Dog and cat owners across the United States remain on heightened alert about the food they dish up for their beloved companions.
For the past few years, news headlines have been saturated with stories about toxic animal food supplies and tearful anecdotes culled from the hundreds of pets that have been sickened or killed by contaminated food.
Diamond Pet Foods, which sells its products nationwide under several brand names, remains vigilant as well. Based in Meta, Mo., the company’s Web site proclaims the pet food products it manufactures undergo rigorous quality control standards, including 141 ingredient tests and 10 final product safety checks. Not listed among its customer promise of “151 Checks” is the company’s new mega-pixel camera system.
In June, Diamond — which has been at the epicenter of the contaminated pet food story — contracted with American Digital Security (ADS) of Liberty, Mo., to install a state-of-the-art IP-based video solution to strengthen its quality control initiatives, and bolster the security and safety of its facility and employees.
How the company came to choose the services of ADS is a testament to the superior images offered by mega-pixel cameras, and also how and the systems integrator is finding success in its effort to catch the Convergence Wave.
End User Makes Fortuitous Connection With Integrator
Luke Reinkemeyer, MIS director at Diamond Pet Foods, was researching new camera technologies online earlier this year. Arecont Vision, a provider of mega-pixel cameras headquartered in Southern California, piqued his interest. Unbeknownst to Reinkemeyer, making introductory contact with Arecont to learn more about its wares would precipitate his introduction to ADS.
ADS had an established relationship with Arecont, which immediately contacted the integrator to pass along the Reinkemeyer lead. Buddy Mason, who launched ADS in 2002, dispatched a sales rep post haste to conduct a demonstration for Reinkemeyer.
“Luke was blown away that we could come in with a laptop and a camera and show him what the power of the mega-pixel could do,” Mason says. “We are big on doing demonstrations on the premises so the customer can see what the pictures look like in their environment. Then we’ll burn a DVD so they can share it with other principals at the company.”
Diamond Pet Foods sought to deploy a high-resolution video system to, in part, visually inspect the vast amounts of raw ingredients arriving daily in big rig trucks at its processing facility. The intent was to enhance the company’s concerted efforts to safeguard its well-known food brands, and to continue working toward a business imperative: instill confidence in its customers that its pet foods were healthful and worthy to be trusted.
This is no small notion for Diamond. The company has suffered a series of public relations blows after being enmeshed in nationwide pet food recalls and fatal food poisoning episodes during the past few years.
High-resolution images became an integral part of Diamond’s quality control plans.
“The goal is to use the cameras to see the product, to get a good visual on how it looks — the texture, the color, the conditions of the ingredients before they are ever off-loaded,” Reinkemeyer explains.
The ADS demonstration confirmed Reinkemeyer’s research; only a mega-pixel camera would be able to deliver the superior images necessary to suffice Diamond Pet Foods’ requirements. The project never made it to bid and by early June ADS commenced the installation of a 16-camera solution supported by its own IP-based network.
Need for High-Resolution Images Dictated an IP Installation
The first order of business for ADS was to walk the outdoor facility with the client to find out what types of images they wanted to achieve and best determine camera location.
With an existing utility room conveniently located onsite, a three-man crew set out to pull cable from the head-end to the camera locations. The task was made considerably more convenient given the facility’s compact size; no cable run eclipsed 300 feet for any of the 16 cameras. This allowed the solution to be equipped with a single 24-port switch. Once the cabling was in place, the installation team began terminating the switch.
“Back at the head-end we were putting the server in, putting the switch in the rack. From the server you pigtail into the switch in one of the inputs so you can see what the switch is seeing. From the switch we go out to every one of the cameras,” Mason says. “Then they started popping cameras up because everything was in place. That is literally it.”
Twelve cameras are mounted outdoors at about 25 feet high in order to peer down into the open truck ingredient containers, plus keep watch on the facility’s sprawling parking lot and other general security surveillance. Four indoor cameras also aid in quality control measures and make video available to review for other purposes.
As trucks drive onto weight scales upon arrival, Diamond monitoring personnel watch on as an industrial robotic arm retrieves ingredient samples from each truck for further scrutinizing. So what benefits did mega-pixel cameras offer that analog or lower resolution digital could not perform?
