Jim Baron, our friend and colleague from American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA), visited PSS in June, 2008. Jim, who is ATSSA Communications and Public Relations Director, interviewed several PSS staff members for an article that appeared in the ATSSA Signal magazine, July, 2008.
We added the sub-titles. Other than that, the article, as published, follows:
"You may need a GPS or assistance from MapQuest to find it, but it’s there. Nestled in the heart of a vibrant east side Cleveland, Ohio neighborhood you will find ATSSA member company Plastic Safety Systems (PSS), Inc.
Proudly led by President David E. Cowan, the vibrant company that specializes in “everything plastic” hasn’t let up on production or pace since moving into a former potato chip factory in 1968.
That was the year that PSS was officially born – a “spin-off” of Electro General Plastics Corporation – whose specialty at that time was custom vacuum-formed automotive parts and materials. If you were behind the wheel of a White-brand diesel truck or a shiny new Chrysler automobile back in the late 1960s, chances are, parts of the dashboard, the glove box or elsewhere in the vehicle came off the Electro General Plastic Corporation line, as did lighter-gauge products, such as lunchroom trays and the small plastic boxes grocery stores and Japanese restaurants put take-out sushi into.
One might say that the glory days of Electro Plastics came to an abrupt end in June 1968, when the company’s building completely burned to the ground.
“It was, at that time, the largest fire in Cleveland that year. The company burned to the ground. Fortunately, no one was injured,” said Bruce Owens, vice president of sales.
Fortunately, the company did have adequate insurance to cover the huge loss and a call was made to Chrysler Motors – one of their biggest customers – to deliver the bad news about the fire.
“We were told if we could resume production in six weeks, they’d keep us on. That was all the motivation we needed,” said Owens.
PSS wasted no time purchasing new tooling, machines and equipment for a huge move into their present day building where they immediately set-up and resumed operations. It was an old building, built in the late 1800s, but it offered plenty of room for the company to get settled, begin production and grow.
Things were going extremely well for the company, when in the early 1980s, a huge decline in the automobile industry occurred. A slowdown in that industry meant a slowdown for PSS, so the company began to look at ideas for products that they could design, produce and sell on their own – disconnecting from the automobile industry and other clients that they were serving.
Back then, Dick Dorbin was the PSS “Idea Man” who had a keen interest in a brand new, up and coming industry called “traffic control.” Dorbin was constantly at the drawing board, creating such things as generator-powered portable traffic lights which, at the time, were 20 years ahead of their time. He also created other innovations and conducted experiments with traffic control cones and other ingenious roadway safety devices that he would constantly introduce to the Federal Highway Administration for review and consideration. It was during this time that Dorbin came up with a totally new concept – a one-piece orange barrel to delineate traffic, versus the bulky, heavy metal drums that were in use across the country at the time.
The year was 1981, and at that time, plastic drums were mainly a two-piece plastic design that included the top piece of the drum and the base, weighted by bulky sandbags. Dorbin’s new design – the PSD-4™ series drum – included something all-new in the industry – a flange to allow sandbag placement on the outside of the drum. The drum also featured 18-inches of retroreflective surface facing traffic, and eight-inches of retro on each side.
Dorbin took his new drum to the Federal Highway Administration for their approval; FHWA determined that the drum “met the intent of the Manual (on Uniform Traffic Control Devices – MUTCD).” On that very day, Dorbin and PSS were off and running in the roadway safety industry.
[This picture, taken in October, 2008, shows a PSS PSD-4 Drum still in use. It's over 20 years old, and is showing its age. The plastic has retained its shape, and the color has not faded very much, but the sheeting has fallen off. PSS does not recommend deploying any temporary traffic control devices that have little or no retroreflective sheeting.]
By 1985, several companies across the country started catching on with the plastic drum concept and by then, the Feds dictated that drums be “18-inches in every direction.” PSS immediately made adjustments to comply with the new standard, but they knew much more could be done to improve the device.
In 1992, PSS came out with an all-new, totally redesigned LifeGard® drum – which today is historically referred to as “The Original Sandless Drum,” and that’s because it is.
PSS designed their new one-piece drum to include a sidewall of a recycled truck tire at its base as an exterior “ballast” to keep the drum securely in place on the roadway. The result was a lower-cost and weight, and a product that was virtually indestructible. That same year, a tire recycler in Youngstown, Ohio was located who had the equipment to cut truck tire sidewalls to a 36-inch width exactly, with the finished product weighing in at 25 pounds. This 36/25 combination was a perfect fit and weight for PSS’ new drum.
Cowan said, “The health of this company relies on the development of new products, and that’s what we’re doing every day.”
Today, on the PSS radar scope, are innovations in permanent roadside safety hardware, with an eye on other products in the near future. In addition to the LifeGard® drum, PSS currently distributes plastic crash cushions, barricades, delineators, barrier markers, fencing, parking blocks, speed bumps, and several other miscellaneous traffic control safety devices."
Jim's article captures the PSS story through Summer, 2008. As of this writing, August, 2013, 5 years later, we note that Dave's comments about new products were quite prescient. Indeed, PSS launched two major product initiatives in 2008-09; those products now comprise a healthy portion of our business.
PSS in essence created a new traffic safety category with RoadQuake, our temporary portable rumble strip. And with SafetyWall and SafetyRail, PSS pioneered the development of ADA-Compliant pedestrian barricades, too.
Just wait'll you see us 5 years from now. Stay tuned!