Material world

Because more innovative materials are now available for use in exhibition stand construction, organisers can pick and choose from a variety of traditional and modern looks and styles.

Sometimes it is tempting to use tried-and-tested materials when building an exhibition stand, rather than any of the new products that regularly appear on the market.

But as event organiser Giant Communications account manager Melanie Tero says: “In France, fire officers are very strict. In Cannes, a fire officer actually took a lighter to graphics we took out for a conference. Thankfully we had pre-empted this and our graphics were fireproof.”

Giant managing director Tony Cozzi adds: “Giant always considers new products and their uses and often they can be effective. However, if Giant can produce an equally effective solution using recognised, more traditional products – which are often more cost effective – then it will do so. New products do not always meet fire regulations and this can cause great problems.”

Earlier this year, Giant Exhibitions built the Openwave stand at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes. The stand encompassed both ends of the spectrum of building materials from steel and MDF to state-of-the-art screen technology.

Tero says that, aside from the fire certification issues and the expense, new materials may mean dealing with untried suppliers. She says: “Giant has suppliers that it can call at the 11th hour and it knows it can trust both them and the materials they supply”.

Stand construction company QDOS managing director Trevor Walker, offers another reason to avoid using any product that appears on the market: “You don’t want to over-complicate a stand. QDOS always aims to achieve clarity, simplicity and openness. However, as a design-led construction company, it is extremely important that QDOS keeps its finger on the pulse. It takes inspiration from architecture, interiors and technology-driven sectors, such as entertainment and leisure in its design and construction proposals.”

Walker identifies a trend towards using more natural products on exhibition stands. For instance, QDOS recently built a surfing-themed stand using timber to create a pier effect along with palm trees and model seagulls.

Design company Imagination production manager Will Roberts has also recognised this trend, especially when it comes to clients such as Ford, which is keen to emphasise its green credentials. He says: “It’s all about giving it an organic feel, especially as Ford cars are 96 per cent recyclable. There’s a move back to materials such as wood, glass and exposed metal.”

Roberts points out that this organic feel can be created using new materials that simulate natural products, such as resin-cast stones – which are lighter and less brittle than real stone or slate – or by using a thin laminate of real stone over a more durable backing. He says: “You don’t want the floor to crumble when you roll a car over it.”

Imagination has also worked on a display for Mazda that reflected the brand’s Japanese heritage by using bamboo. However, rather than using real bamboo, the bamboo look was created using textured vinyl with a bamboo print on it.

Advances in digital printing and laser cutting, based on techniques developed in the CAD-CAM (computer-aided design and manufacture) industry, have extended the possibilities for materials use.

QDOS does a lot of work at architectural and building trade shows, where laser cutting techniques are proving helpful for materials companies that are keen to show off their wares in innovative ways. Walker says: “They want QDOS to use their product in the stand’s manufacture, so they may ask us to make sculptures out of concrete, for instance, or come up with unusual shapes and uses for laminates or timber.”

Fantastic flooring

Brand experience company RPM recently completed a stand for Adidas at Marathon Expo 2001, an event held at the London Arena prior to the London Marathon. The stand’s laminate floor was digitally printed with all 40,000 runners’ names. For the Marks & Spencer stand at the Good Food Show, RPM used three-metre-wide expanses of canvas. To tie in with the Christmas theme, the canvas looked like wrapping paper that was digitally printed.

RPM creative director Neil Hooper says: “RPM used a lot of digitally printed materials, such as voile banners, mesh and cotton cloth.”

He adds that RPM’s fabric supplier makes everything fireproof, so that the materials will not incur the wrath of a venue’s health and safety (H&S) officers.

Hooper says that another area that H&S officers are particularly hot on is flooring. All floor tiles and laminates have to be non-slip and must not have uneven edges that visitors might trip over. He says that one plan for the Marathon Expo stand was to have Adidas’ trademark three stripes cut into the carpet, but this was abandoned on the grounds that it might be hazardous. He adds, however, that advances in cutting techniques are overcoming problems like this. He says: “You can cut MDF to exactly the same thickness as the carpet, so the floor is seamless and there is no trip hazard. You can also laminate the MDF with very effective results.”

Imagination’s Roberts agrees: “Laminates offer a highly durable alternative to paint and you can have them made up in specific brand colours, such as, for Imagination, the Ford blue or the Mazda yellow. Though, having said that, paint is also making leaps and bounds, becoming more durable and glossy.”

