John Miller wasn’t thinking about automotive graphics when he founded Signs by Autografix signsbyautografix.com, the full-service sign company he runs with his wife Heidi in Branford, CT. Instead, John picked the name to convey the idea of the “automatic graphic design” and added “Signs by” as a clarification. It should be no surprised that the firm is literally making a name for itself and its clients by building attractive and unique signage – with the help of a Laguna Tools SmartShop II CNC router and automatic tool changer.
John turned to the SmartShop II after making the decision to expand the in-house capabilities of his shop. “Like a lot of sign shops, we started with a bandsaw and a table saw,” he said. “Later we would create a computer file, drop it off for someone else to produce and then pick it up when it was complete. So I knew what a CNC machine could do for Autografix. I also wanted the greater precision and productivity that comes from being CNC equipped.
“Once I had made my decision to add a CNC machine, I did what everyone does,” recalled Miller. “I headed straight for the Internet and started researching them. There were a number of options, of course, including several from Laguna Tools. I knew I was looking for a unit that was ruggedly built and adaptable to everything I needed it to do. But what made up my mind was learning that the SmartShop II CNC 5’x10′ router cost about a third less than the other makes I was considering. The money I saved also allowed me to add the automatic tool changer and a 3HP Mobile Cyclone dust collector.
“That could be the end of my Laguna tools story,” says Miller. “Except I knew nothing about CNC machinery. But Laguna Tools helped me get up to speed and into production with my new machine faster than I could have hoped.
“That doesn’t mean I didn’t have questions though,” continued Miller. “I did and I had lots of them. That’s when I learned just how seriously Laguna Tools takes customer service. I called one day for advice, and Javier Bonilla, a CNC technician at Laguna Tools, answered all of my questions. Later that same day, CNC Product Manager ‘Router Bob’ Alsup also called me to see if I had any follow-up questions. That was enough for me to find Laguna Tool’s customer service impressive. But when I received yet another call, this time from Steve Alvarez, the director of sales for Laguna Tools’ CNC division, I knew I had not only bought the right machine, but bought it from the right company. The attention they show their customers is second to none.”
“I knew I had not only bought the right machine, but bought it from the right company. The attention they show their customers is second to none.”
When asked how he’s using his SmartShop II, Miller explained, “We do a lot of carved signs with individually cut-out letters. We used to buy these letters from a wholesaler and then take on the time-consuming job of sanding and finishing them ourselves. We also create detail pieces such as corbels (a triangular trim piece) for architects. Before we had CNC capability, we would design every letter in a sign individually with a T-square and then turn to our band and table saws. On a good day the entire job would take two or three hours and everything lined up, including pilot and mounting holes. Of course, not every day was a good one. Now if we’re doing a sign such as a tenant directory with a carved top section, even one with a dozen panels, we know every letter will be the exact same size and the holes that are used for mounting will be in perfect alignment. The work the SmartShop II produces is a lot like a model kit. Every piece fits together to create a perfect finished job.
“That’s a time-saver by itself,” continued Miller. “The SmartShop II not only saves us hours of time, but also gives us not only design lettering with a computer but also create a layout for installation at the same time. The SmartShop router not only saves us hours of time, but gives us a job that simply can’t be improved. Everything lines up perfectly, and every panel in the sign is completely interchangeable. That’s a big advantage to a building owner if a tenant moves to another office or floor. It’s also a big advantage to us, because there’s much less prep work.
“The SmartShop II has also opened up new areas of business for us,” said Miller. “We do CNC work for other sign companies, specialized projects for building contractors and custom window moldings for a nearby lumber yard.”
When asked if he has any advice for potential Smart -Shop II buyers, Miller was quick to reply. “I would recommend investing in the automatic tool changer immediately,” he said. “In its first year of operation, it paid for itself by giving us back the time it used to take to change bits or other tools. The SmartShop II is great by itself,” added Miller. “But the automatic tool changer makes it a much more powerful unit.”
Signs by Autografix
- SmartShop ll 5’x10′ CNC Router w/ATC
- 3 HP Mobile Cyclone Dust Collector
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