Rocketing demand for floor graphics has stripped the UK of the raw material to print on. Incoming supplies are committed before they arrive leaving little chance of finding ad hoc stocks. And this is coming before a further surge in demand as more businesses are allowed to open as the pandemic eases.
In one week CMYUK sold more than it has previously sold in a year. A further 1 million linear metres of anti slip material is on order while the company tries to keep up with demand. Across the supply sector the story is similar. Demand for floor graphics is off the scale.
The demand for social distancing signage is making the floor graphic the print product of the pandemic, used in supermarkets, on transport, in offices and buildings which the public might have access to and, shortly, in a greater range of shops and hopefully pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues. All will require print to ensure people remain at a safe distance.
And while this will not completely replace volumes lost to the pandemic, it is more than welcome for all sizes of printer. FD Signs, for example, worked 18 hour days to complete an order for Transport For London which required 100,000 social distancing floor graphics for use across the capital’s transport network.
Founder Fintan Delaney says: “We do jobs for TFL fairly regularly. But we've never done anything for them on this scale. We were all working 18 hour days for ten days straight. And we had a guy coming in at three o'clock in the morning to change the rolls on the printers every night - so they could keep printing right through.”
The company’s Fujifilm Acuity 1600 kept working throughout, despite putting pressure on ink supply, resulting in 6,000 graphics a day supplied to 30 installation teams to install during nighttime closure. It supplied similar graphics to the Croydon Tramlink and parts of Network Rail as well.
The material used was Drytac’s Polar Grip, one of a number of materials that the company supplies, all meeting standards for anti slip and adhesion properties. It has recently introduced two PVC free substrates as greener alternatives to PVC. Polar Floor is a PET with widths to 1524mm and suited to short term indoor applications and SpotOn SynTac Floor as a two part system for smooth indoor surfaces. However, the demand is such that PVC is riding high despite questions about environmental performance.
Soyang produces its substrates in China with a supply chain that quickly recovered from disruption at the start of the crisis. It tries to hold two to three weeks of product in stock in the UK as a buffer and even deeper stocks of some products. However, the demand spike has been so steep that it has shipped everything it has in the Accrington warehouse. “There are massive deliveries coming in, but these will go out to fulfil customer orders immediately,” says a spokesman.
This is the case with other suppliers and merchants that handle display materials, including Premier Paper, Antalis, Papergraphics, Amari and Pyramid Display. “Orders for floor graphics have gone through the roof,” says one.
“We sold as much in two weeks as we would expect to sell in a year,” says Chris Green, head of marketing for Antalis’ visual communications division.
Demand has put pressure on manufacturing, from extruding the films, coating and applying the adhesive layer. In addition there seems to be difficulty in obtaining the cardboard cores to wind the substrates on to. After that comes the disruption to shipping, perhaps from across the globe. And demand is also high from other countries that have adopted social distancing as a control measure against Covid-19.
It will remain high for at least the remainder of this year as social distancing measures persist and as the floor graphic evolves into a promotional as well as informational device. Immediately on lockdown businesses relied on chalk marks to keep people apart, then tapes and now simple graphics. The life time of a vinyl floor graphic is limited and these will be replaced by more sophisticated versions, perhaps with advertising messages along with the reminder to maintain the safe distance.
“We are predicting that demand will go on,” says Green. “This is very much a new area for Antalis.” It has been negotiating to open sources of supply. Even so even before material is delivered it has been sold on assignment.
The merchant has also been assembling stocks of clear plastic for PPE visors and face shields and rigid plastic for workplace screens.
Some of these clear plastics, Perspex in particular, have also sold out due to demand for safety screens to protect staff in retail and public facing jobs where they might be at risk of contracting the virus. Other screens made from boards and other materials will be used in the workplace where working in close proximity is unavoidable.