Wrapping Oil Rigs

A Texas sign shop is wrapping the big rigs ­ and we don’t mean trucks. Discover the ins and outs of wrapping in an oil field.

Oil rigs present unique challenges for vinyl installers ­ in more ways than one. Find out what you need to know before pursuing this type of business.

You’ve probably heard it said that in Texas “everything is bigger.” Perhaps you’ve even seen those giant-sized fly swatters in the novelty stores that aim to drive home the point.

The truth is the flies aren’t really any bigger. But one thing’s for sure: There are some mega wrapping opportunities in states like Texas, where the oil industry is a vital part of the economy.

Virginia King, owner of Fast Signs of El Paso, Texas, is taking advantage of those opportunities. The sign shop landed Western Refining for a client. Western Refining is an independent refinery and marketing company headquartered in El Paso. Western has a refinery in El Paso, two in the Four Corners region of northern New Mexico, and one in Yorktown, Va.

Fast Signs of El Paso applies vinyl lettering and massive Western Refining logos ­ some 25 to 30 feet long by seven feet high ­ to oil storage tanks at its various refineries. Beyond having to use a lift to reach the areas of the tank that need vinyl application, King and her team also have to jump through a myriad of hoops to stick this material on oil storage tanks, making this one of the most unique megawrap stories out there.

Before the job begins
As with any type of vinyl installation, King warns, you have to be careful to take good measurements and be exacting in cutting the vinyl to those measurements. But this is even truer with oil storage tank applications because the vinyl panels are so large, that a miscalculation could be extremely costly for your sign shop.

“You can see these graphics from miles and miles away. These are huge installations,” King says. “So you have to measure and measure and measure before you apply the vinyl to make sure you get it right.”

That’s just one unique challenge. Another is less technical and more practical: the dress code. Because the work is done on an actual oil refinery, King’s team has to wear fire-retardant suits, healed shoes and hard hats. That makes for hot work in the El Paso sun, especially in the summertime. “You have to know what you are doing, and be dressed for the occasion, too,” King laughs.

King and her team also have to undergo safety training. “We have to follow safety procedures to a tee,” she explains. “That takes all morning. They also do background checks on you. You also have to learn about the different meanings when they blow whistles. It’s pretty in-depth safety training, and every refinery is a little different.”

Making the oil tanks vinyl-ready
Much like any other type of vinyl application, the substrate must be prepared. But with oil storage tanks, it’s a little more difficult than with a vehicle or window glass. Specifically, Fast Signs requires Western Refining to freshly paint the tanks with an oil-based paint before they come to the job site.

“There’s something about the chemicals around a refinery,” King says. “If you don’t use oil-based paints, then it gets powdery and nothing will stick to it. That’s one major difference. Once the vinyl is on, it’s not a problem.”

But there’s one more step before King puts the vinyl on: her team cleans the oil tank like they would with any typical production area. With the substrate clean and dry, the team can move forward to apply the vinyl.

“You can only work on one section at a time,” King said. “We are talking about as many as eight panels that are very tall and very wide. So we install it in segments and match it up the image.”

Oil storage installation manpower
King takes a two- or three-person crew with her to install vinyl on oil storage tanks. You need one person on the ground and two on the lift. King’s best advice: prepare everything you need in the shop before you go out to the site.

“Create the vinyl panels as Panel 1, Panel 2, Panel 3 and so on, because once you are up in the air, It’s kind of hard to tell from the size of them which panel goes where,” King says. “Everything has to be marked before you go out, so you know where you start and what you do.”

Specifically, you need to know what order you are going to apply the vinyl. You can’t do the first panel and then the fourth panel. So they need to be arranged in a logical order so there is no confusion. “This kind of job demands someone who is extremely organized,” King says. “This can’t be a slap-dash job.”

Installing vinyl on oil storage tanks typically takes a day or a day and a half, if the weather is good. King’s team has enough experience at this point to complete one tank a day.

What about bubbles, wrinkles and weather?
Actually applying the vinyl is just the same as any other job. Just use your squeegee. With vehicle wraps, bubbles and wrinkles can ruin an otherwise lovely presentation. On oil storage tanks at a refinery, King says, who would ever see the bubbles and wrinkles?

You’d have to go up on a lift and inspect it at eye level. Still, that doesn’t mean her crew is careless about the installation.

“You don’t want it to bubble and wrinkle because that’s where you are going to have problems with adherence,” King says. “My guys have been installing vinyl so long, that we don’t usually have that problem. The bigger problem is the weather.”

If the wind is blowing, the installers can’t work. In New Mexico and Texas in particular, the wind blows sand and ruins the application. So a good weather day is a must at the oil refinery, where you can’t merely take the substrate indoors to apply the vinyl.

Vinyl applications on oil storage tanks have a long shelf life. King recently revisited the first application she did for Western Refinery back in 2003. After five years, it still looked as good as the day she installed it.

As seen on signindustry.com