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Balancing business continuity with maintenance costs and downtime

One of the key challenges facing businesses worldwide is balancing business continuity with maintenance costs and downtime. An example of this would be in a commercial office building which requires a fire sprinkler system. BAFSA, The British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association state that automatic sprinkler systems are used more than any other fixed fire protection system and over 40 million sprinklers are fitted world-wide each year. Losses from fires in buildings protected with sprinklers are estimated to be 1/10 of those in unprotected buildings. For life safety, new residential blocks over 30m high must be fitted with sprinklers to meet Approved Document B standards. Similarly, an uncompartmented area in a shop or self-storage building over 2000 square metres now requires sprinkler protection. When sprinklers are installed there may be significant benefits in respect of compliance with Approved Document B of the Building Regulations 2000, for example, the installation of sprinklers can allow buildings to be built closer together and travel distances for an escape to be extended. BS 9251 gives guidance for the design, installation, components, water supplies and back flow protection, commissioning, maintenance and testing of fire sprinkler systems installed for life safety purposes with additional benefits for property protection in residential and domestic occupancies.

There are a number of issues to be considered in regard to maintenance such as corrosion, flow rate and obstructions that may adversely affect the effectiveness of a fire sprinkler system.  The NFPA has a concern that corrosion can cause a sprinkler system to fail due to blockages and failed sprinkler heads. The NFPA states that 73% of dry systems have significant corrosion issues. According to the NFPA, corrosion can cause pinhole leaks, temporary shutdowns, loss of property and personal injury if the sprinklers fail to release. With some systems between 30-40 years old, weakening and corrosion is a major issue. One of the problems that can come from a lack of maintenance and corrosion are nozzle blockages. Nozzle blockages are a serious safety risk because they have a serious impact on the functionality of the system which thus increases the risk of an uncontrollable fire. The HSE have reported that no matter what material the pipework is constructed in, the impact will still occur. One method of flow measurement is wet testing, where water is sprayed through to prove its compliance, yet this can cause deposits, contamination and blockages.

The NFPA highlighted in their 2013 report that damaged fire sprinkler systems due to a lack of maintenance is a major problem as their effectiveness is compromised. This means that the sprinklers operate but had supplied insufficient water to the fire, and this could be because of blockages. The Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) state that maintaining the water supply (water pressure, flow and duration) to a sprinkler system is fundamental. Inadequate inspection can render a properly designed and installed system ineffective and so NFPA 258 provides required inspection, testing and maintenance for a sprinkler system. The SFPE state that if systems are not periodically inspected for mechanical deficiencies, proper function, valve actuation, water flow, sprinkler clearances, etc., the system may not be effective during a fire.

Coltraco Ultrasonics Ltd, a UK based OEM of ultrasonic monitoring equipment, have launched the Portasonic®: a non-invasive ultrasonic tool that provides accurate flow measurement from outside of the sprinkler pipe, with no pressure drop and no contamination.  The sensor is clamped on to the pipe externally and doesn’t require moving parts to be inserted into the pipe further reducing downtime. No moving parts and an easy digital set up mean it’s a cost effective and time effective maintenance solution. Reduction of maintenance time and cost is a driving factor within any business operation with a fire sprinkler system installed.

Portasonic® is easy to use and is proven to reduce maintenance time and costs. It can also be used for testing fire hydrants. Sprinkler heads are spaced, so that if one or more operate there is always sufficient flow of water. The flow is calculated so that there is always enough to control a fire taking into account the size and construction of the building and the goods stored in it or its use. Accurate flow data provides the chance to make energy saving measures by fine tuning the systems. The Portasonic can measure this through self-adapting proprietary signal quality tracking, allowing the device to automatically optimally adapt to the pipe material and flow profile in both directions.

With 3 different modes of operation, the Portasonic® can be used in a variety of different environments where sprinkler systems are in use.

As the ultrasonic beam crosses the pipe, compensation for laminar or turbulent flow is automatic.  Depending on the application and flow profile, the transducers can be mounted in the following ways:

i.V-method: the ultrasound transverses the pipe twice

ii. W-method: the ultrasounds transverse the pipe four times

iii. Z-method: transducers are mounted on opposite sides of the pipe and the ultrasound transverses only once.

The modes are automatically selected by the instrument and are also user selectable.  Portasonic® can be used for spot checks, using an internal, rechargeable battery or for extended continuous operation as a 4-20mA flow transmitter with AC power input.

The ability to conduct spot checks on the sprinkler system at mandated intervals ensures the full integrity of the sprinkler system. The ease of use and accuracy of Portasonic® allows for improved business continuity and safer office buildings and industrial facilities across a variety of industry verticals. Reducing maintenance downtime reduces disruption to a commercial operation at the same time as improving life safety particularly in high-risk environments and industries will help to further educate the industry and reduce fire incidents.

The Portasonic® also comes with a RS232 output, allowing users to extract measurements out of the device or attach a separate data logging unit to record measurements. This function will be useful to cross-check the period in which maintenance of the fire sprinkler system has been conducted and to ensure flow rate values remains constant as per installers’ specifications.

When the Portasonic® used with the Portapipe™ and Portagauge™ 3, Coltraco offers a package that offers full pipework servicing. The Portapipe™, a Pipework Integrity Test Indicator, detect faults, leaks to 1mm and thinning in pipework. The Portagauge™ 3, a Portable Ultrasonic Single Echo Thickness Gauge, measures metal thickness and tests for corrosion by checking inconsistencies in readings. With this package of lightweight, compact and accurate technology, pipework integrity can be assured.

With business continuity an ever increasing issue as the world becomes ever more interconnected we need to help ensure critical infrastructure is as protected from fire as it can be. Maintaining fire sprinkler systems is an integral aspect of this and reducing downtime and making the process easier will help speed this process up.

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