Leading a Fire Systems Giant Into the Future
Honeywell reshuffled its vaunted life-safety business and reached into its well of veteran talent to appoint a leader of a new umbrella organization. In an exclusive interview, Gary Lederer, explains his vision to keep the Titan-sized organization agile in reacting to customer needs within a vibrant marketplace. He also addresses industry trends and challenges, plus technologies that could one day alter the life-safety landscape.
Who also now sits at the top of the organizational chart since the reorganization?
Lederer: My business, which we’re calling Honeywell Life Safety Fire Solutions, has two legs to it. One is the Fire Systems business, which Todd Rief is president of in the Americas. That is the business we sell Notifier, Fire-Lite, Silent Knight and Gamewell-FCI products under. It’s basically the entire system for a building, across all applications.
Again, Honeywell’s brand proposition is to build a world that’s safer and more secure. We fall under the safer part of it. What we envision is every building in the world has a fire alarm system. Hopefully none of them will have to go into operation, and alert people, but if they do we want to make sure they operate reliably, are properly maintained. Our whole focus is on life safety. That’s what we’re here for.
Todd’s remit is to really have our products available at any point that an end user might want to acquire a fire alarm system. That would be through security distribution, through an OEM product, through end users. And we get it to market through independent distributors. That’s our route to market for the most part.
We go multi-brands because we’re trying to penetrate different distribution channels, and minimize any conflicts among those channels. You can imagine trying to get to this end vision of having our product available in all the buildings, but the distribution channels, there’s many overlaps and conflicts. We try our best to minimize those. Todd is responsible for a complete fire alarm system, as well as emergency communication systems. We’re putting more emphasis on that.
Tom Potosnak is responsible for our components business. Components would include poll stations, sensors, smoke sensors, modules, input/output modules, A/V devices, the enunciation devices. We try to position ourselves independently, even though we’re all owned by Honeywell. Tom’s business is positioned as a provider of components and devices to the industry. One of his customers is Todd’s business. We treat him as a customer.
Before, [the organization] was split between two people, but now it’s all under me. I have found as long as you walk the talk and don’t take shortcuts, people understand what we’re trying to do. They may not like the fact that they’re buying from a competitor, because Honeywell is the competitor in many cases, but we’d like to think we still have to earn the business.
Our drive is we don’t take anything for granted. We have to earn the business, and once we’ve earned it we have to retain the business. We have to be totally independent, as if we were a third party. That’s what we’ve driven into everybody. I don’t intend to lose that internal attitude because I think it’s healthy for our business.
Riffs on Advancements in Products and Technologies
ONLINE BONUS: In what significant ways have you observed the industry evolve through the years?
Lederer: This is a very good question because you don’t stop and think about it. You kind of evolve as time passes. I got into the industry in 1988 with then BRK Electronics. The focus was more of a mechanical product line. We were just getting into intelligent systems. Conventional still had a very strong foothold in the market — conventional is either an alarm or it’s not an alarm. It didn’t give you a lot of data on which to interpret and respond to the condition.
If you wanted to see what detector was in alarm, you had to do a walk test and see which LED was illuminated, a very simplistic on or off system. The other thing that plagued the industry back in the early to mid-’80s was what I call nuisance alarms. I firmly believe there isn’t a false alarm. The detector goes off for a reason. It’s a nuisance reason. Sometimes it’s steam, sometimes it’s smoke, sometimes it’s dust if it hasn’t been cleaned, all sorts of reasons.
The industry has evolved. We now know the condition of a detector, when it’s nearing time for its annual maintenance. If it’s getting dirty for some reason you can go out and get it before you have a nuisance alarm. Also the general detection methodology has improved over the years, such that the number of unwanted alarms has reduced. We still have a lot of them. I can’t hide that and it’s still an area the industry is looking to improve upon. But we’ve made significant strides over the last 30 years in doing this. Also in trying to discriminate the signature of the smoke, whether it’s cigarette smoke or other types of smoke, we do that through multicriteria detection.
The detectors that not only have a photo chamber, infrared technology in the detector, might also have gas sensitivity for carbon monoxide [CO]. And then there are algorithms that check to see if there’s smoke present. Is there CO present, is there an infrared sensor detecting something? Coincident detection, if there’s a detector that alarms in one area is another detector adjacent to it seeing smoke; all in the attempt to try to make sure that it’s an alarm that needs to be sounded, the enunciation devices need to be sounded. Again to reduce the incident of a nuisance alarm.
It may send a trouble signal to the panel that it’s not ignored, but somebody then can go and see if there is an issue. All that has been designed to give the systems greater reliability.
The other thing that’s changed significantly is we’re really selling software now. It used to be we sold hardware. You sold a box with some buttons on it, and today the amount of software in a panel is amazing what goes in there. All the cause-effect things we install or program in — elevator recalls, damper shuts, door closures. It’s really a fairly sophisticated piece of equipment that didn’t exist 30-35 years ago. Or it was just developing at that time. Those are the really significant changes I’ve seen over my career here.
In electronic security, technologies have been hyped long before they were ready for primetime. Are there technologies in the fire industry that show promise but aren’t quite there yet?
Lederer: Yes, two in particular. One is wireless, not to say it would replace a wired system in a building, but it would be used in specific applica
tions. For example, a guard shack that’s 200 yards out front of the main building. Instead of stringing a wire between the building fire system and that guard shack, it would still need to be protected, so have a wireless module on the loop and the detector in the guard shack. It’s very efficient, a very cost-effective application, easy to maintain. That’s one application. A ceiling that you don’t want to have wire stringing across, let’s say it’s an older building and to get wires into it, you can’t go under the ceiling or hide them in the ceiling. So they have to go across. That’s another great application for wireless.
When wireless first arrived in the late 1970s, early ’80s, it had a lot of problems. People now are still concerned about the reliability of it. But I think it’s going to have a place because our society has just in general embraced wireless in almost every application. We’re a bit away from having a robust system, but I think these applications I described are well within our permit right now.
The other is voice. I think it has an application in our industry as well. Anything that we can do to free up the hands of our customers, of our installers, of our commissioners, that would be helpful. When they’re trying to commission a system or that they have their hands free. For example, if they’re doing a walk test, when they commission a system, if they can have their hands free and perhaps use their hands on their iPad to do things, if we can free that up for them I think that’s an advantage. I think that gives them more mobility, better efficiency in doing things.
The same applies for a user of one of our products, if there’s voice application — I’m not saying they have to input commands into the panel — but that’s an opportunity. Anything that we can do to make them more efficient by using our products I think would be very helpful.
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