The fire industry calling is a noble one. It is uses scientific principles to enable its very existence. The fire industry, however, calculates fire engineering designs based on formulas that its technicians have no way of understanding or verifying are accurate. The industry needs a resident mathematician to ensure that the formulas they use are correct.
Fire engineers do not always understand the physical properties of the clean agents they use. Some do not wholly appreciate the impact of temperature on the state of an agent or its pressures. Novec 1230 for instance is an organic compound which deteriorates quickly to a point of non-effectiveness if poorly handled and stored.
These problems and many more can be solved in the fire industry by the application of fundamental scientific and engineering principles. But they can only be proved by the application of the mathematics of them. Coltraco are at the vanguard of this in the fire industry.
Pressurized liquefied gases or non-liquefied gases are pressurised on actuation. CO2 is permanently under 720 psi or 49 bar of pressure ie nearly 50 times atmospheric pressure (by comparison a cup of water at sea level exists at 1 bar or 14.5 psi). Its state changes under increased temperatures to one that is neither a liquid nor a gas.
Gases under pressure are often effectively considered by the industry as single and passive cylinder columns of solid material from the perspective of their monitoring following installation. Whereas being under pressure and constantly changing under temperature they should be considered as active and dynamic systems requiring constant monitoring.
These are not passive systems therefore; they are dynamic ones, and all dynamic systems under pressure need constant monitoring. Coltraco aims to be the lead technical authority in the monitoring of liquefied and non-liquefied clean agents during the life of the gaseous extinguishing system once it has been installed and commissioned.
We Achieve This
By our ability to establish the liquid contents of liquefied clean agents – through UL-approved Portalevel MAX and the constant monitoring system, Permalevel Multiplex. Once we do this we can establish their weight and mass – through Portasteele Calculator (the world's first product capable of this). If we can monitor their pressure too then we can monitor both the pressure of the gas above the liquefied agent such as in Novec 1230 and the pressure of non-liquefied gases such as Inergen or Nitrogen.
Ultrasound is merely sound beyond our audible range. Dolphins and whales can communicate at sea over long ranges as sound travels more efficiently through liquids than air. We use this principle to identify that difference in a cylinder containing liquefied agent. Consider ones ears as "the receiver" and ones mouth as the "transmitter." Sound will arrive at ones ears at different times.
The reason though that we hear a unitary sound is that our brain processes it to one. This is what we do by processing the returning ultrasound. In the air bats navigate by airborne ultrasound. We can apply the same principle in room integrity.
We are at the heart of the Royal Navy’s efforts to maintain watertight integrity by the use of it in their submarines and warships and are now in service with others like the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard using this Naval technology that we pioneered and developed and continue to refine today. We can do the same for room integrity monitoring in the fire industry.
Constant Monitoring of Gaseous Extinguishing Systems
A data centre is expensive to build and maintain. It generates significant heat. Every bank with a branch network has hundreds of them. The value of them are very high but the value of their inability to sustain business continuity is far higher than their physical assets. Almost incalculable. And yet Insurers are asked to underwrite them and the fire industry to deliver their protection at the cheapest price.
Who today in the security industry would consider installing an alarm system without monitoring its overall status not only its actuation and integrating the whole of it to the building management system with central monitoring being an essential part of it? Who would build a ship or offshore platform and fit it with say power generating auxiliary machinery without installing emergency power systems or monitoring their condition states? These are basic engineering principles of building redundancy into ones systems and monitoring ones systems.
The fire industry though still approaches the installation of a dynamic and pressurised fixed gaseous extinguishing system as if it needs no integration into a BMS other than to alert as to its actuation. Nor does it think it needs constant monitoring lest it reveals the underlying engineering risk of them.
Can this be because good engineering is left unrewarded in the fire industry? Or might it be that the fire industry is more concerned to negate customer awareness of its need lest it reveals that pressurised systems do discharge and leak? These are needless concerns.
All good engineering demands the monitoring of dynamic structures and a highly pressurised cylinder is a dynamic structure. It is designed to protect a critical infrastructure or asset. Without constant monitoring, a risk is generated in the very environment for which it is designed to reduce risk.
The risk is not only to the asset, but to the people who work in the asset and their ability to enable business continuity in the high value asset under risk. We aim to be the lead technical authority in the constant monitoring of gaseous extinguishing systems during the life of the system once it is installed and commissioned.
Room Integrity Monitoring: There Remains a Wider Problem Too
This is essential under ISO 14520 where gaseous extinguishing systems have to be designed in relation to the discharging agent hold-time (if the room cannot hold the agent because of leaks the agent will disperse and not extinguish the fire) and discharging agent peak pressure (if the pressure is too high for partition walls or suspended ceilings they will be blown apart or damaged and possibly destroying the room integrity).
At the design stage of a fire extinguishing system, rooms are tested for room integrity by positively pressurising a room and detecting escaping pressure to verify that the room itself into which the gaseous extinguishant discharges on actuation can both hold the agent after its discharge and hold its pressure on actuation. The fire system is then installed and commissioned. But over the next 10 years no further tests are made on room integrity and the cylinders merely hydrostatically tested to ensure they can cope with their design pressure limits.
How can one be sure therefore that on actuation the room will hold the discharged agent to extinguish the fire and its partitions and ceilings are capable of withstanding the pressure of the agent on discharge? A building is like a ship at sea. It turns and bends as any structure does. It ages and leak sites develop. Coltraco is generating capability that will allow for the constant monitoring of room integrity. We aim to be the lead technical authority in the constant monitoring of room integrity during the life of gaseous extinguishing systems once installed and commissioned.
The fire industry has access to customers who depend on it to deliver fire engineering to protect their risks. Insurance companies underwrite that risk.
But the mathematics of its failure are high, whether in the application and understanding of the formulas they use to calculate design concentrations of gases or flow rates or in the deployment of fundamental engineering principles to protect dynamic pressurised systems and the structures they are working so hard to protect against the risk of fire.
Carl Stephen Patrick Hunter is CEO and managing director of Coltraco Ultrasonics, a British designer and manufacturer of portable instruments and fixed monitoring systems for the naval, shipping, offshore, energy and fire sectors. He is a former Greenjacket Officer in the British Army and a Graduate and Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Durham, a Fellow of the Institute of Marine Engineers and Member of the Royal Aeronautical Society, the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, Royal Institute for International Affairs, Royal Society of Asian Affairs and Royal United Services Institute.