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Welcome to the only podcast for signaling.
Welcome to The Signal Source Podcast. The Signal Source is the leading independent distributor of hazardous location and explosion proof audible and visual signals for commercial, industrial and marine locations. As with the maiden voyage of this podcast, I want to introduce you to the star of the show, Rhett Day, President of The Signal Source. Rhett and his wife Laura have been in signaling most of their lives and just may be the most experienced signaling duo in the world.
Where it began
Rhett began working for Western Electric in 1969. While applying to work there, Rhett's aptitude test indicated he had potential as a candidate for their new electronics Central Office division. Bell Labs had just created their first electronic telephone switch. At that time, Western Electric manufactured all of Bell Labs telephonic communication equipment as well as installed them in all of Bell System central offices.
New York City central offices had at the time what they called, step switches or, mechanical switches which were failing with the amount of people in that metropolitan area.
Western Electric had a training school which was run by retired Navy Electronic engineers. Completion of the electronics school was Rhett's introduction to electronics. What perfect timing it was as New Your Tel was just initiating a major rebuild project to replace their step switches with the very first ESS #1 electronic switch. Rhett felt lucky to gain that experience so early in his career.
Rhett recalls the installation of the very first switch ESS#1 installation in Queens New York. The supervisor for the project, had been installing step switches his entire career. In electronics, there's earth ground and then there's a logic ground and they share similar symbols. The superviser insisted that they take the logic ground and tie it to the earth ground insisting the drawings we're incorrect. Rhett tried to explain, but what did he know, he'd only been there 3 months. 78 bays full of electronics had been installed. On the inauguration day to turn the next generation of telephone technology on, present were NY Tel's Regional President, Vice president and Regional Vice President of Western Electric. The dramatic moment came while Rhett was in the break room as he knew that switch was not going anywhere as it immediately crashed due to the logic and the earth grounds being common. For the next four days, 50 installers re-wired and insulated all of the bays. 10 days later the switch finally came online – but with a new supervisor an no dignitaries.
For Rhett, this experience with western Electric opened his eyes to the possibility of electronics.He liked how you could see how things work and how you could make them work. He found he loved troubleshooting, figuring out what's wrong and then finding a way of getting around it. Electronics offers that opportunity.
Troubleshooting Electronics Then and Now
Rhett estimates 30 percent of his customers have a vague idea of what they need and rely on his company, The Signal Source, to help determine the type of device that is needed.
The information customers supply initially can be pretty broad. Little by little information is drawn out about the application and installation and what the hazard is that they have to provide signaling devices for. Whether it be gas or dust, the division and class determined. Are the devices around ignitable gases and or dust all the time, frequently or sometimes? This helps determine what class of device is best suited for a specific environment.
Class one, division two categorizes devices that from time to time are exposed to combustible product and they're about half the cost of explosion proof class one division one devices. Class one / div one devices in the US are UL listed and require a hydrostatic pressure test. To satisfy this requirement requires most signals to be cast of copper free aluminum and heavy duty. Due to class 1 div 1 devices being constructed in this method and with high end expensive materials results in the large difference in the cost between a class one div one and class one div two signals and devices.
There's a lot of people that don't distinguish between hazardous location. They think it's the same as explosion proof when it very well could be either one. This is where Rhett shines as he draws that information out and provides the most suitably priced device without under-serving the need of the application.
From Brooklyn to Santa Cruz
When Rhett began working at Western Electric, he met installers from all over the country brought in to redo New York City with the new electronic switches. One installer owned an apartment building in Santa Cruz, California. He'd seen enough of the city, so he got in touch with a college roommate and said, "Hey, you wanna move to California?" His friend said yes, so Rhett sold his car, bought a station wagon and they packed everything they owned in it and headed to California in October of 1970.
