Imago Creations, Whitewater, Colorado
Imago Creations was founded by Marc Coutu who worked 14 years at Universal Studios, 12 of these as the prop shop foreman. The company specializes in themed interiors. Imago Creations has traditionally used woodworking combined with the occasional foam shapes to complete a themed environment. These days Imago Creations is leaning more on foam craftsmanship to get from their customer’s imagination to a finished creation.
Before owning any CNC hot wire equipment, Imago Creations created a themed bar in Mesquite Nevada that looked like a big metallic nut from a bolt. The project was mostly wood with metallic finishes, but included about 3,000 linear feet of 12″ and 8″ “I” beams and posts. The cost of buying the precut and uncoated foam components was almost enough to pay for a CNC machine says Coutu.
On Imago Creation’s subsequent themed interior Coutu planned on the purchase of a CNC foam cutting machine, but he did not want to settle with mediocrity. Marc says this about one of his prior foam suppliers:
“When we started getting opportunities to do columns and archways we were having our buddies with a hot wire CNC machine do them, but I was really disappointed with the consistency and quality. We’d get parts back from them that were all mismatched and really inconsistent.”
This foam shape supplier used a CNC machine with a 4′ wire length so everything went together in little pieces. It also could not do independent axis cuts for tapered columns, and because of the posts on each of the four corners it was difficult to load and unload large blocks of foam.
The Right Equipment
Imago Creations was using the Hot Knife and the Hand Held Wand from Hotwire Direct for free hand sculpting. When they began looking for CNC foam cutting equipment they looked around at what was out there and they again chose Hotwire Direct. Coutu says:
“I knew what a hot wire cutter should be able to do and Hotwire Direct had the machine. I’ve designed and built equipment myself. But nothing as involved as a CNC machine. I look at this stuff and go-wow! It’s just very well engineered! And service is another huge issue for us; being able to call someone if we’re having a problem and get our questions answered. At this point we’re thrilled with the quality of the equipment and personal service that we’ve been getting. And we’re thrilled enough to be recommending your machinery to our competition who used to supply us. We are just thrilled!”
Ceiling Circle Moldings Over Table Games
The Learning Curve
Owning a CNC machine means using CAD/CAM software to operate it. At 56 years old, Coutu says halfway seriously:
“I was kind of holding out on learning how to use a computer until my next life. I was determined to be the last guy on the face of the planet that knew where the on/off switch was. But my wife had some previous experience, and I have a design background so when the Hotwire Direct installer showed up and started to show me the functions and how to draw with this thing, I started to pick it up fairly quickly. But as soon as he left I was forgetting steps in the process. My wife kind of had a handle on that so she’d come out and work with me a little bit. She’s actually done most of the design work in terms of the layout and cutting blanks (for the 3000 Shaper) out of the blocks. But I’m getting a handle on it. And my wife has called in a couple of times about a step in the process that we didn’t understand.”
Imago Creation’s first project after owning the 8700 CNC with attachments and 3000 Shaper was the Virgin River Casino in Mesquite, Nevada (1 hour northeast of Las Vegas). This job consisted primarily of interior ceiling moldings. Requiring over 2 miles of curved ceiling components in a 28,000 square ft casino area.
Coutu says: “We started this project the day the foam cutting machines were delivered. When the installer was here he helped us lay out the crown mold and we cut 1,600 linear feet of crown mold in about an hour.”
Ceiling Trim Moldings Over Casino Area
More Than Satisfaction
The Virgin River Casino project was 15% CNC work and 85% Shaper work because of all the circles and curvatures. Coutu says:
“We cut out all of our blanks on the 8700 CNC and then we ran all the stuff on the 3000 Shaper and man I couldn’t be happier!”
Now that the project has wrapped up, Coutu received some good news:
“I got a call from the owner of Tri Properties and he owns the three big casinos in Mesquite. He called me personally today and said he’s just elated. As far as he’s concerned, our work was comparable with anything he’s seen in Vegas. So you know that’s good!”
Changes To The Business
Looking at the changes to his business since purchasing the hot wire equipment, he says:
“It’s kind of like comparing apples and oranges. What we were doing before was stuff that a lot of other shops could do, but they couldn’t do it as well. What’s happening now is our business is completely transforming from a themed woodworking shop to basically a themed foam working shop because the profit margin is so much higher in foam. I could see us in the next year not doing any woodwork. This puts us in a position where we can do more creative stuff on a production level. And that’s huge for us.”
Ceiling Fan Circle Trim
High Return On Investment
Despite an initial reluctance, the investment has been excellent for Imago Creations, Coutu explains:
“When I was talking with the Hotwire Direct salesman I was a little reluctant to get the shaper because I was visualizing we were going to be able to do most of everything we had to do with the hot knife and rigid wire attachment. He said: “No, no, for the amount of stuff you got to do you really need to think about getting the shaper.” And man, I’ll tell you that thing paid for itself in the first day. I’d say all this equipment paid for itself in the first 3 – 4 weeks maybe tops.”