Stress Sensors Can Be Healthy for Your Business

Strain gauge or stress sensor systems can help curb false alarms and work toward other useful automated functions to benefit clients.

It seems like everywhere you turn there is a new ad on TV for automation and security products for your home and business. Cable companies are going all out telling customers about the excitement of how their products can keep families out of harm’s way. Not since the great 1980s breakup of the AT&T behemoth has the security industry seen such massive attention and notoriety. Where does all this national attention to automated security leave smaller competing alarm dealers?

When I was an alarm dealer I always enjoyed going up against the big guys. It gave me an opportunity to show my expertise and to educate my customers and prospects. In order to accomplish this I had to make sure I had some security products and services that the conglomerates did not want to bother with providing. Many of my customers appreciated that they were not just another account number, but a friendly face with a variety of security options. What have you done with your operation to make yourself stand out from today’s big boys’ offerings? Let’s look at a particular product line that will set you apart from such competition.

False Alarm Talk Yields Ol’ Reliable
Recently I participated in a LinkedIn discussion centered on someone looking for suggestions to a difficult false alarm problem. In the middle of all the typical technology cures bandied about, an old, but very versatile, solution reemerged – a unique security sensor technology that I had demonstrated and sold in the past, and is still a great alternative to today’s standard core sensor technologies. In engineering circles this sensor might be referred to as a strain gauge as it is often used to monitor mechanical stress on everything from machinery to bridges. The device is capable of detecting minute changes in physical pressure, and this change in pressure will be expressed as a slight change in resistance in an electrical control circuit. One of the more popular control circuit designs to detect this slight change in resistance is a balanced Wheatstone bridge circuit.

For some background, before the era of motion sensors such as ultrasonic, microwave and the present popular PIR, the only way to detect a person walking across a floor was with a floor mat sensor. They required considerable installation under rugs, and you had to watch out if the customer rolled a heavy object over them as the delicate mechanical ribs would be crushed. These sensors actually are still around and used most commonly as safety sensors in industrial equipment. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just turn the existing floor in to a pressure sensor? The strain gauge sensor can do just that.

So what is my specific strain gauge or stress sensor product of note, and how can it be practically used for reliable security applications? Well, the company is called Sure Action ( and the product is the Pulsor. The history of the company, now owned by Austin and Diane Stack, will help you better appreciate this product. Austin Stack started out as an alarm installer and dealer in 1973, a few years before I did. Early on he realized that the Pulsor stress sensor could not be matched for durability, stability and convenience in residential alarm systems. He liked the product so much that in 1989 he purchased the rights to this security sensor.

Ins & Outs of Sensor Installation
Since acquiring the product line Stack has improved the design and sensitivity of the Pulsor. According to Kate Liddle, security veteran and marketing director for Sure Action, “Installation is easier – no more kerfing or drilling. There are also four different sensors with various sensitivity levels.” For those not very familiar with this product, kerfing and drilling was a method to provide a small ¼-inch gap on a wooden floor beam just above the stress sensor to physically make the Pulsor sensor more sensitive. I’ve always been impressed with this truly unique product and how it has set me apart from the competition, or what Sure Action (invoking poet Robert Frost) refers to as “taking the road less traveled.”

Pulsor installation is an art, says Liddle. There is a learning curve and all newbies to the product are encouraged to work closely with the Sure Action support staff. I’ll add that it can be deceptive and your technician must understand how a strain sensor functions; pay very close attention to the instructions. Once you figure it out, installation becomes easy.

So here are some tips: First, planning sensor locations is important, and the detailed manual has some good diagrams. The sensors are installed with a supplied epoxy kit; make sure to apply no pressure when placing the sensors in the epoxy as this is where the most mistakes are made. From there, advises Liddle, cut two pieces of electrical tape (long enough to easily fit across the sensor) to gently hold the Pulsor in place when it is mounted to a joist; place the pieces far enough apart so they will cross over the two ends of the sensor; if you put pressure on the sensor when mounting you will pre-stress the device and it will not be able to detect the flexing of the beam.

Once you become comfortable with the installation there are many ways to apply these sensors. They can detect people walking on commercial roofs or ladders; they can work with home automation for responses like turning on lights when moving around a house; they can be used to trigger video camera activity. They even have stress systems that are very popular for boat security. And since they are under the floors the systems are essentially invisible. What your customers will see, though, is yet another way you can help solve their problems.

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About the Author


Bob is currently a Security Sales & Integration "Tech Talk" columnist and a contributing technical writer. Bob installed his first DIY home intercom system at the age of 13, and formally started his technology career as a Navy communication electronics technician during the Vietnam War. He then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering and went on to complete a Security Management program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Since 1976, Bob has served in a variety of technical, training and project management positions with organizations such ADT, Rollins, National Guardian, Lockheed Martin, American Alarm Supply, Sonitrol and Ingersoll Rand. Early in his career, Bob started and operated his own alarm dealership. He has also served as treasurer of the Wisconsin Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and on Security Industry Association (SIA) standards committees. Bob also provides media and training consulting to the security industry.

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