Poorly timed green lights during the rush-hour commute are enough to make even the most patient driver see red, but a La Vista manufacturing firm’s new partnership will help one of the fastest-growing companies in the Kansas City area clear up stubborn intersections around the country.
Electronic Design and Manufacturing, located near 120th Street and Giles Road, next month will begin making smart traffic control systems for Lenexa, Kansas-based Rhythm Engineering, a company whose products act as a sort of technological decongestant for troublesome traffic corridors.
Officials at the local contract manufacturer have already cleared about a third of the 40,000-square-foot production floor to make room for new work spaces and as many as 40 new employees, which would more than double the current workforce of 37.
They’ll be making so-called adaptive signal control systems, which use a combination of cameras; machines that use algorithms to identify trends over time; and interconnected devices from nearby intersections to make traffic flow more smoothly.
Production engineer Jay Hall said the deal with Rhythm Engineering represents a new approach for the 35-year-old La Vista company that makes electronic components for clients from industries such as agriculture and defense.
“They’ve got a lot of experience in high tech and high finance but not a lot of core manufacturing experience,” Hall said. “We saw a great
opportunity in their vision of developing technology and having it built in the U.S.”
The partnership also lands some product research and development in La Vista, where engineers will continue making improvements to the technology that Hall likens to Omaha Police Department officers manually operating downtown signals during the College World Series — only with far more computing power.
“When we help these companies learn and grow, it also helps us grow,” Hall said.
Kody Schrader, senior director of entrepreneurship and innovation at the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, agreed, calling the affiliation “a tremendous example” of how established companies and up-and-comers can mutually benefit from such ventures.
“This partnership will not only create new product systems, jobs and revenue, it should serve as an innovation model,” Schrader said.
Electronic Design and Manufacturing expects a sales boost of as much as $12 million over the next 18 months, thanks to the partnership.
Rhythm Engineering, meanwhile, has been on a rapid-growth path of its own. The company had revenue of $17.7 million in 2014, up from $7.8 million in 2011.
But the financial benefits don’t stop there: Traffic engineers whose cities have bought into that technology say there’s a financial impact for local drivers, too.
Those engineers say the system is superior to older signal controllers, which mainly function on timers with programming based on human observations. More fluid traffic means lower emissions and fuel savings, and the City of Omaha is currently considering ways to deploy such technology on its main corridors along Dodge, 84th, 132nd and 144th Streets.
“(In older systems), it’s a snapshot from one to two hours out of a day, and then you use it for timing every day of the week,” said Jim Dickinson, principal traffic engineer for West Des Moines, Iowa.
The Rhythm Engineering systems constantly monitor how traffic flows at specific intersections and adapt timing of stoplights to keep things moving smoothly, even from side streets.
The Des Moines suburb installed its first Rhythm Engineering systems in 2011 and has since outfitted 62 of 111 lighted intersections with the controllers, with more to come. To date, the city has spent about $500,000 of its own money on the technology, in addition to $2 million in funding through the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Iowa Clean Air Attainment Program.
Dickinson, who typically mans West Des Moines’ traffic control center for a 24-hour period beginning late on Thanksgiving Day, said Black Friday in 2011 provided the first true test of the technology on the city’s Jordan Creek corridor.
On a normal day, that thoroughfare carries close to 40,000 vehicles to and from a shopping hub that is home to 125 retail shops and restaurants. Dickinson doesn’t have traffic counts for that particular Black Friday, but he said more than 84,000 shoppers visited the Jordan Creek Town Center shopping center between midnight and 6 a.m. that year.
“As far as moving traffic goes, I didn’t have to do any manual overrides on signals during those times,” Dickinson said.
Also among the more than 200 cities that have installed Rhythm Engineering systems is Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where principal traffic engineer Heath Hoftiezer said the technology has helped reduce stops on installed intersections by 24 percent. Travel time has fallen by 8 percent, according to internal driving trials, and Hoftiezer and his team have calculated cost savings of about $2,300 a day in terms of lower fuel consumption and less time on the road.
The city’s East 26th Street corridor is frequently delayed by a rail crossing, which Hoftiezer said typically blocks the road for six minutes each time a train passes through.
“It would take all of that six minutes and then some to get traffic back and running again, and sometimes 15 minutes,” he said.
With the new technology in place?
“We still have delays, but we have cut that time in half,” Hoftiezer said.
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