On a Friday in late July, the Seattle offices of grand-format custom manufacturer Rainier Industries (www.MyPRINTResource.com/10227178) were abuzz with excitement. And little wonder.
It was the day of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremonies, and Rainier employees were seeing the first dramatic televised shots of the Olympic Stadium, dressed up in 336 colorful 80-foot high panels produced by Rainier.
In partnership with Dow Chemical Company (www.MyPRINTResource.com/10764283) and the Cooley Group (www.MyPRINTResource.com/10004610), Rainier had spent nearly the previous year and a half working on the project. Finding the right materials, then getting them printed, and finally ensuring they were correctly installed, had at times appeared an almost insurmountable task. Now that their hard work had so visibly paid off, the Rainier team members couldn’t have felt prouder if they’d captured an Olympic gold medal themselves.
Rainier was asked to participate in the project 16 months prior to the opening ceremonies, recalls Charlie Rueb, display division manager for Rainier. The contacting party was not the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), but a major American corporate sponsor of the Olympics, Dow Chemical Company. Rainier was sought, Rueb says, due to its previous quality work on Olympic venues.
In the initial days of Rainier’s efforts on the project, the favored choice of material was a Dow Chemical black-out polyethylene. It turned out, though, that as Rueb recalls, “Dow was making the pellets, but no one was producing the material with the structural support we needed to create an 85-foot tall banner. After a couple days of calling people, we realized no one was making it.”
The next challenge was dealing with the realization that the British fire restrictions were exceptionally tough. “That also precluded use of polyethylene, because that would not meet those very rigorous standards,” Rueb says.
After some more spinning of wheels, it was decided Rainier had to find a manufacturer who could and would work with Dow Chemical to create the right material, with the strength and fire-resistance required. “We found Cooley Group in Rhode Island, and they agreed to give it a shot,” Rueb remembers.
At that point, 13 months before the opening of the Olympics, Rainier representatives figured they had all the time in the world to get the job done.
They figured wrong. Rainier couldn’t print on the first round of material produced by Cooley Group. The second round of material was printable, but couldn’t pass muster with the fire restrictions.
Rainier and Cooley Group would eventually go through about eight or nine rounds of material before finding one that was both printable and would pass the tough fire restrictions laid down by London authorities, Rueb remembers.
But once they’d obtained a material delivering both those qualities, another problem arose. “The material had become so stiff, it would pucker in the printer,” Rueb says. “As a result, my carrier wouldn’t run across it, and it presented a risk of head damage. So it was back to the drawing board.
“Knowing we had to meet British fire standards, we started working on the flexibility. We got to the point where we were able to compromise on flexibility, and keep the fire rating and ability to print. At that point, we were about six months away. We had spent six months just trying to figure out the material.”
The original plan had been to ship westbound from Seattle on December 1, 2011, permitting a four week transit. In fact, the initial mock-up banners didn’t ship until more than four months later, on April 2. The last shipment went out on June 22, just a little more than a month before the July 27 opening ceremonies.
Once the mock-ups arrived in London, there were more wrinkles to iron out, literally. “We learned a lot when we sent over the mock-up banners,” Rueb says.
“All these banners were created in an hourglass shape to fit a 90-degree twist. When the first one went up, that twist caused wrinkling and puckering in the twist. We went back to the engineers, architects, and designers, did some more simulations on the computers and came out with a new template.”
Still another challenge lay ahead. During the installation of the mock-up banners, Rainier found it hadn’t taken into account an expansion joint in creating the brackets. So the brackets had to be reworked to accommodate those joints.
An American-based subcontractor, Ft. Worth-based Fabritech, was contracted to handle the installation, while Rainier turned its attention to making sure the banners were produced and shipped in the ever-shorter period of time remaining. “Towards the end, it was a daily point of stress for us,” Rueb recalls. “We spent a lot of time stressing over the banner production, how much we could ship and how much we could turn out in a day.”
As Rainier and its partners overcame each obstacle, the team also absorbed a number of crucial lessons. The primary takeaway was the amount of teamwork and collaboration needed in such an ambitious endeavor, Rueb says.
“The entire supply chain had to work in close collaboration to get this done,” he reports. “And that included Dow Chemical providing the pellets, Cooley Group taking the pellets and manufacturing the printed material, us printing and fabricating the system, and Fabritech doing the install.
“It required a lot of communication, and a lot of 5:00 am phone calls, due to the time differences, because we were working with Dow scientists in both Europe and the US. And we had another party to communicate with, and that was LOCOG. We had a set conference call every Tuesday morning for 16 months, which just ended with the [staging of the] Olympics.”
However, the result justified all the hard work. The wrap transformed what Rueb calls “a boring, cold stadium” and made it far more inviting, offering up a 56-hue “color wheel” that wreathed the circular structure. In addition to making the stadium colorful, the banners bestowed a way-finding benefit. Every sixth banner identified the stadium section and the aisles within that section.
What’s ahead for Rainier? The company is currently working on a wrap for the Central Michigan University football stadium and looking forward to taking on challenges at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia in 2014, the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. But for now, there’s a bit of time to sit back and savor the triumph of a golden Olympiad performance.
“It really transformed the stadium,” Rueb says of Rainier‘s work. “To see these things going up and changing the look and feel of the stadium was neat.”