By Jill C. Lafferty
Patrick Hayes had spent years working in the marching band market when he saw both his future and the future of exhibits: using the very products he was selling—banners and flagpoles—to create exhibits for trade shows.
But the fabric printing industry had a way to go to realize this vision. When Hayes founded Fabric Images Inc. in Elgin, Ill., in 1992, the company was forced to make do with what Hayes jokingly refers to as “the dead end of all technologies”: the electrostatic printer. “But at the same time it was the only thing that was halfway decent to give us what we wanted to take us in the direction we were going to go,” he says.
That direction was custom printing of tensioned fabric structures. Hayes, who serves on the board of the Industrial Fabrics Association International, knew the fledgling company needed the capability to do dye sublimation printing on 120-inch fabric, and by 2000 he was able to convince a printer manufacturer as well.
Of course, the subsequent evolution of the industry is history. But even though the technology may have caught up to the vision, Hayes and Fabric Images aren’t about to slow down and get comfortable. In February, the company launched Fabric Images Internacional in Mexico City to target the growing Mexican trade show industry. Textiles are still printed in Elgin, but then they are shipped to the new 1,800-square-foot facility for sewing. Hayes also says the new operation will help Fabric Images, which focuses on short-run, custom jobs, to provide more high-volume services. “We can offer a bunch of benefits to our customers, meaning quick turnaround and custom applications of high-volume type products,” he says. In exhibit design, Fabric Images is focusing on extrasensory structures: textile-based exhibits designed to stir multiple senses through the use of polydimensional textiles, lighting, electronics, video, and even scents. The company also recently added an in-house powder-coating operation to enhance the aluminum tubing in its structures. The tubing becomes a part of the design as opposed to just the skeleton that holds the design together.
“We have created layer effects, we’ve created all kinds of really neat powder coating finishes because we want to add more sensory perception to the structures we are building,” Hayes says.