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SoundOff Signal’s nFORCE Lightbar

Written by Police Fleet Manager Staff

The term nFORCE® is not just the name of SoundOff Signal’s new lightbar, it is an entire platform strategy. The nFORCE family of products includes: 1) perimeter (secondary) lights, i.e., deck/grille, recessed, surface mount, and windshield; 2) external lightbars, i.e., full rooftop and mini lightbar; and 3) interior lights, i.e., interior lightbars and traffic controllers. These nFORCE products began to roll out in mid-2012 and continue through early-2014.

All the nFORCE products have similar lighting performance, the same visual cues/styling and are all fully compatible and syncable. “An entire family of nFORCE products allows SoundOff Signal to leverage the same design technology and manufacturing complexity and inventory,” said Keith McRobert, Director of Marketing. The result delivers both an affordable product and a rapid speed to market.

These two measurements are always only a snapshot in an ever-changing market. However, currently, the nFORCE lightbar is the most competitively priced, multi-color lightbar on the market. It is also the lightbar with the shortest order to delivery time.

Nexus Technology Reflector

SoundOff Signal’s Nexus Technology represents a re-inventing of the LED light module, not only the LED emitter but also the exact shape and form of the plastic reflector. Early in the design process, SoundOff’s engineers worked to develop an optic that would best utilize the light emitted from the LEDs.

Nexus Technology is the reflective technology used within all nFORCE products. The primary objective of Nexus Technology, of course, was to create an optimum balance between the forward light output (reflection) and the off-axis or intersection light output.

The LED modules in SoundOff Signal’s lightbars have previously used Total Internal Reflection (TIR) technology. The LED light output was collected internally and reflected. The LED module did not use mirrors to reflect, diffuse or direct the light output. Nexus Technology for their emergency lights changed all that. The texture, profile and curvature of the mirror design do all the reflecting. This gives SoundOff Signal the capability of precisely controlling and tailoring the amount of forward and off-axis light.

SoundOff Signal uses at least two different designs of reflector in their new nFORCE line. The inboard module reflector uses a couple of flat sections to reflect light off-axis. The corner module reflector achieves the optimal forward versus off-axis reflection with more elliptical sides.

The ends of the reflector collect and focus the light forward. The center of the reflector collects and diffuses the light off-axis. The wide angle, off-axis light does not travel as far, but it doesn’t have to. This is intended as an intersection warning. The narrower, forward light does travel farther: the best of both worlds in one full-width mirrored reflector that will display any of up to three different colors.

The center of the Nexus Technology nFORCE modules has a wavy texture on an elliptical profile to diffuse the light forward. The sides of the nFORCE module are specifically designed to reflect light off-axis. That said, SoundOff Signal diffuses the off-axis light two different ways—one for one for inboard modules.

SoundOff Signal cites state police stats where 40 percent of all police-involved crashes happen at intersections. Not surprising. However, these crashes are out of proportion in injury severity. Thus, their emphasis on off-axis performance.

First Tri-Color LED Modules

The nFORCE lights are SoundOff Signal’s first tri-color LED modules. The same LED module can have single, duo-color or tri-color circuit boards. Importantly, single, duo-color and tri-color modules can all be mixed on the same lightbar.

Importantly, this multi-color light output is not split side-by-side within the module, i.e., the old technology, the old way to display more than one color. Instead, the individual LED color emitters are populated all across the entire width. The whole light module powers out White, the whole light module powers out Blue. Since the LED emitters are interwoven on the circuit board, the result is a 5-inch-wide footprint, a fuller, on-all-the-time appearance.

Don’t think of it as a good, better, best LED lightbar, or even as the Olympic bronze, silver, gold LED lightbar. Instead, think of it as exactly what function you want each part of the lightbar to perform, knowing that it can perform different functions depending on need.

This is because the nFORCE external and internal lightbars can be populated with some single-color modules, some duo-color modules, and some tri-color modules. In other words, you can have a “bronze” single-color lightbar with “gold” tri-color LED modules on the corner and a couple of strategically placed “silver” duo-color LED modules.

The introduction of multi-color LED modules allows the lightbar to flash Red/Blue to the front and rear in one mode. Then in another mode, display a steady White as a 360-degree scene light. Then in another mode, an Amber directional arrow in the rear. Or function as a Stop-Turn-Tail light.

