-art spraying booth enables professional paint spraying services at competitive rates that are guaranteed to meet deadlines.
“Now RGI can manufacture a full set of truck curtains, design and print a high-resolution image on them, followed by the application of a flexible clearcoat to provide longevity and superior appearance. We also offer printed graphic design for complete vehicle wraps.”
RGI has invested in new capital equipment, such as PVC vinyl welding and manufacturing equipment for truck curtains, spray painting and computer graphic design. It now has an 18m fully compliant, climate controlled spray booth, a tint room, and full size curtain racks.
The company won Gold for its vehicle wrap, Reconnect Ute, in the Australian Sign Graphics Association’s awards of 2008.
RGI’s production floor features a state-of-the-art 3.3m Vivex 3300 solvent roll-to-roll printer for printing truck wraps and billboards, which it sourced from Product Distribution Australia (PDA) in January this year.
The machines are manufactured in Beijing by US-based Amica, a cutting-edge developer heavily involved in inkjet R&D and manufacturing in China, and software in California.
A Vivex 3300 can use full solvent, UV cured and eco low-odour inks. PDA managing director Keith Scott tells WFOL that Amica has developed inline options in wide-format, including variable-data printing. The Vivex brand is enjoying a growing install base in Australia, he says.
RGI’s new Vivex 3300 supplements the output of its Roland DG 1370mm printer, and has enabled the business to bring superwide-format solvent printing inhouse, cutting costs and waiting times for customers.
In fact, the bulk of RGI’s work is now done inhouse, although the company still outsources some processes, such as LED construction and sign installations in various parts of Australia.
A highlight of RGI’s offerings is its Hypershield coating, says Graham. “Hypershield is a unique product that was introduced to RGI some five or so years ago, and now we’re the master importer and distributor for Hypershield and Durepox 2K Epoxy Eurothane primer.
“Hypershield can be applied over PVC truck curtains, even without any digital print on them, to provide longevity and cleanability. Hypershield is also used over digital print media for large and small decals to provide the same properties.”
The coating has developed into a valuable revenue stream for RGI, as it provides the product and service to the signage trade, says Graham.
Asked what he sees as the greatest changes to the sign graphics industry in recent years, Graham nominates the transformation from traditional brush and paint application for signage to computer-cut vinyl, and the challenge of flexible coatings for the truck curtain and PVC markets, over more and more complex digital imaging.
Graham is also aware of the potential impact of new OHS and green compliance and risk management templates. “The compliance issue’s in the not-too-distant future -- and will impact many businesses.
“Much of compliance comes down to investment in time and research, but all comes at a cost. This could impact on hardware upgrades for companies and, of course, ongoing staff training. RGI has consistently supported our industry training initiatives. In fact, we’re currently recruiting for another two apprentice signwriters.”
He says RGI is well equipped and prepared to take on the future and to support the needs of its customer base.
Rice Graphics Images