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Getting Your Warehouse In Order
Warehousing space across the UK has increased dramatically over recent years and this trend shows no sign of stopping. Honeywell Gent Elite System Integrator, PWP Fire & Security, has worked extensively in this sector and firmly believes that with its high levels of resilience, stability and sensitivity, aspirating smoke detection technology is perfect for these environments
The demands placed on the warehousing sector are greater than ever and are being fuelled by omni-channel retailing, which is intensifying order patterns, order volumes and speed of delivery. The United Kingdom Warehousing Association (UKWA) has identified over 1,500 individual warehouse units used for storage and distribution that account for almost 424 million square feet of warehouse space, with the retail sector making up almost 35 per cent of this figure.

Protect and survive

Fire detection within these environments is a vital consideration and requires the use of state-of-the-art technology to keep people and property safe. The consequences of not having suitable systems in place are well documented and the effects can be devastating.

In 2004 a huge fire destroyed more than 100 artworks from Charles Saatchi’s personal art collection located in the Momart warehouse in London. High value works from the likes of the Chapman brothers, Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst were reduced to ashes. More recently, in August 2017, a major fire destroyed a warehouse in Basildon owned by parcel delivery company, P2P Mailing, with around 100 firefighters tackling the blaze. A month later 140 firefighters and 25 fire engines were sent to tackle a blaze in a storage unit in White Hart Lane in Tottenham.

The cost of a warehouse fire is not restricted to property though – environmental damage within the local area, the interruption to trading and negative media coverage following an incident can have severe business implications. Then there is the cost of stock inside the building which could potentially run into £ millions.

Ask the experts

Specialising in all aspects of life safety equipment specification, installation and maintenance, Nottingham based PWP Fire & Security has worked extensively within the warehousing sector.

‘We’ve gained a strong reputation for outstanding technical excellence, flexibility and integrity, and have been established as part of the Gent 24 approved systems integrator network for over 15 years,’ comments Gavin Clarke, project manager at PWP Fire & Security. ‘Warehouses present many challenges in terms of fire detection, as they are large open areas with tall ceilings, usually 15m+. Due to the excessive heights, point detection can’t be used and the use of beam detection has historically caused false alarms.

‘Aspirating smoke detection systems are far more reliable and they identify real fires rapidly, increasing the time for safe evacuation.’

Need for speed

In recent years Clarke and his team have installed the Honeywell Gent FAAST system in a variety of warehouses, with excellent results. FAAST is a new generation of aspirating technology, the basic principle of which consists of a panel which uses a fan to draw in the air from a network of pipes. That air is filtered, and then passes through a blue light emitting diode (LED) and infrared laser - a process known as Dual Source detection. If enough smoke particles are detected an alarm condition is activated.

The system can also be set up to activate a pre-alarm which gives users time to investigate before an evacuation occurs which lowers the risk of business interruption and reduces the likelihood of unwanted alarms.

The individual sampling holes in the pipes, which in a warehouse are spaced every 10m to comply with BS5839pt1, are sized by the design software to ensure the correct flow is achieved. This is vital to ensure a quick response to a fire condition.

FAAST can also be integrated with any fire panel through standard loop interfacing. Honeywell Gent has an Integrated Vigilon loop interface that provides the power to FAAST. This integrated interface also provides Fire and Fault monitoring for single or dual FAAST units – and is even colour coded to match the sleek look of FAAST too!

‘FAAST’s advanced algorithms provides unrivalled accuracy and its ultrafine two stage filtration process separates particles greater than 20 microns, via the wing filter, which acts like a vortex’ explains Daniel Ascough, Business Manager (North Midlands & Yorkshire) at Honeywell Gent. ‘FAAST also includes an Acclimate mode facility, which adjusts the sensitivity of the unit continuously over time, within set limits. This also helps to reduce false alarm activations. Aspirating systems are designed at planning stage, but often the plans change slightly during construction. Systems integrators like PWP Fire & Security are able to utilise FAAST’s PipeIQ software tool which is used to design, configure and commission the FAAST systems. This helps at installation stage, where slight design tweeks may be required due to changes in building structure or layout’.

Fit for purpose

So why is aspirating smoke detection technology so suitable for warehouses? The simple answer is that smoke is often difficult to detect in a warehouse due to high ceilings, large volumes of air and smoke being diluted. Due to their height, smoke will only be detected when the fire has gained enough thermal energy to force smoke upwards.

In these surroundings the 10.5m maximum installation height limit for point detection may be too low, while beam detectors, which can be installed at heights of up to 25m, may not have an unobstructed field of view due to racking, or building structure and services. Unwanted alarms have been seen over the years due to building movement. If this occurs, Beams will need to be re-aligned at high level, requiring the hire of costly lifting platforms. Sometimes, this is not even possible due to racking.

‘One of key advantages of the FAAST system is that it solves the testing and maintenance issues associated with beam detection,’ states Gavin Clarke. ‘A full maintenance programme can be completed at ground level. Over time, all equipment will get contaminated with dirt and this can reduce the airflow. A typical mistake made by maintenance companies is to re-calibrate the airflow, which makes the Aspirator work harder to achieve the correct transportation time when getting smoke from the sample point to the detector. With FAAST there is no need to do this as the pipework can be cleaned by applying compressed air at the detector location. This unblocks the sample points and maintains airflow. Honeywell Gent have both manual and automated solutions. Filters will also get contaminated over time which again can result in low airflow faults. FAAST filters have extremely long life and can even be washed to keep them clean, avoiding the cost of replacing the filters regularly. A clean filter maintains airflow. Over the life cycle of a warehouse Beam detection is more costly due to access equipment requirements and the labour required to carry out these tasks, so while it might have a smaller initial expenditure, aspirating smoke detection has a much lower total cost of ownership.’

Standard issue

A successful system relies upon accurate design and EN 54-20:2006 - Fire detection and fire alarm systems - Aspirating smoke detectors, describes three distinct and separate classes of system. It highlights the fact that different sensitivity levels are available and Class C systems are designed to give the equivalent performance of standard point detection.

Meanwhile BS 5839 and the Fire Industry Association (FIA) code of practice only allows each aspirating panel to cover 2000m2. Gavin Clarke comments, ‘The idea is to design each aspirating panel to maximise 2000m2 fire coverage, saving on the number of units for the project. Although this is dependent upon the topology of the building, we are usually able to run the pipes along the pitched bay – this makes clipping pipework every meter much easier. In addition, different pipework configurations can be used to maximise 2000m2 and FAAST is flexible enough to utilise these shapes using the PipeIQ software, which also calculates, hole sizes, flow rates, transportation time and lengths of pipes, while isometric diagrams are produced for each configuration, as well as a bill of materials per unit and for all units on the project.’

Even with the most meticulous design, there has to be room for manoeuvre when installing, particularly with retrofit projects where existing pipework needs to be utilised. Pipe IQ allows us to model these quickly to ensure that they will work. The system is essentially reverse engineered and makes replacing older aspirating panels easy, without altering any of the pipework.

The future’s bright

With many more warehouse based projects ahead, these are busy times for PWP Fire & Security and Gavin Clarke concludes, ‘The more of these projects we complete, the more impressed I am with FAAST. Aspirating smoke detection systems are incredibly reliable and the way that they identify and react to smoke particles increases the time for safe evacuation, lowers the risk of business interruption and reduces the likelihood of unwanted alarms. This adds up to a solution that perfectly suits the needs of warehouse applications – from the dirtiest to the cleanest – and it should be considered for both new and retrofit applications.’