Interview with inventor of anti-theft device Armlock, Vladimir G. Alekseev
Vladimir, please share the background of your anti-theft device. What kickstarted the Armlock?
— I am the owner of specialty vehicles myself. One day I became a victim of hijacking and I squarely evaded a theft of my other vehicle. The Armlock was my response to this situation. It is these specialty vehicles that once had no protection against malefactors. For when a car is stolen, thieves will have many problems: bypassing conventional and supplementary antitheft deterrents, fabricating new documents, replacing the number plate… Things are easier with a scoop shovel: you sit at the steering wheel and drive! There is no theft protection installed by manufacturers and thieves only need to drive a vehicle to the buyer. A stolen vehicle is normally driven to a closed construction site, where nobody can enter without the special permission of Public Prosecutor or Judge. A specialty vehicle can be operated there without any papers or number plates. Therefore it’s a lot easier to dispose of specialty vehicles, while potential thieves have stronger financial motivation compared to carjacking. According to the traffic police statistics, construction machinery is in stable demand among hijackers, but nobody could secure these vehicles some time ago. Now a reliable anti-theft device is available for those who want to safeguard their construction or hoist machinery against theft.
What did you come up with and does it work?
— The very design of a construction machine did not imply any mechanical anti-theft devices installed there. In a car you may block a steering-wheel, brake, wheel, engage a battery and so-called “brain”. An offbeat solution for specialty vehicles occurred to me quite spontaneously. It’s a bit surprising that nobody could think of it earlier! Like any other construction machinery, the backhoe loader has two back stops sliding out and providing for dead-beat stability. We block their reverse pushing-in, thus hampering self-contained movement of the backhoe loader or scoop shovel. When the shovel operator is through with his daily work, he pulls these back stops out, installs the Armlock and goes home. Until he removes our device, the stops won’t push back in and the vehicle won’t move. You may see how it works in our video at http://youtu.be/jYF06oSCwUU. When our mechanical anti-theft device is installed and used, it affects only hull constructional members of a construction machine without obstructing the operation of the vehicle itself or interfering with the engine, brake system and wiring scheme.
This seems reliable and simple. The Armlock device is good for what kind of vehicles?
— Backhoe loaders of any brand and modification, scaffold trucks, loader cranes, concrete placers or pumps. This device can also be used on crane trucks. Some of the latter may cost 1 million USD, but they are not properly protected. In general, our mechanical anti-theft lock can be installed on any load lifting self-propelled machinery. All manufacturers make similar pullout spur legs and Armlock could be installed on any vehicle having such outriggers, including JCB, Caterpillar, Komatsu and many-many other companies from UK, USA, Germany, Japan.
How well is the Armlock itself secured? Isn’t it possible to find any way around it?
— Our device is 100% reliable. During several years of operation there has not been a single case of stealing a vehicle protected by Armlock. Of course, you may find some way around any anti-theft system, but stealing specialty vehicles is a sort of business project. Thieves figure out the risks, theft cost and realize that our device multiplies their problems and brings to naught all possible benefits. The Armlock disassembly will not only take a lot more time, but will also call for extra effort, special equipment and skills. For instance, thieves may take an oxyacetylene rig with them, to try cutting off the device. But we took care of that as well by making a safety ring from stainless steel. As you probably know, stainless steel cannot be cut off with gas. Then you may steal a vehicle by lifting and placing it on a flatbed truck, but to do this, you’ll also need a motor crane. Or you may cut off back stops completely, but this means extra time and lost money, because thieves will have to restore back stops in order to sell the vehicle. When criminals encounter these problems, it is easier for them to give up on the vehicle we protected and look for other machinery with no Armlock on a neighbouring construction site. Eventually, if you combine our anti-theft device with an immobilizer and satellite security system your vehicle becomes practically impossible to steal.
What’s the price tag? Can small construction firms afford your Armlock? And how much is its installation?
— The price of our device is 30,000 roubles, including installation. Specialty vehicles cost from 3m roubles per unit. I am sure that 30,000 roubles invested in security is good value for money. In case of theft no insurance company will reimburse the full cost. Specialty vehicles are often bought through leasing schemes. If such a machine is lost the insurance company does not reimburse the upfront payment of 20%, according to the leasing rules, which translates into another 600,000 roubles of losses, if not more. Furthermore, it should be borne in mind that one scoop shovel earns about 300,000 roubles monthly. This means the owner will suffer additional indirect losses because of the down time that may last a couple of months until the case is investigated and payments are made for buying a new vehicle. It comes out that even with a good insurance policy the owner may lose up to 1m roubles. If you compare all these figures it becomes clear that potential losses exceed the Armlock price by a gross margin. Our price is universal for any machinery. Among the extra options is connecting Armlock to the satellite security system (5,000 roubles) and a special ring (2,500 roubles), that is, the maximum price of our anti-theft device is 37,500 roubles.
If it’s not a secret please dwell a bit on the design of your anti-theft lock.
— We have nothing to hide even from thieves, because this knowledge does not make their work easy. We use the well-known lock Mul-T-lock which does not require advertising. This company has been inventing reliable solutions to secure homes, offices, cars and trucks since 1973. Mul-T-lock has made a special key for us with a bespoke profile cross-section or indent that cannot be duplicated. If it is lost we are the only company that can make another one, since Mul-T-lock provides special billets for us only. And we provide this service only for our buyers, the owners of machinery. The lock is made of stainless steel while our 35-mm-thick latching crossbar is made of tempered steel.
