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D&R Electronics Factory Tour

D&R Electronics was founded 40 years ago in 1976 by Rinaldo Darolfi. After he moved from Italy to Canada in 1958, Darolfi took his experience as a master plasterer and began to sculpt out a new future for himself in electronics/manufacturing. Over time, his background influenced the way he designed emergency vehicle equipment for law enforcement.

 

In the mid-1970s, Smith & Wesson was diversifying into a number of police products including high-tech emergency warning lights. D&R Electronics originally started as a high-end stereo repair shop, and electronic circuit board designs for numerous products such as car wash timers and multipurpose switch packs. Darolfi used his electronics expertise to repair some of these early electronic lightbars and sirens that were used at the time by the Ontario Provincial Police and other numerous police departments.

Over time, Darolfi went from repairing other makes and models of electronic devices in police cars to actually designing and manufacturing his own light and siren control panels for police vehicles. It was the OPP that gave him his start, first with arrowboards then electronic controls then a full center console complete with switchgear. At the time, center consoles for police vehicles were fairly new. Electronic switching proved to be more reliable than mechanical switching. The rest is upfitting and D&R Electronics history.

Complete Product Line

Today, D&R Electronics is a designer, manufacturer and installer of an amazing array of police upfitting products for emergency vehicles, everything from electronics to metal fabrication. The current D&R Electronics product line still reflects their heritage. They are most proud of their low-profile LED lightbar that with a flick of a switch raises the entire center section to be an LED message and arrowboard.

D&R Electronics designs and manufactures LED exterior and interior lightbars; a variety of LED lights; traffic directors, arrowsticks, arrowboards, message boards, power management systems, light and siren controllers, flashers and modules. Their mechanical division designs and fabricates consoles, laptop and printer mounts, docking stations, tactical storage boxes, cargo partitions, window bars, door skins, K-9 kennels, and most recently, in-dash screen solutions.

The D&R Electronics lightbars, interior and perimeter lights and sirens are designed, developed and made in Canada. Their manufacturing and assembly plant employs just 80 people, a lean workforce for such a diversity of products. All of the major D&R Electronics parts are made in Canada, and all are assembled in the Greater Toronto Area.

Their Bolton, Ontario facilities are just 15 minutes from Brampton, Ontario, the home of America’s current best-selling police sedan, the Dodge Charger, and two hours from St. Thomas, Ontario, the home of America’s former best-selling police sedan, the Ford CVPI.

Plant Tour

All of the electronics products—from lightbars to siren controllers—start off as an empty printed circuit board. These circuit boards are stuffed and soldered in their Bolton plant using one of three technologies. The vast majority of components are picked from reels and placed dozens 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 are tested for function before going into sub-assemblies and final assemblies. The near-final assembly is automatically ‘burned-in,’ which also serves as a double-check on the firm wear (revision level). The LED light emitters in Red, Blue, Amber or White are soldered to the circuit board, then attached to the aluminum module plate, which acts as a heat-sink. Finally, the mirrored plastic reflector is added. The LED module is complete.

The entire production area 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 workstations. One operator assembles the same lightbar from aluminum baseplate to top plate.

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. 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 aluminum and steel metal fabrication is all done at the Bolton facilities. The only major components not actually made by D&R Electronics are the large plastic molded parts used in the lightbars. These are designed by D&R Electronics engineers and are made in the Greater Toronto Area.

“The more we make the product in house, the more control over the design and quality we have,” said Alfredo Darolfi, D&R Electronics’ Vice President of Manufacturing. “We don’t have to go through a third party if we want to make a design change. Our flexible manufacturing allows us to make small and medium sized batches. That is a perfect match for the size of most police departments.”

On the metal fabrication side of the business, D&R Electronics has a number of flexible manufacturing, computer-controlled, metalworking operations. Some of the brackets are CO2 laser cut from a large sheet of steel. Other brackets and metal forms are punched out of a large sheet of metal on a programmed X-Y axis punch press. This super-precise press works both steel and aluminum blanks.
Of course, most sheet metal products go through a series of bending operations on highly repeatable metal brakes. Finally, some heavy metal parts, like the articulating arms of a computer mount, are cut on Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) milling machines.

