Total Security Solutions started out making custom bullet-resistant glass windows in 2004. They've since delivered more than 25,000 custom ballistic barrier projects nationwide. In many cases, companies start out doing custom work, then narrow their focus and standardize their offerings. That has its advantages—after all, shirts churned out of an overseas factory sell cheap. But it also leaves you less able to adapt to changing conditions (like a pandemic followed by surging inflation and energy costs, all complicated by ongoing extreme weather and supply chain problems).
In those moments, you might wish you still had a local tailor instead of a bunch of clothes on backorder.
"Customization is important to TSS because it's how we do business every day," TSS co-founder and CEO Jim Richards explains. "We don't have a problem deviating from standard sizes. We actually excel at that. Others really struggle with that, things that aren't standard sizes aren't everyday practice for them."
Until now, customers appreciated a custom approach simply because a custom barrier—like a tailor-made suit—has a better fit than something made for a generic application. But over the past several years, decades of experience with customization has proven valuable in an entirely new way: it's allowed TSS to sidestep delays and keep projects on schedule, even as others have claimed "It's simply not possible to get this done on time."
Speed and Customization Go Hand-in-Hand
At TSS, speed and customization have always gone hand-in-hand.
“I don’t want to be telling customers ‘it’s 20 weeks until you get your job,’" Jim says. "I don’t ever want to lose a job on lead time, ever. In my career, I never have yet, that I’m aware of. If it is humanly possible, I want to be sure we’re prepared to make it happen.”
Traditionally—when supply lead times were perhaps 6 to 8 weeks—that was simply a matter of good planning and project management coupled with teams that were both well trained and disciplined.
But the pandemic and ensuing economic turmoil changed all of that. Over the past two years, as the pandemic expanded and supply chains buckled, TSS increasingly found themselves leaning on their creativity and innovation not just as a design strength, but as a tool to make sure projects got done in the time allowed.
“When this supply chain crisis hit, and all of a sudden aluminum lead times were 36 weeks, 48 weeks, 50 weeks, some companies just accepted that. We didn’t. We invested in new suppliers to be sure we could get material. We increased inventory. We looked for every way around obstacles. … Sadly, a lot of companies are not thinking that way and looking down the road. They shrug and say ‘It is what it is.’ ”
But when an organization decides to add a ballistic barrier, they are often doing so to address a real and present danger that they are facing. Telling them 'No problem! We'll have you safe and sound in about a year!' wasn't something Jim and his team were willing to do.
Using Customization Skills to Keep Projects on Track in 2022
With creative design solutions, TSS can often accomplish something similar to the original design while meeting the same security and functionality needs, but using an alternative method or material.
“It all depends on what a person is trying to do," Jim explains. "If somebody has a deadline and they need it completed in 2 months and the design calls for a bunch of GCP ["glass clad polycarbonate," a ballistic glass that currently has lead times of at least 12 weeks], they’re not getting it in GCP."
But it's possible to accomplish the same design in a material like LP1250, which is easier to source. Or TSS can suggest changes to the design, for example, by adding an intermediary and transom so that a smaller sheet of ballistic polycarbonate gives the same look.
"We’re constantly suggesting alternatives to get to the same application on deadline,” Jim notes. It might mean simply changing suppliers or choosing a different finish. But, increasingly, it means finding new solutions.
For example, electronic access control systems have proven to be an especially annoying stumbling block. TSS has taken measures over the last two years to guarantee they can get steel, aluminum, bullet-resistant fiberglass, and transparency without huge delays or inflating prices. But no one can get integrated circuits, like those needed for advanced access control systems. According to analysts, lead times for most semiconductors (from LEDs and transistors to microprocessors) are running at least 40 to 50 weeks, with the lead times for many integrated circuits (i.e., "ICs" or "computer chips") at 52 weeks or more.
“No one can get chips," Jim explains, "not in any reasonable time frame. But we can put a mechanical [switch and strike] on now and come back in 26 weeks when your electronics arrive and swap it out.”
Picking Up Ballistic Barrier Projects When Others Fall Short
Earlier this year, TSS leaned into their customization experience to salvage a project originally awarded to another bulletproof company. According to TSS's Todd Ross, this initially appeared to principally be a supply chain issue.
"The original bid-winner relies entirely on one glass supplier," Todd explains. "That supplier was having a difficult time getting the specific gray tint the customer required. It would take them 16 to 18 weeks to source the correct Level 8 glass."
This delay simply wasn't acceptable. Fortunately, TSS works very closely with several glass suppliers for both standard and custom ballistic glass makeups. As they reached out to their network, they discovered that one of their suppliers had been doing unrelated replacement work for nearby government offices and had this very distinctive tint of Level 8 GCP on hand. "The stars just aligned there, and everything came together."
But the project presented more fundamental challenges. It called for a style of door that had never been produced before: a "store-front" style aluminum and glass door able to stop bullets fired from high-powered assault rifles.
TSS’s Collaborative Network Makes the Stars Align
"This [new design] was a roughly four-inch-thick door… In theory, that's a 500-pound door," Todd says, going on to explain that you can't just install such a door in an existing wall. "Yes, it would do its job to stop a bullet, but it might unexpectedly fall over. The whole design needs to be adjusted. It really comes back to the hinge and the structure that it attaches to and making sure our frame system has the stability behind it."
This unprecedented door also required specialized door hardware. Standard door hardware is designed for doors under two-inches thick. While extension kits can accommodate thicker doors, very few exist for a door over three inches.
“And even delivery times for that hardware were extremely long," Todd notes. "But a member of our team has a background in door hardware." TSS was able to draw on that expertise, customizing the door design so that it would match existing doors (as required by the end-user) and meet the required security and aesthetic needs, but not prevent keeping up with this accelerated timeline.
TSS has always thrived on new and interesting challenges and enjoyed finding better ways to solve "old" security problems. Are you ready to start a custom ballistic barrier project? Contact TSS's ballistic security experts if you have questions or want to get started with a specific project.