SIA Member Spotlight: Cleveland Electric Labs Readies Perimeter Security Breakthrough

Executives from Cleveland Electric Labs visited SIA headquarters recently.

by Mickey McCarter, Manager of Communications in SIA Membership

Cleveland Electric Labs, a new member of the Security Industry Association (SIA), is on the verge of introducing an innovative new perimeter security product to the commercial security marketplace.
In a visit to SIA headquarters recently, Cleveland Electric Labs executives, including President Jack Allan Lieske and Vice President of Advanced Technologies Rodger Shepherd, described how their company assessed current perimeter security sensors and found them lacking. Many customers of existing solutions report unacceptably high rates of false alarms, the executives said.
1But eventually Cleveland Electric Labs was able to deploy its fiber optic sensor tech in a truly exciting solution.
“We immediately knew we could not try to follow anything like that same architecture,” Shepherd told SIA. “So we worked very hard to develop completely different architectures that would give us different signatures.”
The first method Cleveland Electric Labs began exploring was direct-buried fiber optic cable. The limitations of that approach became evident quickly, said Shepherd, as varying soil types and conditions affect the reliability of sensor readings. Soft soil makes it easy to detect footprints over the fiber optics while hard ground makes it difficult. Cleveland Electric Labs shifted its focus away from that effort, although the company continues to explore options.
The second method the company assessed was fence-mounted tech. Cleveland Electric Labs discovered it could make a breakthrough using this model. Without going into detail, Shepherd said the company’s engineers were able to measure movement through their fence-mounted fiber optics in a way that would avoid false alarms such as strong wind blowing on birds landing on the fence.
Soon, Cleveland Electric Labs will unveil its first customer for its fence-mounted perimeter security solution. That same customer also purchased a buried fiber solution for detection of whether an intruder attempts to dig under a fence, a problem much easier to solve than detection of footprints across various grades and conditions of ground soil.
Cleveland Electric Labs, a 97-year-old company headquartered in Ohio, traditionally was involved in industrial temperature control sensor manufacturing, Lieske said. It provided sensors to longtime clients like Honeywell and Northrop Grumman among others. Eventually, Cleveland Electric Labs sold off some of its other legacy business and focused solely on sensors.
More than a decade ago, Cleveland Electric Labs acquired a partner in Phoenix, Arizona, and deepened its focus on small sensors and fiber optics. The acquisition of the Arizona company led to building a site at a University of Arizona research park in Tempe, Arizona. In the Tempe facility, the company built out its perimeter security business, employing about 40 people in that location to develop products, build them and as necessary install them. (Cleveland Electric is ready to work with integrators as well as complete installations itself.)
With its perimeter security solution nearly complete, Shepherd voiced confidence that Cleveland Electric Labs would be able to discern locations of intruders much more precisely than other products. With the completion of software development for the fence-mounted solution, Cleveland Electric Labs will start widely marketing the security package. The package will consist of a mid-range price product that will deliver exact location to clients, Shepherd said.
“We see a gap in what is available right now,” he added. Many perimeter security clients have turned off their solutions to cut down on false alarms.
That could eventually lead to disaster at critical hubs like airports. In the case of U.S. airports, the 31 highest volume airports have experienced more than 250 intrusion attempts since 2011, whether trespassers were attempting to cut through, drive through or climb over perimeter fencing.
“We are not taking any product to market that is going to be susceptible to the same problems as existing platforms,” Shepherd vowed.
Topics: |

Crain’s Business Magazine – With success in one new market, Cleveland Electric Labs eyes another

The Twinsburg company, best known for making thermocouples — a fairly low-tech item to measure temperature but one that is used in countless industrial applications now hopes it can sell high-tech sensors to monitor pipelines and national infrastructure.

