If you’re speeding down the interstate highway, you won’t want to see these in your rearview mirror. But if you’ve phoned for help when your car breaks down on a lonely stretch of road, you’ll welcome the sight. Either way, the flashing lights a top police cars, tow trucks, ambulances, fire engines and other emergency-response vehicles are an unmistakable sign that you’re not alone out there.
What most people don’t know about these vehicular light systems is that each is configured to meet the exacting specifications of the purchaser, which is often a government entity or a business that must comply with government regulations for its equipment. That factor makes the emergency-light industry one that calls on a combination of design proficiency and technical expertise to make highly visible products.
Light bars, beacons and flashers for use on police cars are among the many safety-related products designed and manufactured by Code 3,(r) Inc. for installation on vehicles used by emergency-response and industrial businesses around the world. Divisions of the company include:
nCode 3, makers of a wide variety of lighting and sound-based warning systems and accessories designed and manufactured to meet the high standards of police, fire, EMS, wrecker and other emergency-response vehicles; nPSE Amber(tm), a recognized leader in providing amber lights and sound-based systems for vehicles used by departments of utility, departments of transportation, repair and maintenance fleets, materials handling and other industrial concerns.
Vice President of Sales Kelly Kyriakos refers to the requirements of the purchasing processes for safety light and sound systems when he describes the company’s capabilities. “We are one of the leading manufacturers of warning lights for emergency-response vehicles. We do a lot of custom work, and we configure lights for domestic and/or international specifications. In the bidding process, we try to get in early through one of our distributors or directly so we can work with the customer on the performance specifications.”
The manufacturer’s ability to develop custom solutions for the unique lighting and sound needs on service vehicles has produced a series of landmark products. Code 3 introduced the first two-level light bar (MX 7000(tm)(r)), the first integrated directional lighting system (ArrowStik(r)), halogen lighting that creates two full-strength light signals from a single light source (D-Tech(tm)(r)) and optical technologies that provide super-bright, high-visibility signals when viewed either straight on or off angle (LED X(tm) and Code 3(r) Optix(tm)).
At First Light
“We started out as a company that said, ‘Tell us what you want, and we’ll make it for you,'” says Kyriakos. “This company was founded in 1974 by two entrepreneurial engineers who were convinced they could design better lighting for the public safety market. Then, they started manufacturing products to compete in the market by making light bars that no one else was making. Their designs were more aerodynamic and had a lower profile. Now we make lights for any type of vehicle that has emergency lighting needs.” The original manufacturing company, Public Safety Equipment, Inc. (PSE) evolved into the holding company that owns Code 3, Inc.
Kyriakos says that it was about a year later that Code 3, Inc. introduced a product that changed not only the business, but also the industry. “We introduced the MX 7000 brand of light bar, which was revolutionary for its feature set – intersection protector lights, a different size and shape, traffic and direction lights – all in one. This light bar can be made in 2,000 different configurations. It made us a major competitor.”
The company continued to expand its product line and introduce innovative technology in the ensuing years. Then, in 1991, the PSE Amber division was created by splitting off warning-light products from Code 3 emergency-response products. The model names are indicative of their products’ functions: Code 3 in police parlance means responding with lights and sirens; amber color is universally used to signal possible danger.
A purchase by the holding company in 1995 added a related company to its safety-focused business. Kustom Signals, Inc. in Lenexa, Kan., manufactures radar and laser speed-detection and in-car video surveillance equipment that is marketed to the law enforcement market. Britax International Ltd., a global manufacturer and marketer of specialty automotive, aircraft carrier interiors and childcare safety systems, purchased PSE in 1998.
Code 3, Inc. markets and services its products through a global network of distributors that has approximately 1,000 representatives for each of its two product lines. The array of Code 3 products offers customers an extensive line of light bars, flashers, sirens and speakers that are available in standard and customized configurations. PSE Amber’s roster includes light bars, LED, strobe and halogen beacons, interior package lighting, back-up alarms, and spotlights. Kyriakos identifies the three top sellers as rotation light bars, LED light bars and LED directional lights.
The corporation operates two facilities in Missouri that serve both of its divisions. The headquarters site in St. Louis encompasses an 89,000-square-foot building that also houses the final product-assembly functions.
Kyriakos says the biggest challenge in manufacturing safety lights and related equipment is the speed to market that is generated by market demands and compounded by the nature of the manufacturing process. “Assembly is labor-intensive work, and less than 20 percent of production is automated. We just put in our first automated assembly line, and that is working well. And, I think the organization of our manufacturing operations is impressive. We use demand flow technology (DFT) for work in progress. In addition, lean manufacturing techniques have enabled us to cut costs, further improve quality and increase our speed to market.”
Volume orders, custom orders, technological advances and the differences in specifications for the international markets that make up 25 percent of Code 3 Inc.’s sales are additional manufacturing challenges named by the marketer. He says continuous operations improvements are necessary to stay competitive. “We have been ISO 9001 certified since 1995. This process helped us look at our operations and find ways to make them better.”
“In five years we want to be the number one or number two player in all the markets where we compete,” he says. “The drivers for our growth will be product innovation, production development and our speed to market.”