Worldwide Success

D&R is an international company which manufactures a wide range of products for agencies around the globe. North American products are not really standard when shipping overseas as many departments have their own ideas and laws which are different. As such, the fleet personnel appreciate the selection, customization, and flexibility of products that D&R has to offer. D&R specializes in designing and manufacturing to the requirements of the customer.  Although D&R has the standard ‘me too’ type products, their niche is offering customized solutions. 

The ongoing trend in the upfitting industry is toward storage solutions and cargo organizers for SUVs and pickup trucks. These vehicles include Ford PI Utility, Ford Expedition, Ford F-Series trucks, Chevy Tahoe and Silverado, and Dodge Durango and RAM. Again, D&R Electronics has taken the customization approach. They have stock units, sized for each SUV, of course. But they also can easily make either small or large changes to these to suit customer requests.

Situational Awareness

The very latest trend in light/siren controllers is specifically aimed at improving officer safety and increasing situational awareness. That means the light/siren controller uses automatic logic to activate and deactivate certain lights are a certain time, all without any action on the part of the officer.

The newest and most interesting product from D&R Electronics is the light/siren controller called IQ Master System, similar to the Whelen Cantrol or SoundOff Signal’s bluePRINT systems. Besides having equivalent features, D&R Electronics has also added in a few extra features such as high-output expanders and a powder distribution unit with individual timed outputs.

The software is relatively simple to work through for doing all programming at the desk and has zero restrictions by which the controller can handle. Save the program to USB, then insert into the control head for automatic download. Their IQ control head also has a three-level OLED display indicating battery voltage, and features that are turned on. Up to date, this is something no other manufacturer has incorporated into their controllers.

Like the other situational awareness controllers, the IQ System can fully control all external and internal lights, sirens and certain vehicle components. The special feature, however, is the IQ System accepts inputs in a matrix format, which when completed triggers an output. The IQ System can 1) improved officer safety, 2) reduce officer-involved accidents, and 3) improve officer efficiency during emergency runs.

For example, when the lightbar is activated, and the headlights are on, and the driver’s door is opened, the IQ System shuts off the driver’s side tip of the lightbar. This prevents the officer from being blinded by the lightbar the moment he exits.     

With dual-color or tri-color LED lights installed, the IQ System can produce a more attention-getting intersection-clearing signal. For example, with the lightbar activated, and the vehicle approaches the intersection, the officer depresses the horn. In addition to an air horn blast or change in siren tone, all or most of the forward-facing lights become a blast of white light. When the officer releases the horn, the vehicle returns to whatever light pattern or flash rate the vehicle was using before the intersection mode was activated.

The IQ System has eight analog inputs, three reserved and five fully-programmable. This supports two expander modules, a low current one and a high current one, both of which have ten outputs each. Any output can be programmed to be controlled by more than one button, input or sensor using an intuitive function priority system.

 

High Volume Upfitting

D&R Electronics is made up of three different business groups. The first two are Electronics and Metal Fabrication. It is the third business unit that makes D&R Electronics totally unique among manufacturers in this law enforcement industry. That area is a complete, high-volume, upfitting operation.
Under the name DARTA Fleet Solutions, they upfit between 1,500 and 2,500 emergency vehicles a year with the staff of 18 technicians. This upfitting operation gives D&R Electronics the ability to pilot-build and test-install every new and customized product. All high-volume upfitters know there is no such thing as a ‘universal’ bracket, and that ‘one-size-fits-all’ really means ‘one-size-fits-none.’
Their upfitting operation is where D&R Electronics proves their parts fit the mounting location on the specific vehicle. This upfitting operation also serves as an R&D center for new concepts and improved designs. Many emergency vehicles from the Greater Toronto Area are upfitted with D&R Electronics emergency products by D&R Electronics technicians.

Although D&R Electronics is a Canadian company, they offer to all their U.S. customers no duty, brokerage, or custom fees for shipments that ship from their location. Shipping straight from Buffalo to their customers keeps their freight costs as competitive as the competition. With a strong U.S. dollar, it’s worthwhile for agencies to keep D&R Electronics on their radar when shopping for vehicle equipment.







Published in Police Fleet Manager, Jul/Aug 2016

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