Jack_LieskeThat might sound like a stretch, and it might be one for most companies. But CEL has been down this road before. The company previously set its sights on supplying fiber optic sensors to monitor the soundness of the nation’s bridges and other transportation structures. That was not long after the I-35 Mississippi River bridge in Minnesota collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people.
Thermocouples remain the company’s biggest source of revenue, but installing sensor systems to monitor bridges has become a significant business for the company. CEL owner Jack Allan Lieske said the private company does not break down its financial results for public consumption, but its annual revenue is about $35 million a year.

CEL got into fiber optic technology when it purchased an Arizona company with which it had been partnering on projects. The six-person operation was known then as Instrumentation Specialties Inc. Now, a dozen years later, the Arizona operation has more than 30 employees and functions as CEL’s Advanced Technology Group — and its source of fiber optics expertise. It is run by former Instrumentation Specialties president Rodger Shepherd.

“One of the first areas where we started using this (fiber optics technology) was in bridge monitoring, and now we have some very sophisticated systems in place around the U.S. and Mexico,” said Shepherd, now a vice president at CEL.

For example, the company recently installed a fiber optic monitoring system on the Indian River Bridge in Delaware, a system that includes about 175 sensors and cost roughly $1 million, Lieske said.

Now, the company is installing a similar system on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.

“We’re starting on the (Manhattan) side and we should get over to Brooklyn in about four to five years.” Lieske said, explaining that the sensor work is following other bridge renovations as they progress from one side to the other.

CEL will continue to pursue new work on bridges and other infrastructure, but it is also continuing to expand its product line and the markets it serves, Lieske said.

That includes monitoring systems for underground infrastructure in cities around the nation, too, Shepherd said. The company has developed sensors that can constantly monitor underground environments and alert city officials if any unauthorized access takes place. That’s important, in part, because cities more than ever need to protect underground copper wiring from thieves, as well as secure phone, data, sewer and water lines.
Now the company hopes the oil and gas industry will be its next big market. CEL has developed a system that uses electronic components and fiber optic communication lines to monitor pipelines, compressor stations and the internal pipes and plumbing of natural gas processing centers and oil refineries.

“It’s basically a microphone, and we’re listening to the flow of material through the pipeline. Anything flowing makes a certain sound,” Shepherd said.

The system can tell by changes in the frequency or amplitude whether anything has disturbed the pipeline, or if a leak has developed, Shepherd said. Soon, he hopes, it will be good enough to tell pipeline operators the volume of gas or oil flowing through the line at any given time.

Currently, oil and gas companies monitor their in-use pipelines largely via aerial observation. That process has become cheaper and easier to implement in recent years, thanks to drones, but it still only provides a snapshot of the pipeline’s condition.

Shepherd and Lieske said a chief advantage of their system is that it provides constant, real-time information.

What they don’t yet know is how many microphones the system needs or, more specifically, how far they can be spaced apart. That will determine the cost of the system, and the company’s test facility in Arizona does not allow for long stretches of pipeline to be installed and tested.

CEL is looking for a company in the oil and gas industry to work with to test the system on longer runs. So far, it has found no takers, though officials just started looking, Lieske said.

The company hopes its new fiber optics products do well because its infrastructure and pipeline monitoring systems bring in higher margins than its thermocouples. It also hopes that these new markets prove to be faster growing than the steel, glass and other old-line industries that are its biggest customers for thermocouples.

Recently, things might have turned a bit in CEL’s favor, too.

President-elect Donald Trump has promised to both increase infrastructure spending and to be more friendly to oil and gas development in the U.S. If he follows through, that could mean more investment in pipelines and infrastructure.

Virtually all of the nation’s bridges could benefit from structural monitoring, and some of them desperately need it, Lieske said.

“This could be a huge industry nationally. Imagine if the country did a couple hundred bridges every month,” Lieske said.

But the tailwinds are also far from reliable.

Though investments in drilling and pipeline construction have increased somewhat in recent months, low prices for oil and gas are still depressing activity and environmental concerns have slowed some pipeline projects.

But just developing its new products has given CEL a head start in some new markets, along with eight patents on its new technologies.

“We don’t have competitors in a lot of these new markets, and we have new patented products that we never thought we’d have,” Lieske said.

Topics: |