“The ultimate problem with using analog outdoors was the overall distance we had to cover and the necessary resolution,” Mason says. “We knew we could not achieve what Diamond was looking for with standard analog cameras.”
To achieve with analog what Diamond required, Mason says the installation would have likely called for nearly 60 cameras to replace what is provided by 16 mega-pixel devices. The high-resolution images allow for “digital pan/tilt/zoom” of a single captured view, Mason says. Diamond now has the ability to take an overview shot of the truck scales or elsewhere and tightly zoom into different parts of the image.
“You have so much more picture and so much more distance you can shoot. So now you can start zooming in on little areas of a shot,” Mason says. “Zoom in on the entry door. Or zoom in on the side of the truck to read what truck number it is. You can zoom in on the license plate. You can do all that with one camera and save it as a view.”
Reinkemeyer, who has long managed the company’s analog video solution at its headquarters located across the street from the manufacturing facility, is duly impressed. “Comparing the analog installation to the IP installation and being able to get this type of quality out of it was a bonus by all means for Diamond,” he says.
Proactive Integrator Recognizes Inexorable Shift in Marketplace
A closer look at the networked installation at Diamond provides a keen example of how a traditional physical security company is successfully making the leap to providing IP-based systems.
“I told my company we have to get into the IP world as fast as we can. We have 16 employees so we are fortunate enough to be able to move on a dime,” Mason says. “The mega-pixel camera has allowed my company to go get clients that normally would not look at us.”
ADS in the past year has doggedly researched software and cameras and other networking equipment it is comfortable offering to potential clients. Its technicians have long networked DVRs and that provided a solid foundation to move forward into pure IP plays.
“As a company we try to use our own server base and keep it separate with our own switches,” Mason says. “We find it is just as simple to go in and do a server-based system, run our Cat-5 cabling out to the camera, bring that into our switch, and keep it as a separate network. At the end of the day, they are treating it like they did in the DVR world.”
ADS has gone so far as to have a unique cable manufactured for its IP installations. “It is a Siamese cable, Cat-5 with 18/2 power cable all in one. We had that made with our company name on it.”
The ADS cable provides power over Ethernet (PoE) voltage and external power. “We chose as a company to put in an infrastructure that still allows for us to power that camera separately so at any given time we can plug a laptop in and be able to dial that camera in even if the PoE is unplugged.”
During its research preparing for the new frontier, ADS elected to employ exacqVision client/server software for its IP systems. Engineered by Indianapolis-based Exacq Technologies, the platform provides a common user interface for video surveillance that appealed to Mason.
“They bring me a decent cost and real ease of use. That has been key for us. Their GUI looks like Outlook so people feel comfortable with it. You can play back video on the live screen and burn it right there. They made it very simple,” Mason says.
ADS, which also manufactures and distributes security products, used its own 5TB rack-mount server to store Diamond’s video. The system allows the company about 45 days’ worth of storage. Reinkemeyer says he far prefers the larger storage capability of analog systems, but understands the trade-off in capturing far superior images.
“It is a big issue,” he says. “Once someone is uncomfortable with our 45-day window here, then we’ll address it. There are some choices. It is a work in progress.”
There’s Only One Place to Learn Some Things: On the Job
The Diamond installation, which was completed near the end of June, proved to be a learning ground for Reinkemeyer and Mason. Based on his analog experience, Reinkemeyer favored 8mm lenses, which proved not to be a good match for what he wanted to view with his newly installed mega-pixel cameras.
“I came in with a predetermined idea of what I expected. Well, that didn’t quite work out,” he says. “ADS brought down some extra lenses so we could match up what was necessary based on the actual pictures we were seeing.”
The process of achieving just the right image was tedious, but educational for both parties.
“We had to take a bunch of lenses out with us and interchange them to fit his needs,” Mason says. “We learned right along with Luke on that whole piece of it.”
Mason suggests the many dealers/integrators waiting on the sidelines as IP-based systems become more prevalent are missing out on onsite learning experiences similar to his at Diamond Pet Foods.
“We have about 50 dealers across the U.S. that we distribute parts to. Most of them are so scared of it they don’t know which way to go,” he says. It’s high time to jump right in, Mason says. “For Diamond Pet Foods, we were the answer at that right time for them,” he says. “A year from now, there might be four or five answers out there.”