By SCOTT STARR/Firetrace International
Fire detection is vitally important in industrial facilities, particularly those where highly flammable materials are stored, where mission-dependent machinery is utilized, or where production processes continue unmanned during “lights out” operations. However, detection has to be fast and unerringly reliable. Plus it is only part of the fire protection equation; suppression is every bit as important.
Other than where a fire follows an explosion, the majority of industrial fires start small; few erupt instantly into a major conflagration, but if left to develop, can soon spread to engulf the entire building. Early, effective and reliable detection is therefore essential, but so too is equally swift and efficient fire suppression. Achieving the shortest possible lead time between activation of an alarm and fire suppression discharge can make all the difference between a quick clean-up operation and the demise of the business.
While many industrial companies have installed facility-wide detection systems using heat, smoke, flame, video or air sensing technology, many have not looked sufficiently closely at whether these installations are offering the best protection, particularly to key business assets.
These can take many forms but typically include electrical control cabinets, IT suites, CNC machine tools, fume cupboards and generators – facilities that are critically important to the business’ ability to perform to customers’ expectations.
The view taken by these companies is that a fire in any of these assets will be spotted by the ceiling-mounted or roof-mounted detection devices. That is true, but the time taken to detect the fire will almost certainly be too long to save the asset from serious damage, destruction, or the possible spread of the fire to adjoining areas. These assets are invariably housed in some form of enclosure or cabinet that significantly delays detection of the fire by devices that may be a considerable distance away or unable to detect a fire in an enclosed environment.
In these circumstances, fast-acting suppression becomes even more critical, as the fire has been allowed to “take hold” and build momentum. Some organizations rely on the local fire and rescue service, while others have installed facility-wide gaseous, water mist, foam discharge or sprinkler suppression systems. However, these are triggered by the detection devices being activated so delay is, once again, inevitable. Ultimately the suppression agent will be discharged with, in many cases, a far greater volume of expensive suppressant than would have been necessary if the fire had been detected and suppressed sooner.
Dedicated Detection & Suppression
Clearly, what is needed to protect these enclosed assets is dedicated detection and suppression; ideally an integrated solution to avoid unnecessary cost and risk of the independent detection and suppression systems failing to synchronize.
With such a system installed, detecting a fire is faster, suppression discharge is quicker and also more effectively discharged at the seat of the fire. The risk of serious damage to the asset is minimized, the fire is contained and unnecessary high-volume discharge of suppressant is avoided.
The benefits of such a system were clearly demonstrated at a recent fire at a machine shop in Phoenix, AZ. A fire broke out during a lunch break in one of the Ganesh CNC machine tools at Rugo Machine Shop Services. Titanium was being machined when a malfunction caused flammable oil vapor to ignite. However, the company had installed a Firetrace® automatic detection and suppression system in the machine, which immediately detected the fire and suppressed it within seconds. The machine was back in operation within 15 to 30 minutes. Within a couple of hours, the discharged Firetrace system had been inspected and returned to full working order.
Commenting on the fire and the consequences had the detection and suppression system not been installed, CEO Frank Rugo Sr.’s answer to the question: “Do you feel you would have lost the machine?” was an emphatic: “No. I think I would have lost my business.”
The Rugo Machine Shop Services experience is typical of the 150,000 Firetrace installations around the world. But how does it work?
The system comprises two main components – a cylinder containing the appropriate suppression agent, and a purpose-designed proprietary Firetrace Detection Tubing that is attached to the cylinder. This polymer tubing is a leak-resistant, linear pneumatic heat and flame detector that has the required temperature-sensitive detection and delivery characteristics. This Firetrace tubing is sufficiently flexible so that it can routed throughout the enclosure being protected. The tubing ruptures at the point where heat is detected when exposed to heat and radiant energy from a fire. This automatically triggers the release of the suppression agent, extinguishing the fire in less than ten seconds.
There are two tube-based Firetrace systems, both of which can use a number of suppression agents. These include the latest generation of clean agents – 3M™ Novec™ 1230 Fire Suppression Fluid and DuPont™ FM-200® – dry chemical powder, carbon dioxide and foam. The selection of which to use is dependent on the nature of the particular fire risk and application.
The two systems are the Firetrace ILP (Indirect Low Pressure) system and the Firetrace DLP (Direct Low Pressure) system, the difference between the two being the way in which the suppression agent is discharged. In the case of the DLP system, the rupturing of the tubing forms an effective spray nozzle that automatically releases the entire contents of the cylinder. While the ILP system also uses the Firetrace tube as a detection and system activation device, the rupturing of the tube results in a drop of pressure causing an indirect valve to activate. This diverts flow from the detection tube, and the agent is discharged immediately from the cylinder through diffuser nozzles, flooding the entire enclosure.
False alarms in many fire detection systems are all too frequent; they can cause major disruption to production processes with expensive down-time and loss of output. Depending on the type of system installed, they can be caused by a number of environmental factors such as dust and steam. Firetrace is not affected by any of these contaminates as is evidenced by the fact that there has never been a single reported instance where a properly installed and maintained system has either false alarmed or, just as important, failed to detect and suppress a genuine fire. It is the only UL (Underwriters Laboratories) listed and FM (Factory Mutual) approved tube-operated system in the world that is tested as an automatic fire detection and suppression system.
ISO 9001:2008 certified Firetrace International has its global headquarters in Scottsdale, AZ. It has a global customer base and is active throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Asia Pacific region. Contact Firetrace by telephone on Toll-Free: 1-888-786-0780 or +1 480 607 1218, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Website is at www.firetrace.com.