John Taylor, the Director of Production of KC Custom Signs in Kansas City, Missouri, counts on a number of Laguna Tools to help him create unique works of art for their customers. Providing custom services is so important to this six-man operation that they literally included that priority in the name of their business.
“It’s all we do,” explains John. By specializing in custom design and fabrication, KC Custom Signs can provide a sign that reflects the personality of an individual or tells the unique story of a business with a concept that’s outside the box. “Our industry requires creative people,” he points out. “All of us are artists in our own ways.”
And where customization was once very labor intensive, the Laguna tools in KC Custom Signs’ 5,000 square foot shop have allowed him to decrease man-hours, cut costs, and enhance complexity. With one of the largest CNC machines in the area, their team also serves fellow craftsmen. “We are able to help other local businesses that only have 4’ x 8’ CNC routers,” John notes.
True customization requires lots of different materials, so the Laguna tools at KC Custom Signs are used to cut aluminum, plastics, foam, wood, steel, acrylic, Lexan, and PVC. “The machine choices are based on edge quality, capability, and speed,” he explains. John currently runs a 5’ x 10’ Smart Shop II CNC Router, an MNM Laser, a 48’ x 48” Plasma Machine, and a Laguna Dust Collector. He’s waiting for the delivery of a Laguna Sander.
SmartShop II CNC Router
“The 5’ x 10’ Smart Shop II CNC Router was our first Laguna machine,” shares John. KC Custom Signs chose the workhorse after researching other CNC routers and visiting a small wood shop in Kansas to see the SmartShop II in action. “They seemed pretty happy with the machine and had some beautiful stuff they had created with it.”
But John knew his clients would demand materials far beyond wood. “We cut a lot of different substrates and needed a machine up to the task,” he says. Today, his most common materials for the Smart Shop II are aluminum, plastics, and foam in addition to wood.
While John’s research confirmed that Laguna uses a number of the same components included on CNC routers that are twice the price, he quickly identifies the spindle as the most important feature of the Smart Shop II. “Our 12 hp HSD Spindle will eat just about anything I put in front of it,” he states.
Another feature John especially appreciates on the Smart Shop II CNC router is the vacuum table. “Without it, many of the items we make wouldn’t be possible,” he emphasizes. “The vacuum table allows me to cut all sorts of items large and small with ease.”
John has even experimented with tiny components. “Anything under an inch can be challenging on a CNC router, but that’s why we have the other machines,” he admits.
Gantry clearance on the Smart Shop II is also important to John. “With good clearance, I am able to cut jigs and hold parts on their side for machining” he offers. This helps him get past not having the extra axis. “We are also able to program 3D machining out of thick foam and wood,” he adds.
“I have run quite a few different machines from cheap to expensive,” he says. “If someone was looking for the best bang for their buck I wouldn’t hesitate to tell them about Laguna Smart Shop II.”
The Missouri craftsman admits he might suggest the Smart Shop III version first due to the servo motors that power it’s movement, as compared to the Stepper motors used by the SmartShop II. “That easily doubles the speed of the machine,” notes John. “With proper tooling, a powerful CNC router can be very versatile.”
Because the Smart Shop II served the needs of KC Custom Signs so well, he didn’t look far to find his next key tool. “Laguna started to branch out after we bought our first machine and we were in need of the products that they were starting to offer,” he explains.
Laguna Plasma Level 2
KC Custom Signs added a 48” x 48” Laguna Plasma with A80 Torch. “It is based on the same SmartShop platform our big machine uses,” John explains. “This makes it very easy to work with and work on.” He again considered alternatives, however, the Laguna Plasma “used a better torch than some of the competitors.”
This time, rather than traveling to see a machine in operation, the KC Custom Signs team viewed the on-line Laguna videos to see the machine in action before making his decision. John would recommend the machine depending on the specific tasks someone needed to accomplish.
For example, “We had big dreams of cutting small letters out of aluminum with it, but quickly learned the limitations of a plasma cutter,” warns John. Today, KC Custom Signs primarily uses the plasma to cut steel. The Laguna Plasma can also provide sharp, clean cuts on stainless steel, brass, and copper with high-speed precision.
MNM CO2 Laser
KC Custom Signs are currently getting an MNM Laser machine, their third Laguna purchase, set up at the sign workshop. “The Laser will be used for acrylic, wood, and aluminum once it’s functional.”
“We needed a laser that could engrave and cut,” he explains. “Our MNM can do both.” Once again, he did his homework before buying, including watching online videos and receiving samples from manufacturers. “We shopped around and Laguna had the right price point and it didn’t hurt to grow our Laguna family,” he offers.
The CO2 laser will be able to cut stainless steel, carbon steel, acrylic, MDF, die board, and non-metal hard materials such as wood planks from balsa wood and paulownia for KC Custom Signs. John and the team can also process double-color board, ABS board, rubber, and plastic if needed for their clients.
A Laguna Sander will soon be arriving. “Keeping the machines in the same family helps with operating, maintenance, and repair,” he comments.
Value-Added Laguna Tools
Laguna Tools offer craftsmen a number of key advantages in order to stretch their investment. The product videos which were vital to John’s research are just one of the values added. Key features help both craftsmen and business owners save time and money.
“The less time we spend with our hands on the sign the better,” says John. With Laguna Tools, KC Custom Signs has been able to decrease labor while expanding the limits of creativity in order to deliver customization at a level of quality their clients expect. He notes, “Having the proper tools is always a sure fire way to save time and money.”
Another key component of having proper tools is operating machines that utilize both good software and good programming.
KC Custom Signs touts that they have some of the most advanced automated equipment available. But John has appreciated being able to operate the CNC machines quickly and easily. “Good software paired with good programming can do almost anything,” says the sign maker. He’s also the first to acknowledge that “a CNC machine is only as good as its operator and programmer.”
And any good CNC operator knows that if you’re challenging the limits of your skills and the capabilities of your machine in order to get the maximum return on your investment, sooner or later you’ll need to ask for help. Customer service at Laguna is always just a phone call away.
“We have had quite a bit of contact with Laguna since our first purchase,” says John. “Machines go down for various reasons from time to time and they have always got us back going.”
John and the team at KC Custom Signs count on the capabilities of their Laguna Tools each and every day. Their consistent performance has resulted in strong brand loyalty. “Having our family of Laguna machines ensures that we meet the challenges of our customers,” he concludes.
That’s important because John and the KC Custom Signs team are always looking for new challenges. “Signage allows us to work with new materials in new ways all the time.”
“I feel like we have been able to watch Laguna’s CNC division grow and are proud to be part of the family,” says John. “We look forward to adding more Laguna machines in the future.”