Thermapply: An entrepreneur turns to automation to realize exponential growth.
THIS IS THE STORY OF A START-UP COMPANY – of an entrepreneur with a great idea, the ability to identify market demand, the intelligence to understand how technology can support his vision and the willingness to do what it takes to succeed.
Returning to Cheshire, U.K. after spending seven years in Dubai, graphical designer, Jonathan Hamp, had an idea to re-design how individuals typically position signs and signage – either mounted on a wall or attached to the end of a pole. Hamp had the vision to use signs in all sorts of public places, including school playgrounds and theme parks. But, he wanted to take his vision a step further: to make signs that could withstand the wind and weather that quickly degrades them. What if there was a way to design and create bright, vibrant and extremely durable signage?
Hamp developed a concept to make this dream a reality.
In 2007, his start-up company, Thermapply, used thermoplastic technology primarily to entertain children in playgrounds. Today, after years of experience with various applications, Thermapply technology is used for brand and advertising messages in a myriad of industries. In fact, the family-run business supplies signage to a number of prominent companies and local authorities throughout the U.K.
In addition, Thermapply offers customized "out-of-the-box" packages with welcome signs, marketing signage, warning signs and logos – in fact, any type of sign made to be adhered to a surface – all manufactured from the finest thermoplastic material available. The company also designs and manufactures custom signage delivered within ten days of customer approval.
In early 2011, facing growing orders and overwhelmingly long work days, Hamp decided it was high time to streamline his manufacturing process. Automating the time-intensive material cutting process seemed to hold the biggest opportunity for improvement.
"We researched and carefully evaluated five cutting systems from different companies and thought we would never find the right cutter, because the material we use is quite abrasive and challenging to work with," explained Hamp. "Heat plays a major role in installation of the signs, because the material needs to be warmed carefully; otherwise, it becomes like 'chewing gum' if it gets too warm. And, because moisture is our biggest enemy, water-jet cutting is not an option."
"We eventually contacted Gerber Technology's Manchester, U.K. office. Initial test cuts revealed that Gerber's cutter could slice through our thick, rigid thermoplastic materials." In August 2011, a DCS 1500 single-ply cutter with carbide blades was installed at Thermapply's manufacturing facility along with Gerber's CutWorks® software for marker creation.
The automation systems accelerated production and gave the company a fresh start. Where it previously took one person an entire workday to manually cut 116 numbers for a playground, the GERBERcutter could do it in under five minutes. In addition to saving more than seven man-hours per day, Thermapply could now respond to customer demands much faster and eliminated much of the physical stress of cutting by hand. "Today we also achieve much better material yields," Hamp added, "Because the cutter cuts so accurately."
In 2007, Thermapply began "without a penny in the pocket," according to Hamp. The company's first full year in business saw revenues of 170.000 GBP (€203.000, U.S. $257,000). In 2011, following the installation of the GERBERcutter, revenues rose to 700.000 GBP (€836.000, U.S. $1,058,000) with 13 employees – including all four family members.
Jonathan Hamp and his team are considering franchising the Thermapply business concept as the next logical step in growing the company.