American Signal sounds the alarm

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:41 pm

People who live or work in Milwaukee County have heard American Signal Corp.’s noisy products during weather emergencies since the early 1980s.  American Signal makes mechanical and electronic sirens, along with controlling mechanisms that coordinate signals among multiple sirens. Many municipalities, military bases and nuclear power plants use the sirens to warn of weather emergencies, signal drills or other gathering times and potential nuclear accidents.

American Signal’s portfolio of fiberglass sirens includes the T135, the loudest AC-DC mechanical siren in the world. Introduced last year, the T135 is audible across a two-mile radius that covers a 10 square mile area.

Most customers that have bought the mechanical sirens are municipalities that use them to warn for tornados and other severe weather, said Chris Roller, sales manager at American Signal.

Milwaukee County’s system is similar to many of the others that American Signal has sold in recent decades, Roller said. A difficulty for the company is that the systems perform almost too well, he said, meaning that they don’t need replacement after they’ve been in place for decades.

While American Signal isn’t selling many replacement systems, it does extensive upgrading and backup power installation work, Roller said.

American Signal also makes electronic sirens, which are capable of broadcasting alert signals as well as vocal warnings, Roller said. Most customers that buy electronic sirens are military bases and nuclear power plants, where the sirens work like a network of oversized speakers. Electronic sirens can also broadcast music, and military bases use them to play bugle calls, including reveille, taps and other calls, as well as emergency notifications.

American Signal also makes a wide range of electronic controls that coordinate signals and messages through a network of sirens and speakers.

“In the Midwest and the tornado belt, we have a bunch of systems in place,” said David Bingenheimer, general manager of the company. “And with the sprawl in places that used to be farm fields that are now populated, there’s a lot of potential for first systems.”

Foreign interests

While its history so far has been tied to domestic projects, American Signal is projecting future growth from foreign sales.

Many of those sales will come from Southeast Asia and other countries devastated by the December 2004 tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people.

Dale Moeller, president, chief executive officer and owner of the company, was watching television coverage of the event. The images of suffering he saw motivated him to develop an alert system that could work in countries like Thailand and Indonesia, where large populations live in Third World conditions.

“This impacted him so much that he wanted to do something and create something so that this wouldn’t happen again,” Roller said.

American Signal’s first tsunami warning system was sold to Thailand earlier this year. The company has installed about 20 percent of a 1,000-speaker system there and hopes to resume work later this year, Roller said.

The speakers and controllers within the tsunami warning system are powered by a battery that is recharged by solar cells. Signals are received via a satellite communications system similar to a cell phone, Roller said, and the system can broadcast up to 20 different messages in five different languages, depending on the emergency.

Although the Thai warning system is the first of its kind in the world, Bingheimer said, American Signal has bid on several similar projects and hopes to begin work on them this year.

“There are a number of other nations that are trying to follow (Thailand),” he said. “They’ve taken the lead to do something and there are a number of other nations that are trying to follow them. There are a lot more projects in the (bidding) process. There’s a lot going on in the Indian Ocean.”

Domestic growth

American Signal has taken steps to grow domestic sales by joining the Respond Emergency Management Consortium (REMCON), a group of 18 companies that has developed an integrated system for emergency detection and management communications. REMCON’s product enables emergency signals to communicate with one system, including alerts to emergency sirens, FM and television broadcasts, calls to telephones and more.

Several of the systems have been installed at universities and colleges in Florida, and the REMCON group is bidding several more now, Bingenheimer said.

American Signal’s work to grow new markets and improve its prospects in the United States has already paid off.

The company had more than $5 million in sales in 2006, a 20 percent increase from 2005. Due to continued international demand, the company plans to double its sales again this year.

“2007 is going to be the year,” Bingenheimer said. “2005 put us back on the map. 2007 will be similar in magnitude. If you look at the volume of projects we see and the bids we have out compared to last year, they’re more than double.”

To match the sales increase, the company will also increase its workforce of 22 employees this year.

“In operations, we’ll be increasing by at least one-third,” he said.

Also, due to its increased sales, American Signal is out of space at its 26,000-square-foot facility at 4801 W. Woolworth Ave. on Milwaukee’s north side. The company is looking for a new location, which will likely be somewhere north of its current facility, Bingenheimer said.

The company hasn’t found a specific site, but it wants 30,000 to 35,000 square feet of space with at least 20-foot high ceilings for its manufacturing area.

The new space will also likely house the Milwaukee area division of ANS Services, a division of American Signal the company started in 2006. ANS Services was started in response of a need from a nuclear power plant in New Jersey that wanted to outsource its service and maintenance department. The division started with two service technicians in New Jersey, who also travel throughout the East Coast to other customers who have service contracts with the company.

Within the last month, ANS Services hired its first two employees in Wisconsin, Bingenheimer said. Those technicians will serve clients in the state and around the Midwest.

“I think we’ve tapped into a need,” he said.

 
American Signal Corp.

Address: 4801 W. Woolworth Ave., Milwaukee
Founded: 1942
Products: Mechanical and electronic warning sirens, controls and related equipment.
Revenue: $5 million in 2006, a 20 percent increase from 2005. Projected 100 percent increase for 2007.
Employees: 22
Web site: ww.americansignal.com

 

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