Intrusion Detection for Aluminum Protection

The buying and selling of metal scrap has been in practice since ancient times and today has become a multi-billion-dollar business. Machinery outlets, manufacturers, the government and various industries contribute to the collection of metal scraps. Metal scrap includes various forms of aluminum, including cans, used pipe, automobiles, appliances, sheet metal buildings, pots, computer components, pans, bicycles, lawn furniture, copper wire, obsolete equipment, old structural steel building frames, tin cans, and so on.

The metal scrap business might not sound glamorous, but many a fortune has been built around this premise, which is why it has become such a hot target for many thieves around the country.

The problem of metal theft is ever-present, but it has boomed in recent years. In fact, legislation has been introduced or been passed in many states as a preventative measure to combat this growing problem.

Thieves increasingly turn to stealing copper wire, aluminum or metal piping to trade for an easy dollar. Desperate to take advantage of higher metal prices, they are now even dressing as construction workers to steal wire from power lines or streetlights. Stolen metal is also difficult, if not impossible, to track, making it an even more appealing prospect to thieves.

According to law enforcement authorities, metal theft has become increasingly more expensive the past few years as thieves have started targeting public utilities and private businesses for loads of copper, brass, or aluminum, costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. The problem now extends well beyond just the metal buyer or seller; it reaches everyday people like you and me.

Aluma's Challenge

Founded in 1964 as a Chicago insulation contractor, Aluma's Brand Energy and Infrastructure Services (Aluma) is a provider of specialty multi-craft services to the North American downstream energy infrastructure market. Its portfolio of service offerings includes work access, specialty coatings, abrasive blasting, insulation, refractory, corrosion protection, weatherproofing and other related crafts. Aluma operates in four key energy sectors: refining, Canadian oil sands, petrochemical and power generation. The company also serves the infrastructure construction markets throughout North America and in strategic international regions.

In conjunction with its services offering, Aluma maintains a six-acre open yard facility for warehousing the raw, high-priced aluminum and stainless steel it uses for construction projects. Because the storage facility is out in the open, it is easy prey for thieves to steal the expensive metal during the night. Thieves would break in through the perimeter fences and steal thousands of dollars of metal for scrap. After weeks of seeing an increase in theft, the company decided it was time to take some action.

At first, Aluma officials thought physical security was the best solution, so it hired a security guard for night and weekend patrols. The problem with this approach is that it was costly. Aluma found it was spending $10,000 a month - a direct hit against its profits - and at a time when the economy was down. At this pace of expense, the company quickly realized it needed a different, more cost-effective solution, but one that would still be as effective.

Aluma called on Homeland Security Group (HSG), the security division of Easter's Security Solutions, to come up with a solution. HSG met with Aluma officials and determined that putting in a video camera surveillance system with a central station would be a good solution to its problem. It would serve as the "eyes and ears" for the company, much as an on-premise security guard would, but at a fraction of the cost.

After installing the initial surveillance system, an unforeseen problem occurred - false alarms. The camera's video analytics feature had a high incidence of false alarms in the outdoor environment. If the wind blew or if it rained, alarms would go off and a reporting party would be dispatched to investigate, which cost time and additional expense. HSG needed to protect the premises with a solution that could withstand a challenging outdoor environment.

HSG surveyed the situation. These were large pieces of commercial building-grade aluminum and stainless steel. These were not mere pipes and small sheets of metal. Therefore, the thieves needed a vehicle to transport them away. Each piece could run as much as $2,500 and were quite large.

In order to enter and leave the outdoor storage facility, the thieves would have to enter one of the three driveways going into and out of the facility. What they needed, HSG determined, was a robust transmitter that could be placed by each driveway that would connect back to the central control station.

Having worked with Inovonics for more than 10 years, HSG knew that it was a fitting solution to Aluma's problems. The company's wireless security products can connect to almost any security system and offer direct interfaces with many industry-leading control panels. Plus, with the availability of add-on and serial receivers, Aluma would have flexible connectivity options.

Inovonics' intrusion detection devices transmit alarms when sensing unauthorized entry or activity. It also manufactures universal transmitters that detect open windows or doors, motion detectors to warn of intruders and glass-break detectors that indicate a broken window, door, or display case.

HSG installed an outdoor PIR or motion detector on each of the three driveways and strategically throughout the yard. Inovonics-powered field sensors were used to activate the cameras reporting to a central station. This was accomplished by combining outdoor motion detectors with universal transmitters. Motion sensing events activate the universal transmitters. The Inovonics receiver then activates video cameras only when motion is detected.

In all, HSG installed the EN1210 Universal transmitters; the EN4204R four-zone add-on receivers with relay outputs for managing and monitoring the EchoStream network; and the EN5040-T High power repeater with transformer, which amplifies transmissions from any of its EchoStream transmitting devices while ignoring background noise.

Documentable ROI

The cameras, combined with the Inovonics solution, eliminated the problem of the false alarms. Aluma had a reliable solution that could protect against thieves entering and stealing its metal assets.

Besides solving the false alarm incidence rate, this wireless configuration realized three other benefits. Video storage capability was increased, network traffic was reduced and the yard had the flexibility to move battery-powered detectors to adjust coverage depending on changing needs.

In less than two months, Aluma had recouped the cost of hiring the physical security guard. Plus, it no longer experienced any theft, protected its assets, eliminated loss prevention and was able to reallocate the $10,000 monthly out-of-pocket costs for the security guard back into its bottom line. That's $120,000 annually, which was a big impact to its profitability.

Aluma is looking at other ways to deploy the wireless solutions. Recently, it added security pendants to the cleaning crew who comes in on Saturdays so they could easily arm and disarm the sensors without causing any alarms to go off.

In addition, Aluma now has the flexibility of adding more motion detectors, transmitters and receivers easily and without much additional cost. They can move the existing devices wherever they are needed if they should reconfigure the layout of their storage yard.