Weathering the Outdoors
Safety signs and labels are so much more than mere stickers or decals. They’re critical safety communication tools, capable not only of reducing liability risk, but of preventing accidents – and ultimately saving lives.
That’s why, at Clarion Safety, we’re so passionate about the use of today’s best practices for visual safety communication, defined at a high-level by the ANSI Z535 standards in the U.S., and the ISO 3864 standards internationally.
And, it’s why we put so much of a focus on quality. That includes factors like using top-grade 3M materials and adhesives, manufacturing our products in-house at our state-of-the-art facility here in Milford, PA, and conducting rigorous quality assurance inspections before our products leave our doors.
Keep reading as we share an inside look at one of the internal benchmarking measures that we have for our products’ material quality: what we refer to internally as our “weathering boards.”
Quick Overview: Why Label
and Sign Materials Matter
First things first: why put such a focus on materials and durability? Whether your responsibility involves the safety labels on your products or the warning signs posted inside and outside your facility, one goal is always the same: they must withstand the expected environment of use. Here, materials and durability are key. You can make all of the right decisions with regards to label and sign content, but if the materials they’re manufactured with don’t hold up to what they’re exposed to – from UV or humidity to high temperatures or chemicals – your efforts to post adequate warnings will be for nothing. A safety label or sign must be seen clearly to be understood.
Another important factor here for OEMs is the life of the product. According to the ANSI Z535.4 Standard for Product Safety Signs and Labels, in addition to holding up to the anticipated environmental conditions that the product will be exposed to, warning labels need to meet the product’s expected life. To keep a competitive edge, many OEMs push to bring increasingly durable, longer-lasting products to market. As products are designed to last longer, so too must the labels on them.
What Our Weathering
Boards Are – And What They’re Not
If you were to visit our production facility, located outdoors just adjacent to the building, you would notice our weathering boards – large boards that we’ve built and affixed with various labels and signs.
Maintained as a collaborative project between our material experts, product designers and quality control team, these boards were erected over a decade ago as part of our ongoing efforts to test various materials used in our indoor and outdoor labels and sign products.
To be clear, this post – and our weathering board process – isn’t about the rigorous material and adhesive testing done by our safety partners at 3M, the lengths we go to in order to assure label material integrity such as through UL compliance, or the performance characteristics of our specific materials.
It’s an inside look at life at Clarion Safety, where we use our weathering boards as one of our proprietary checks and balances to test material durability. We look solely at our label and signs’ weatherability, meaning their exposure to the outdoors. Typically, weather in our region, the Northeast corner of the U.S., can bring bitterly cold winters characterized by ice and snowstorms and warm, semi-humid summers with temperatures reaching upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This diverse climate provides a good backdrop to test material performance.
The Weathering Board
How exactly do we use the weathering boards to conduct tests?
Here’s a quick overview:
- Various Clarion Safety label and sign products are affixed to the weathering boards. We undergo this testing process for every new material combination and for any new inks. The products that we test run the gamut – from multiple shapes and sizes to material and overlaminate variations. In certain scenarios, we also study adhesives and mounting options.
- Control products – duplicates of the same items – are stored indoors, in a temperature-controlled environment.
- The outdoor products are regularly assessed, on a monthly and yearly basis, for faded inks, material tearing and symbol and messaging legibility. They’re also directly compared to their indoor counterparts. The time that we allow each product to weather depends on our main objective and the materials at hand, but many are tested for up to nine years.
The main objective is to see how various materials and inks hold up, with and without laminates and over lengthy periods of time. Overall, we receive valuable insight into durability and potential improvement to make.
What We’ve Learned: Conclusions
Through the wreathing board testing process, from a high-level perspective, we’ve found that, without fail, the materials we use to produce our labels and signs meet, but often exceed, the life expectancy listed in our material technical datasheets.
We’ve also learned more specific takeaways over the years, including:
- As expected, acrylic laminates protected the ink colors from UV rays very well and last for at least four years without showing any signs of fading.
- Non-laminated outdoor signs perform solidly for at least five years without showing signs of damage or ink fading.
- Outdoor signs produced with all colors last more than five years when an overlaminate (either clear, matte, writeable or gloss) was applied.
- Rigid plastic material with applied UV inks lasts for at least five years with no overlaminate and 10 years when an overlaminate was applied.
- Flexible plastic performed well for five years with an overlaminate.
Our testing is continuously undergone to improve performance of existing material combinations, assess new ink/material offerings and to ensure compliance with current standards; we look forward to what those new learnings from the weathering board process will bring.
Labels and Signs Built to Meet Your Requirements
Today’s labels and signs need to withstand a wide variety of uses and application environments, from harsh outdoor settings to intense heat or caustic chemical washdowns.At Clarion Safety, we strive to supply the highest quality safety visuals to communicate about hazards and protect people, built to last in any environment. During label and sign assessments, we often find that clients are using subpar materials or ones that fail to take into consideration the environment of use. That’s where we can help. As your partner in safety, our team is ready to talk about your challenges and our solutions, so that we can meet your precise requirements through our standard safety products or our custom, specialized material options.