Arriving in California, Rhett went to work for Western Electric in San Jose, where they were just starting to do electronic switches. After that he got a job at UC Santa Cruz when they were just opening up their electronics maintenance division. They had hundreds buildings with Gamewell Flex 1 fire alarm control panels and that's really where he entered the fire alarm world. He was there for six years, got exposed to energy management as well which was becoming a big thing at that time. Automating air handling units and heating systems remotely with a CPU computer based system. In 1980, having been consulting on the side for contractors installing energy management systems, Rhett decided to start a business.
A & R Systems: Rhett's first business.
In 1980, Rhett started A & R Systems. Rhett had a partner, Al Keller. With all the fire alarm systems they were installing on campus they had became good friends with the regional manager of Pyrotronics, a premier fire alarm line as it was known as back then – now Siemens. They secured a distributorship to supply Pyrotronics and within a couple of years they were getting more distributor relationships such as Edwards Signalling and Gamewell. After seven years, Rhett sold his equity in A & R Systems to his partner in 1987.
While Rhett was distributing Fire Alarm Systems he joined industry associations such as the California Automatic Fire Alarm Association, C.A.F.A.A., National Fire Protection Association, NFPA. Attending these associations meetings, Rhett met different manufacturing reps. One rep in particular, Mr. Haldon C. Light, worked for Federal Signal which was starting up a fire alarm division called the Commercial Product Group or CPG.
Having sold A & R, the CPG rep approached Rhett and asked if he'd consider becoming the manufacturers representative of the 13 western states. Rhett jumped at the chance. Having befriended a number of people in the life safety industry, Rhett was able to promote a product line while visiting the friends he made over those seven years, sounded like a great opportunity. And that's what Rhett did until 1994 when Federal Signal sold the CPG division to Harrington Signal. During those 7 years, Rhett had become responsible for 50% of CPG sales for that line. With the sale of CPG, Federal Signal made Rhett an Electrical Distributor, hence the birth of The Signal Source.
A big reason for The Signal Source's success was becoming friends with the National Sales Manager of the Federal Signal signalling group at the time, Mr. Joe Wilson. With Rhett's input, Joe initiated modifications to a number of the industrial signals to make them compatible for the fire alarm market. Together, Joe and Rhett developed current limited UL1971 Public Mode, and UL1638 Private mode.synchronized strobes for Class 1 div 1 explosion-proof environments, Class 1 div 2 hazardous areas.
When Rhett became an electrical distributor with his first line as Federal Signal he went on to pick up Edward Signaling, R. Stahl, Clifford and Snell, and E2S. E2S is a European safety systems manufacturer and a leader of hazardous location and explosion proof signaling in the fire alarm industry.
Rhett values his relationship with E2S because they take his input in developing products for the industry. Typically, industrial signaling manufacturers modify an industrial product to make it compatible with the fire alarm industry. E2S is developing signals exclusively for the fire alarm industry and has industrial models as well. He admires their deep penetration and dedication to the fire alarm signaling, and hazardous signaling market. Rhett regards it as a great opportunity to represent E2S products and to have a hand in influencing product development.
Rhett's Right-hand Woman
When Rhett became a Federal Signal distributor he gave his first order on the phone to his future wife and Signaling partner, Laura Day.
Rhett jokes that "she tried to blow me off actually. She transferred me to her boss [and says], "hey this guy wants to give me an order, can we take it?"
That was over 20 years ago and now Rhett describes her as a signaling superstar. He points out that when people call, she's not just taking calls, she has a good idea of what you're asking about and what you need.
Laura started as an expediter in the shipping department of Federal Signal in 1984 until moving into customer service in 1988. In 1997, Laura came to work with The Signal Source.
The Future of Signaling
There are very few people in the world that have the experience Rhett has in signaling.
But Rhett is quick to say there are a lot of young, smart talented people coming up in the industry and he has great hope for where it's headed.
He attributes his optimism to the love he has for the industry along with the camaraderie he's nurtured over the years and how well the his relationships help develop an understanding of the market. This experience guides Rhett to determine what products need to be developed for the Life Safety Industry and in what sequence.
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