With a tri-color, the driver’s side can flash Red, while the passenger side flashes Blue. Then the colors can alternate sides. All the while, these modules can also flash Amber or White, or hold a steady White as a scene light.

The nFORCE lightbar is totally modular. Again, that means any LED module in any location on the lightbar can be a single-color, duo-color or tri-color. The typical nFORCE inboard LED module options are 6 or 9 LED (single-color, bronze); 12 LED (dual-color, silver); 18 LED (tri-color, gold).

The single colors are also available in High Output, i.e., more LEDs of the same color for an even brighter signal. For example, 9 LEDs on an inboard module instead of 6 LEDs. The PC software app that comes with the nFORCE lightbar allows each module, and each color within each module to be configured.

Additionally, use of the PC application in conjunction with SoundOff Signal sirens simplifies installations with “plug and play” RJ45 capability. This saves configuration time and enhances configurability by directly mapping siren buttons to lightbar functions.

Cruise mode is selectable on all modules. In cruise mode, the module is lit with 1 percent to 10 percent power, fully mappable. Of course, all modules can be dimmed. This is power selectable between 20 percent and 50 percent. Of course, this is also selectable front to rear.

Test & Evaluation

Our Test & Evaluation nFORCE lightbar was set up with all duo-color modules, a true “silver” lightbar. We wanted the Red/Blue signal, of course. However, we also wanted the option of White scene lighting from the driver side rear corner module, across the entire front, to the passenger side rear corner module. We also wanted an Amber rear arrow with Red/Blue tips.

If we had spec’d tri-color modules where we spec’d Amber and rear Red/Blue modules, we could have had a 360-degree White scene light. Or a Red Stop-Tail-Turn. The combinations, and the configuration, are almost endless.

SoundOff Signal has two versions of White module for the takedown location. One is a “spot” light while the other is a “scene” light. The “true” takedowns use spot-type modules with about 12K candela and a long reach. This matches the traditional halogen takedowns.

On the other hand, the White due-color or tri-color scene modules produce a wide angle, diffused light and about 4K candela. The alley lights on the nFORCE lightbar remain true “spot” lights regardless of what LED modules are used in the corners.

Fast Aesthetic

The LED technology in the nFORCE lightbars is totally new, and while the shape of the nFORCE lightbar itself may appear to be a visual upgrade to their own APEX lightbar, structurally, they are entirely different.

The SoundOff Signal design team sought input from their major distributors. SoundOff Signal began with a total of 32 different styles, shapes and profiles. From this they narrowed the field down to eight and then did more aesthetic and aerodynamic development.

The nFORCE lightbar has shapes from two different perspectives. From the top, the leading edge is wider than the trailing edge, like a tear drop or rain drop. From the side, the top edge is rounded and becomes narrower, while the bottom edge is flat, like an airfoil.

The result is a low drag/low-air resistance lightbar. Just as importantly, there is less turbulence behind the lightbar. That means two things: less wind noise and less wind buffeting and drumming on the roof sheetmetal.

The design of the mounting foot allows the nFORCE lightbar to be mounted just ½-inch off the roof. At higher speeds, this gap is small enough that air does not flow under the lightbar. Instead, it gets pushed over it and around it. Limited airflow under the lightbar reduces wind noise and whistling at higher speeds.

“Form is following function but function looks cool,” said Ted Schneider, Mechanical Design Engineer. The cool look, of course, is helped by the Dodge Charger-style scallops in the top of the nFORCE lightbar.

Triple Angle Intersection Signal

SoundOff Signal developed an entirely new side-intersection LED module for their nFORCE lightbars. Rather than one straight module, they developed a module with three different angles. The center part of this corner module points out at 45 degrees.

However, the front part of this same LED multi-module points out at 30 degrees while the rear part points out at a 60-degree angle. Each of the four corner modules on the nFORCE lightbar has modules with three different reflector angles. It does not look that way from the outside appearance of the corner cap, but that is how the modules are placed on the inside.

Strong as an I-Beam

At the same time the exterior styling was being developed, SoundOff also did internal, structural design work. The internal construction of the nFORCE lightbar started off as a clean slate, a clean drawing board, a clean CAD/CAM screen. The twin engineering goals were to take out overall weight and increase structural rigidity. The nFORCE lightbar is 25 percent lighter than the competitive lightbars.

The key to both goals was an aluminum extrusion (baseplate) that used the classic I-beam design. What is essentially a twin rail, I-beam design is 40 percent stiffer, more rigid than their earlier lightbar designs. Nothing matches this for strength to weight ratio.