Good fun with rubber

Acrylics also comes in a broader range of colours these days and can be Pantone-matched to any shade. Among other materials available to stand builders and designers, are structured polycarbonates, similar to the material used for conservatory roofs. These are now available in several colours and wavy shapes that make a refreshing change from the traditional flat panels.

RPM Hooper says: “They can be back-lit with fluorescent tubes to create a semi-transparent, glowing wall that acts like a light box.”

He adds: “Rubber is good fun too. You can get wet-look PVC, like the stuff they use to make S&M clothing, in a palette of colours. RPM has made walls out of it that look like a studded Chesterfield sofa. It makes a great interior for bars.”

Another material that is only just starting to find its way on to exhibition stands is Contravision. It is a self-adhesive film that can be stuck on glass to create a strong graphic image on one side and a near-transparent look on the other. It has been available for nearly a decade – having made its debut at the Seville Expo in 1992 – but has taken a while to enter mainstream use.

It is most often seen on the back of buses and for advertising on phone boxes. RPM also used it to good effect for Adidas, where the intention was to have a stand with a clean, open look despite the congested environment. Contravision panels allowed RPM to build changing rooms that looked opaque from the outside, yet people inside could still see out.

Lovely laminates

The opportunity to use new laminates and graphics is being aided by some innovative stand construction materials. Key Systems, for instance, has recently launched a display product called T3, a framework of lightweight aluminium tubing with high-impact plastic fittings to which graphics panels can be attached by Velcro or magnetically. Key Systems managing director David Miall says: “You can use it to build your own stand or even to make floors. A lot of it has been bought by the new London venue ExCeL for use on conference sets.”

Meanwhile, the Early Action Group (EAG) has been working on making traditional timber-framed panels that are as easy to install and dismantle as modular stand systems.

Plasma screens

EAG chief executive Steve Barratt says: “EAG can now construct a timber scheme in the same time as it takes to build a modular system. It has a locking system that is nailand screw-free. And it has no seams, so it offers an unobstructed clean finish that you can fix things to. It would be ideal for building room sets at a kitchen and bathroom show, for instance.”

And, of course, new technologies are playing their part in improving the choices open to stand designers. Exhibitions are often a testing ground for new lighting and audio-visual effects and products, many of which originate in the US. There have also been major advances in plasma screens, LCD (liquid crystal displays) and holographic displays.

Imagination’s Roberts says: “Plasma screens have made life a lot more sexy and chic. Small screens can be plugged together to create one big screen with no black edges or lines breaking up the image, it is a huge improvement on those clunky, bulbous video walls which were basically TVs stacked on top of each other. The new screens also offer wide angles and bright colours, which means that you can use them outside.”

Roberts says that improvements in computer networking have made a big difference, so that many channels can be broadcast at a venue and, if necessary, can be controlled remotely from miles away.

New technologies

He adds: “Touchscreens have also become more reliable, economical and durable, so they can withstand the punishment they get at a show.” That is a great bonus for international shows, he says, given that the layout of computer keyboards tends to vary in different countries.

There are many opportunities available to today’s exhibition designer. While MDF still clings to its supremacy, there are many other products challenging it for a place on the stand. As long as materials manufacturers are prepared to fireproof and certify their wares, then stands should continue to offer innovation and excitement.

National Venue Show

The National Venue Show runs from September 11th to13th at the NEC, Birmingham. This new event showcases 300 exhibitors that, thanks to unexpected demand, is 100 more than originally planned. Waypoint Exhibitions marketing director of organisers Stephen Richards says: ‘The exhibitors’ enthusiasm has been reinforced by visitor pre-registrations, which stand at over 6,000.’

As well as conference and event centres, hotel groups, destination bureaux, corporate hospitality and event organisers, the show includes an activity zone. Here visitors can experience simulations such as clay-pigeon shooting, archery and fly-casting, sponsored by exhibitor ‘Day in the Country’; see demonstrations of musical motivational events from Catalyst Events; and complete mind and puzzle games run by Elegant Days.

There is a careers pavilion, sponsored by ESP, that offers professional CV appraisal, advice on interview technique and careers advice. The company is also presenting its events industry salary survey.

The show runs alongside the National Incentive Show featuring business gifts, incentive vouchers, loyalty schemes, premiums and promotional goods and services; and Total Marketing Solutions, offering a variety of agency services, CRM, database marketing solutions, market research, fulfilment and print.

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