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Making the touchscreen a panel in its own right makes ease of installation a critical issue. Image courtesy of Advanced.

Should the Fire Industry Compromise on Touchscreen Technology?

The fire industry has experimented with touchscreens for a number of years, mainly adding small, less effective technology into fire panels. The result is increased panel costs, and compromised panel and network control because the screens are too small to be really useful and many have not taken advantage of the real benefits a touchscreen can deliver.

Advanced has recently completed a three year development project to deliver a ‘no compromise’ touchscreen solution to the fire industry in the shape of its TouchControl repeater and remote control terminal. John Newton is the product manager behind the project:

“We are certainly not the first to deliver a fire touchscreen,” he said. “Many manufacturers have launched them before us and some have advantages. As a business though, we were never convinced that what was being delivered really fulfilled the brief. We made the decision to take our time and get the spec right.

Why a Touchscreen?
“The first question was why would you want a touchscreen in a fire panel? ‘To touch’ is the obvious answer, and that really means control and reporting. To have a large enough screen area to do real monitoring and control meant the screen needed to grow considerably, and TouchControl has a 10” HD screen, one of the largest available.

“This screen size then gives you the opportunity to design a really effective user interface. Our first designs didn’t work well in initial customer testing, so we started again from scratch and delivered the new navigation system which really does deliver.

It uses a series of ‘buttons’ that include colour coded status indication and all available device and zone info. One of the key benefits of the touchscreen is the amount of info you can display in one screen, way more than a traditional panel or repeater display. Of course doing this in a useable interface is the real trick.

TouchControl delivers ‘at a glance’ oversight and easy control of the panel or network right down to zone and device level. Users can immediately identify areas in fire, fault and disablement, test etc.

Active Maps and Zone Plans
“A unique feature and a market first is Active Maps and Zone plans, a new way to monitor fire systems using dynamic graphics, that can be made up of anything from CAD drawings to photographs. Some fire alarm graphics systems can be time consuming and complicated, but we have made it very easy to add them to the device using our new Map App software.

“A larger screen means that it definitely couldn’t sensibly become part of the fire panel, and we were adamant we did not want add cost to our panels. So early in the specification stage TouchControl became a repeater and remote control terminal.

“We were then adamant that it must deliver new features and services specifically suited to touchscreens, and perform all the functions an Advanced repeater/remote control terminal does currently.

“Then when we looked at where customers would install the product, which is receptions, lobbies and public areas, and it became very obvious TouchControl needed to look aesthetically very high quality, and to enhance these often expensively designed areas.

To take advantage of the unique features a touchscreen delivers a unique interface with Active maps was developed. Image courtesy of Advanced.

To take advantage of the unique features a touchscreen delivers a unique interface with Active maps was developed. Image courtesy of Advanced.

Low Profile
“TouchControl is designed to be recessed (though you can surface mount it) and has a low profile bezel to both secure it (a standards requirement), and finish off the looks. We designed it to EN54-2&4 this meant adding in LED indicators for fire, fault etc, not just with standard LEDs but in keeping with the concept.

“The choice of screen technology was also a large area of debate. Capacitive screens – as used on most phones and tablets – are ubiquitous but the underlying technology changes often. The other technology, resistive screens are more common in industrial settings, importantly they respond, even to gloved hands, (thinking of the fire and rescue services or nurse stations), and are more robust with a technology that has the same long product lifetime as an Advanced panel.

Easy Install and Config
“We also spent time looking at how TouchControl would be installed, in both first and second fix, right through to config and maintenance, ensuring it was easy at every stage. We developed a new install system, the backbox goes in and wiring terminations are made off. Then the screen is cable clipped in and slides into the housing. All Active Maps and zone plans are added via a microSD card that slots into the PCB.

“Configuration is fast and simple via our config tool and all device, zone text etc is imported from the fire system. It’s up and running very quickly. Users can use a number of on board screen backgrounds or can import their own, which could be a logo, picture, instructions you name it.

“The device can also run in Presentation Mode. This means it will show a timed series of slides that could be site marketing material or health and safety info, on a loop. However when the screen is touched or when a fire signal or any other signal from the fire system is received, it instantly returns to core fire operations.

Control Options
“To ensure system security, TouchControl works via Advanced’s three-level passcode system. At level one users can view information only and can evacuate, reset, resound, mute, silence and reset using a passcode. At level two they can control the network and in level three change configuration settings. A passcode is required to move between each level.”

“On receiving a Fire signal the interface immediate defaults to a screen showing the latest fires. Users can then proceed using the status buttons or use Active Maps to show the position of the fire (and zones in other status types such as fault, test and disablement) using graphics. By using different building views at each level the user can zoom in an out of the zone in question from a site wide view to a detailed plan.”

Depending on the access level, user can: Evacuate/Mute/Silence/Resound and Reset; view fires/faults/disablements/alarms/inputs/outputs/supervisory and network via ‘instant filters’; view/enable/disable zones; view/enable/disable devices; enable/disable outputs by type; enable Walk Test mode; test display/zones/outputs/buzzer and LEDs; quickly access all zones in fire/fault/disablement/test via ‘instant filters’ and where allowed change status; view 1,000 general and 500 Fire event log; and set network time and date.

The Future
John summarised: “TouchControl is an exceptional product and the feedback from our customers has been overwhelming and positive.

“It has been an exciting product to bring to market. The fire industry is quite right to look at consumer technology and see what part it can play in enhanced fire alarm and detection systems. The real issue is that in our, long lifecycle, standards-led market that’s focused on life safety, we are more limited. However, TouchControl has also proved that we should not compromise. If we can do something better, we should try because our journey, which started with ‘why?’ has delivered something with numerous unique new benefits.”

For more information, go to touchcontrol.advancedco.com

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John Newton is products manager at global fire systems business Advanced. Responsible for all of Advanced’s new innovations and multiple product lines, he started his life in the fire industry as an installation, servicing and commissioning engineer and has worked in sales, technical and now products. During his 30 year career he has worked for some of the world’s biggest fire detection and alarm businesses.