This stiffness/rigidity is important for two reasons. Some lightbars are weak enough that they flex up and down in the middle as the police car travels down the road. The other is that over-torquing the mounting weaker lightbars to sag down in the middle over time.

A proprietary performance engineered polymer was selected as the top cap. Plastic molding allowed the complex, three-dimensional shape and weighs less than an aluminum top plate. The production part is dark grey/graphite in color. However, a top cap in any combination of Red, Blue and Amber is also available.

Future Plans

A photo cell controlled option will be available by mid-2014. The nFORCE lightbar was built to accept a photo cell and the nFORCE circuit boards were designed with this sort of control in mind. With a photo cell, the power delivered to the modules can be varied day to night. And so can the colors in the flash pattern, i.e., a Red/Blue pattern that is most Red during the day and mostly Blue at night.

The nFORCE external lightbar is available in all of the standard police widths: 24 inches, 36 inches, 42 inches, 48 inches, 54 inches, 60 inches and 72 inches. Fixed height mounts (mounting hook) kits are available for the 2011-2014 Charger, 2011-2014 Ford PI Sedan, 2011-2014 Ford PI Utility, 2011-2014 Chevy Caprice, and 2012-2014 Chevy Tahoe.

The Phoenix, Ariz. Police; Idaho State Patrol, State Police; Oklahoma Highway Patrol and Charlotte, N.C. Police are among the major departments already using SoundOff Signal lightbars.

SIDEBAR:

SoundOff Signal Factory Tour

The SoundOff Signal lightbars, interior and perimeter lights and sirens are designed, developed and made in Michigan. Their manufacturing and assembly plant employs just over 150 people. This is not just “final assembly” in the USA but actually “made” in the USA.

The circuit boards are stuffed and soldered in Michigan, as are a wide variety of custom wiring harnesses. And the complex aluminum extrusions used as the baseplate to hold everything together are also made in the USA. Regardless of where the individual components come, all of the SoundOff Signal products are designed and developed at the Michigan headquarters.

All of the emergency lights and sirens start off in Michigan as empty circuit boards. The electronic components are positioned on the board and soldered in place using one of three technologies.

The vast majority of components is picked from reels and placed 30 at a time by state-of-the-art surface mount machines. Some components are inserted in the board and wave-soldered. Again, wave solder is a state-of-the-art process for thru-hole circuit board designs. The largest and heaviest parts are placed and soldered by hand.

All circuit boards get a full conformal coating, top and bottom, which protects the board and components from corrosion. Some electronic sub-assemblies are fully “potted” with polyurethane, the ultimate in sealed protection.

All circuit boards are tested for function before going into sub-assemblies and final assemblies,” said Ed Hedgecock, Manufacturing Manager. The near-final assembly is automatically “burned-in” which also serves as a double-check on the firm wear (revision level). The boards are automatically flashed if a firm wear update is needed.

The LED light emitters in Red, Blue, Amber or White are soldered to the circuit board. A sil pad, which isolates and controls heat transfer, is added. Then both are attached to the aluminum module plate. Finally, the mirrored plastic reflector is added. The LED module is complete.

The entire assembly plant is based around the one-piece flow, which is a flexible, super-efficient, quality feedback-based form of lean manufacturing. Lightbars are assembled on individual, pedestal-style workstations. One operator assembles the same lightbar from aluminum baseplate to top plate.

Everything is tightly controlled by the work order, which has a pick list (bill of materials). All of the parts needed for the specific lightbar are sequenced ahead of time and delivered to the workstation. The lightbar is built and fully tested in these individual work cells. If more production is needed, more work cells are added. The operator does not work in stages on multiple lightbars at the same time.

The nFORCE Perimeter lights use a breathable patch that allows some sub-assemblies to breathe with changes in temperature and humidity. This limits both fogging and component corrosion. To speed assembly, and ease the repair process if needed, the vast majority of plastic parts simply snap in place. This is the very essence of modular design and assembly.

The SoundOff Signal test lab includes life cycle testing for both the extremes of temperature and the extremes of humidity. All of their lights and sirens undergo vibration testing during development. This includes a stringent OEM “pothole” shock absorber test used with trucks. Their optics lab has the capability to test for initial brightness, brightness over time and brightness by distance for both focused and diffused light. Their products meet all the SAE, ECE and CA-13 applicable standards.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, May/Jun 2014

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