Precast manufacturers take extra measures in securing their facilities.
By Bridget McCrea
It’s been four years since the physical security system was installed at Granby, Conn.-based Arrow Concrete Products Inc., and already the $70,000 investment has paid off handsomely. For starters, the 65-employee, three-location precast manufacturer has saved man-hours that would have been spent manually monitoring its facilities and yard. The company has also caught and apprehended at least one burglar with the system, used it for training on the shop floor, and received an insurance discount as a result of the investment.
“The benefits extend beyond the fact that our facilities are more secure as a result of our monitoring system,” says Kurt Burkhart, company president. The system was installed in the firm’s Granby plant in 2004 as a way to stop break-ins and pilfering while also boosting production and establishing a chain of evidence for possible workers’ compensation claims and accidents.
“We looked at what manufacturers outside of the precast industry were using and picked a local supplier who we were comfortable with,” says Burkhart. The system, which includes a complex network of cameras that pan the firm’s yard and plant, was installed and set up by the vendor. It can be monitored from any computer on the company’s premises or off site through the Internet and a password-protected Web site. “I can be traveling out in California,” says Burkhart, “and see what’s going on in the plant.”
Filling a need
Bulky, heavy precast concrete structures aren’t typically considered the type of products that need a lot of layers of security to protect, but what goes on behind the scenes at the typical manufacturing plant – the design, operations and administration – can be vulnerable when proper security techniques aren’t employed. Add in the fact that accidents and work mishaps can be thwarted through effective monitoring and training, and the case for a solid security system at a precast plant becomes even more compelling.
“It’s not only about catching the ‘bad guy,’” says Jeff Shotlander, North American account manager for SWANN Security, a Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based manufacturer of security solutions. “Manufacturers need to look at what their risks are and at protecting their overall business.”
In other words, positioning cameras to watch for theft or vandalism – and then monitoring those recordings for any signs of wrongdoing – is one approach to security. But remember that you should also be keeping an eye on any liability issues that could surface. Let’s say an employee goes into the plant and begins working without the required hard hat or lacking the right type of footwear. “If someone gets injured as a result, and if a liability lawsuit is filed,” Shotlander hypothesizes, “having the observation camera equipment in place could limit the precaster’s liability by proving what actually happened.”
To get started, Shotlander says manufacturers need multiple cameras positioned strategically throughout their plants and yards. “Point them toward the most important areas that you want to be able to view,” he suggests, noting that the cameras themselves tend to be the least expensive aspect of the security system. “You’re better off having more than less.” Look for cameras that can be mounted outdoors and have infrared illuminators that allow them to take clear, viewable pictures during the day or night (preferably from up to 40 feet away).
Of course, cameras don’t do any good if the information recorded on them can’t be accessed and viewed quickly and from a convenient location. Thanks to technological advancements, manufacturers like Arrow Concrete are taking care of the task from desktops and laptops that are equipped with Internet access. Most cameras use digital video recorder (DVR) technology to store the recordings on hard drives that can be programmed to record in variable speeds (with the slowest taking up the most room, and vice versa).
The DVRs are flexible in that they can also kick into higher gear when certain triggers are detected, such as irregular motions in the yard at night or on the weekend. Most importantly, the DVRs can be monitored from any computer with Internet access using a password-protected Web portal. “You can watch what’s going on, and even go back and see what happened yesterday or the day before,” says Shotlander, “from any remote location.”
So how much can a precaster expect to shell out for a typical security system these days? According to Shotlander, most come in kits or “bundles” that manufacturers can set up and install themselves by running a few cables and hooking up the low-voltage equipment to a power source. The precaster who uses 16 cameras with a DVR can expect to pay as little as $2,500 for the system, with more complex, completely installed systems costing upwards of $10,000.
Filling them in
In return for the investment, manufacturers can expect not only to receive almost instant peace of mind (particularly if the firm didn’t previously have a monitoring system) and possible price breaks on its property and liability insurance coverage, but also a new workplace training and monitoring tool.
“Just be sure to let employees know well in advance that they’re going to be monitored,” says Eric Barger, president at Kingston, Tenn.-based precast manufacturing firm C.R. Barger and Sons Inc. He quickly found out that his employees weren’t happy about the idea of being recorded. “When we installed our new security system in the plant a few years ago, everyone was mad,” recalls Barger, who has apprehended would-be robbers with the system and also used it for safety training. “We learned a valuable lesson on that one, namely to tell them what you’re doing before you put the cameras up.”
Barger also suggests checking with your state officials to make sure you follow the rules. Some states require that you place a notification in plain sight for your employees.
Burkhart says his employees were apprehensive at first about the new system, but adds that all were reminded that in most establishments today – be it a gas station, grocery store or drugstore – monitoring devices are in place. He even went so far as to show employees where they could essentially “hide” out of sight of the cameras, when necessary. “We just wanted to be realistic with them,” he says, laughing, “but today I don’t think any of our workers even give a second thought to the fact that they’re on camera.”
On the level
The good news is that most security systems today are fairly straightforward and flexible, allowing precasters to make the most use of them without too much extra work or training. “Most of them utilize Windows applications, which makes them very consistent with the work you’re doing on the computer every day (with programs like Outlook, for example),” says Thomas Keller, vice president at security consultancy TEECOM Design Group in Oakland, Calif.
The systems are also integrated, says Keller. In other words, your intrusion alerts, motion detectors and regular day-to-day monitoring can be viewed through a single platform with the click of the computer mouse, rather than having to access various programs to get the necessary information.
To precasters looking to install a new – or upgrade an existing – security system, Burkhart says “now is the time to do it.” After all, he points out, manufacturers in nearly all other industries are taking the steps necessary to protect their assets, operations and employees while reaping some of the added benefits (insurance savings, safety tools, etc.) in the process – and usually for an affordable investment that pays off quickly.
“Look around at other industries and you’ll see that most companies are using camera-based, monitored systems on all of their production lines and in their operations,” says Burkhart. “It’s definitely time for the precast industry to step up and do the same.”
Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers manufacturing, industry and technology. She is the winner of the 2007 Florida Magazine Association’s Gold Award for best trade/technical feature statewide.