Tom Crane reports on the value of wireless technology in helping to meet changing standards in the fire industry and outlines how it can also help to address some of the other challenges we are facing
The pressures on end users to maintain the very best fire system protection for their occupants, and installers to ensure they safely, quickly and efficiently install compliant, high performance systems has never been greater.
The current challenge facing every fire market in the world is significant: how to install the best equipment to code while spending as little time on site as possible, while respecting social distancing and health and safety regulations, while disturbing occupants’ lives or businesses as little as possible, and all the while guaranteeing costs and timeframes. A number of stakeholders are taking advantage of wireless detection and alarm technology at this time because of its unique advantages.
A wired fire system can take months to plan and install and, depending on the design of the building, there are often things you need to work around. Even when works gets underway, there can be unexpected issues that delay the schedule and increase the cost. These might range from changes to the building that were not included in the plans, to asbestos and external factors, such as the availability of other contractors and tradespeople, and what to do with occupants during install.
With a wired fire system, there are many uncertainties we have learned to live with, all of which mean that the fire installer, project manager and/or end user never have full oversight of the situation. This makes it difficult to allocate resources, from people to cashflow, effectively, especially when you need different skills at different times, and creates a much greater organisational challenge. This can create uncertainty for fire professionals, end users and often the occupants of a building, as well as adding to costs, all of which are multiplied in the current international emergency.
Wireless fire detection and alarm devices offer a ready-made solution to many of these challenges. The technology is mature and widely accepted with the best commercial systems and devices, such as those from Hyfire, having the same sensing and performance approvals as leading wired systems, reinforced by a specific performance protocol (EN54-25) for the wireless infrastructure.
Wireless Choice is Growing
Wireless devices were traditionally used in sites where wires cannot go, such as historic buildings and large industrial sheds, because of their ability to cover large areas and the fact that they can be fitted with minimal disruption to the building’s fabric. These are just two of the key advantages that are now moving wireless into the mainstream, with more installations in all manner of sites from industrial buildings to schools. In fact, over the past decade, rapid advances in technology and manufacturing have made wireless a viable and cost-effective alternative to wired systems, eradicating the need for complex cable networks and all of the challenges they can bring. For example, a recent Hyfire project in the Middle East saw a school installation take four days from start to sign-off. Contrast that to a sister school, with an identical building, where it had taken eight months to install a traditional wired system.
Systems such as Hyfire’s can offer the best of both worlds, functioning either in fully wireless mode or in a hybrid configuration, where wireless devices are mixed in any combination on wired loops. There are no surprises with a wireless system, the initial survey will define exactly what devices are required and the system can be pre-programmed off-site, which means it can be installed by less skilled workers, in less time, as fully wireless or as a quick wireless extension to an existing wired site.
The list of suppliers and range of wireless fire alarm and detection devices is comprehensive, but it is worth working with a leading commercial wireless company. It is also worth choosing a supplier that specialises in fire devices that are wireless, not simply wireless devices. The definition is subtle but profound when performance and safety considerations come into play.
A serious commercial wireless manufacturer will have the best chamber designs with dual angle detection, multiple sensing technologies, all the relevant input and output devices and often, like Hyfire, high performance EN54-23 devices, specialist control modules such as wireless door holders, and even specialist devices such as Intrinsically Safe.
Rapid advances in battery technology and LED lighting mean wireless systems can run for many years without a battery change, a period that is likely to extend further in the future. Battery choice, lifetime and the cost of batteries becomes a key differentiator in wireless systems. Some manufacturers use ‘off the shelf batteries’ that can be bought in a supermarket, others specialist batteries, which tend to be more expensive and less easy to obtain, potentially locking in maintenance suppliers and costs. Standard commercial batteries will also see performance, environmental and cost improvements as they are used very widely.
Put simply, the best wireless fire detection technology offers a no-compromise approach to protection with a number of unique benefits that make it ideal for all types of installation, regardless of the age, usage or construction of the building in question.
Assurance and Adaptability
All wireless fire systems begin with the pre-installation survey, taking a detailed look at the building, identifying any potential issues to be overcome, pinpointing the exact location of each wireless device and working out an exact schedule for installation and testing. It will ensure that the completed system will perform as specified, which is a guarantee that wired systems, with their susceptibility to loop faults, can often struggle to maintain. It will also certify the cost of the project, which means no hidden surprises that can change installation projects and even system design and performance.
Wireless products are common in every other industry and wireless fire devices are now seen by many as the equal of, or even superior to, old-fashioned wired versions. The basic topology of the system remains the same, using standard addressable or conventional panels connected via the fire loop to wireless translators. These build up the wireless communication network, on which the input and output devices sit. Systems can grow from very small to very large, easily and reliably, allowing for future upgrade and expansion. The extent of these high-performance systems is limited only by installation standards or the number of devices that a fire panel can control.
An added benefit here is that the use of standard panels and loops means most engineers will understand the basics of the system, so training can be quick and simple and in these days of limited travel and contact, online training is a quick access route that companies like Hyfire are using to train installation customers. Also, there are no cause and effect or monitoring barriers to the installation of wireless. The panels simply see a device and all configuration options remain the same as for a wired system.
The Future of the Fire Wireless Systems is now
Industry bodies such as the UK’s FIA Best Practice Guide to Fire Safety have acknowledged the value of wireless technology to help meet changing standards in the fire industry and it can also help to address some of the other challenges we are facing. With less time needed to install or update each system, it is possible to deliver improvements quickly and efficiently, with short lead-in times and less manpower.
In terms of outlay, because there are no nasty surprises to be found during the installation of wiring loops, installers and specifiers of wireless can guarantee installation costs, and radically reduce commissioning costs, making their businesses stronger, offering certainty to the end client, and allowing jobs to be scheduled more reliably.
Unlike some new technologies, always waiting for widespread adoption and acceptance in the industry, wireless fire systems are already mainstream and have been for many years. As wireless permeates most of the modern building infrastructure, they will surely become the standard choice.
About the Author:
Tom Crane joined Hyfire as Business Unit Director in 2020 after almost a decade in various sales and marketing roles with Apollo. He has been tasked with spearheading further growth of the Hyfire brand in the growing wireless sector as the company prepares for a series of transformational product launches in 2021.