How would you assess the burglary resistance of Armlock?
— I already dwelled on the alloy and uniqueness of each lock. In addition, our device is so installed that it’s impossible to unlock the latch with a lock-pick tool or to drill through the lock cylinder. The design ensures maximum burglary resistance. If you put a safe and ask an experienced burglar what would take less time to unseal, I think he’ll say they are equally hard to unlock. But while you can take a safe away, lifting a crane truck or a power shovel is a more daunting challenge.
Have you patented your know-how?
— Yes, we had this anti-theft method for specialty vehicles patented and passed all formal expert evaluations in Russia and abroad. So there is nothing to worry about: we are not afraid of competitors replicating our know-how. We actually have two patents: for the device itself and its installation method. I’d even welcome those committing forgery and replication, because in this way they will publicize and promote our invention. But they should better do quality replicas.
Have you thoroughly tested your anti-theft device?
— Sure, quite a few operators already work using Armlock-secured vehicles. All of them say the device is easy to use and reliable. This are not just some quick tests run, but daily work of our client companies. They are happy and thank us for this invention.
How user-friendly and dependable is Armlock? Does it need any special maintenance?
— We thought out Armlock as a simple and weatherproof device, given that vehicles equipped with our lock are exposed to harsh weather conditions in winter and summer. The alloy used can stand the temperatures from -50 to +50 degrees Centigrade, extreme heat or frost. It does not fear heavy rain, hail or snow. Armlock is so designed and installed that precipitation can’t filter its way to the locking mechanism which is also protected from vibration, since it is fastened by means of deck-to-support welding. Construction machinery is operated in the mud, so the device is installed in such a spot as to be maximally covered from dirt. All maintenance comes down to cleaning and lubrication. The structure itself is easy to dismantle. The operator may undo two screws with a wrench, cleanse the mud with a twig, put a lubricant and tighten the screws. This can be done by any man working with specialty vehicles.
How long does it take to open and close your device?
— It takes roughly 30 seconds to remove the lock in the morning and 35-40 seconds to put it back into service. Just one minute a day! And you can rest assured that your expensive machinery is safe.
Aren’t there any other effective anti-theft devices for specialty vehicles or do you smoke the competition?
— There is not a single mechanical anti-theft device on the market right now. They tried to block the steering system and now they are experimenting with satellite navigation systems via GPS. However scoop shovels are simply designed: you cannot protect them by blocking the “brain”, as can be done with cars. Manufacturers care about the reliability of construction machinery and other specialty vehicles – that’s why they decided to use electronics for their protection: both JCB and Caterpillar are now using logistical navigation systems as the only protection method. But they have obviously embarked upon the blind alley. The anti-theft efficiency of these logistical systems is low, because burglars use noise generators to suppress GSM within a decent radius from the device, so that the traffic control operator is unable to keep track of further movements. Thieves dismantle electronic blocks and throw them away. I think you are right: Armlock smokes competition.
What do you think should be the optimal anti-theft protection for specialty vehicles?
— An integrated approach is needed: first the Armlock connected to the satellite-driven alarm system, followed by installation of electronic systems with a GPS tracker, by electronic immobilizer, by insurance. If you follow this sequence you get maximum protection under any force majeure. As a victim of specialty vehicle theft, I am convinced: resting in assurance that your machinery is safe, that you won’t fail your clients and that there will be no down time at the construction site or production facility costs a lot more than 20-30 thousand rubles.
You mentioned the satellite protection which can be installed in your mechanical device. Please enlarge upon this option.
— As I already mentioned, almost all scoop shovels are now equipped with logistical kits to monitor transportation vehicles via satellites – so-called GPS trackers. These are purchased for two purposes: as an anti-theft device and as a monitoring appliance. While GPS trackers can’t prevent theft, we connect them to the Armlock sensor reminding the vehicle owner of the need to remove the lock in the morning and to set it up at the end of the workday, since some operators may ignore the lock actuation after their shift because of fatigue or plain indolence. Then the traffic controller is immediately advised that the vehicle is under our umbrella, a small microcircuit serving as the sensor. This is also our development, meant to offset the human factor. Furthermore it provides additional anti-theft protection.
Does this mean vehicle owners may keep everything under full control?
— Exactly! Our locks perform the anti-theft protection function and lift the human factor risk. An informed owner or steward can expeditiously influence the situation.
Do you provide warranty maintenance?
— Yes, we provide two warranty certificates for our buyers. One of them is manufacturer’s guarantee for the latch mechanism of the Mul-T-lock system. The other one is for our warranty service of the mechanical anti-theft device. We give one-year guarantee, as the Russian law prescribes.
Did you try to contact manufacturers?
— Yes, we are in talks now with representatives of UK-based JCB which is number one brand in Russia and a leader of the British market. We discuss the possibility of using Armlock devices on their scoop shovels. They are interested in our mechanical protection device. JCB is a large company and they need a marketing research before giving their OK to Armlock installation at their production facilities. They are doing this research now at the premises of their dealership center in Moscow.
What are the prospects of your invention? What are your plans of expansion in Russia and worldwide?
— We’ll surely enter international markets and our collaboration with JCB is just the first step. I believe we’ll launch negotiations with all major manufacturers already this year. And, of course, we plan a branch dealership network across Russia. We’ll place our representatives in all rapidly developing cities. Now we are looking for dealers to represent Armlock in the regions.
It’s gratifying to see competitive Russian products emerging. The Armlock concept is another proof that everything of genius is simple.
— True, but we did not plan to prove that. It just so happened!