Whelen’s CenCom Carbide System

Matthew Ayers – Police Fleet Manager, 03/01/2016

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As emergency vehicles continue their technological advancement, fleet managers and technicians must constantly and critically consider how aftermarket equipment interfaces with those vehicles. Gone are the days of simple, direct-wire solutions and splicing into vehicle wire harnesses to steal power or input signals.

Today’s vehicles use CAN bus communications and complex circuits, requiring great care be used when installing warning systems. Mistakes compromise vehicle integrity, safety, or reliability, and are expensive to repair.

A similar industry revolution is occurring with emergency vehicle lighting, as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) offer unprecedented light output. Also gone are the days of simple on/off, barely adequate flashing lights; today’s lightbars are rapidly approaching “too bright” status for many motorists, with visually overwhelming flash rates. There is a need to better manage when and how we use warning lights to communicate with others. One way to do this is to let the vehicle assist with automatic inputs to the warning system.

Whelen Engineering, the New England-based warning systems manufacturer, has one of the industry’s largest and most diverse product lines. A continuous innovator, Whelen constantly updates their offerings to remain state of the art.

One advantage they have is found in their close working relationships with all major police vehicle manufacturers, helping to develop integrated OEM warning system options. This relationship provides in-depth knowledge of these vehicles, including their communications architecture.

Whelen has leveraged this expertise by expanding their excellent CenCom™ siren and lighting controller family with its most advanced offering to date, the CenCom Carbide™.

Announced last August at the Police Fleet Expo in Milwaukee, CenCom Carbide is a descendant of the original CenCom, released in 2002, and the subsequent CenCom Gold™ (2005) and CenCom Sapphire™ (2010) systems. Sapphire is an industry standard product, with WeCan® integration and simple programmability. Carbide brings even more capability to this proven platform.

CenCom Carbide finds its roots in Whelen’s game-changing CanTrol® WC, introduced in 2012, which first offered true vehicle integration capability. CanTrol allows upfitters to use nearly any vehicle signal to change warning system behavior. CanTrol brought never-before-seen flexibility to control flash patterns, siren tones, warning levels, modifying these outputs based on vehicle speed, ambient lighting, wiper status, door status, and so on.

CanTrol made it possible to standardize what warning systems did, and when, with very little officer interaction. (See July/August 2012 Police Fleet Manager Magazine for more on CanTrol WC. Go to, click Resources, then click Article Archives.)

With the release of CenCom Carbide, Whelen brings some of CanTrol’s underlying concepts to the CenCom platform, enhancing control over the total vehicle/warning system versus other platform family members.

Carbide is fully WeCan integrated, allowing upfitters to customize interior and exterior lightbars, and manage the flash patterns for any remote lightheads. Carbide is evolutionary, applying lessons learned while offering tremendous value and extensive programmability.

CenCom Carbide’s advantage is found in 12 configurable inputs (tripling the inputs of previous models) that communicate vehicle status to the warning system. This situation-based integration automatically provides effective visual and auditory warning suitable to given tasks.

For example, Carbide can auto-dim LED lamp intensity at night—using an ambient light sensor or headlamp signal—when the vehicle is in park, providing situationally appropriate warning that will not hinder a passing motorist’s ability to see the roadway. Carbide can improve the ‘message’ that our lights and sirens send by changing patterns, flash rates, colors, and tones to suit specific situations.

Any vehicle-generated positive or negative voltage signal can be tapped, including brakes, headlamps, signal lamps, horn ring, wipers, reverse lights, park kill, door status, and more. Common peripherals can also be integrated, such as video cameras, K9 monitoring systems, and anti-theft devices.

CenCom Carbide uses these inputs and its programming for near ‘hands-free’ ability, reducing an officer’s need to interact with the system, and simplifying decision-making. Officers are able to maintain situational awareness and focus on their task, and not worry about light switches.

Carbide provides an incredible level of programmability, with over 160 flash patterns, each assignable to any of 18 outputs. Adjustable intensity dimming and cruise mode can likewise be assigned to any output. Outputs can alternatively be set for on/off or momentary function, or even act as a timer for gunlocks.

Carbide controls any type of Traffic Advisor™ (TA), including older 8-lamp ground switched units or newer two-wire versions. The system offers progressive load management as well, helping reduce system demand based on vehicle voltage.

Carbide will power up to two 100-watt speakers, and more than 50 siren tones are available. The optional WeCan External Siren Amplifier, a Carbide exclusive, adds dual-tone capability to the system. Radio rebroadcast and public address are standard.

Whelen’s proven hands-free siren feature is included, allowing for siren control using the horn ring. Park kill can silence the siren and even adjust flash patterns or activate takedown lighting. Both horn ring and park kill inputs are configurable for positive or negative voltage.

In addition to its ability to fully control roof-mounted lightbars, including WeCan and multi-color offerings, Carbide also supports up to two additional WeCan products, including front Inner Edge® WC or rear Inner Edge® RTX interior lightbars. Upfitters will appreciate the optional WeCan 16-output remote expansion modules, which can be used to centralize wiring.

For example, an expansion module can be mounted under the hood with all front lights wired to it. This type of insulation saves time, greatly reducing the wiring needed for an upfit.

CenCom Carbide is upfit and maintenance friendly in other ways. Carbide’s footprint is identical to Sapphire’s and the installation will feel familiar. All amplifier/relay module (ARM) connections are located on the same panel and use pre-wired pigtails with Mate-N-Lock connectors. The ARM also has protective ‘arms’ to prevent damage to the connectors.

Top-mounted fuses and diagnostic indicator LEDs offer rapid troubleshooting of outputs and the WeCan network. Whelen’s five-year, HDP® Heavy-Duty Professional warranty is standard.

Carbide offers two control heads to choose from: a 13-button unit with a siren knob switch, introduced with Sapphire, or an all-new, 21-button unit. Both have progressive slide switches and the newer key-cap buttons, which use clear legends with black text.

Button backlighting changes from blue or amber to red when pressed, better highlighting active functions. Backlighting intensity is adjustable to user preference. These new control heads offer much-improved ergonomics and tactile index indicators for eyes-free locating of buttons or switches.

Programming of the system is accomplished through Windows-based software. If you are familiar with WeCan, CenCom, or CanTrol programming, the newly designed Carbide software will be familiar and easy to use.

Once you have configured Carbide and any networked components, simply upload the file to the ARM using the USB 2.0 interface. Note that Carbide’s ARM uses a micro USB port instead of the older B style. Multiple Carbide units can be programmed using the same configuration file, so cloning multiple systems is easy.

Whelen’s CenCom Carbide offers many advantages and continues the tradition of a proven product family. Fully California Title XIII and SAE compliant, Carbide combines simplicity, reliability, and versatility to provide effective warning at a price within the reach of most customers.

Its situation-based integration works with your vehicle to help officers maintain situational awareness, keeping themselves and motorists safer. Contact your Whelen distributor for more information about Carbide and other new products.

See this and other articles at Hendon Publishing

Matthew Ayers is a Captain with the Sevierville, Tenn. Police Department and owner of Command & Control Installations. Capt. Ayers serves as a Co-Chair for Police Fleet Expo (PFE). He may be reached at

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Mar/Apr 2016

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