Today, consumers are becoming more and more focused on instant gratification when it comes to their shopping habits. This now impacts the way the warehousing and logistics industries deal with the increasing demand that comes with the popularity of e-commerce. Whether in grocery, apparel, or white goods, there is more movement of products than ever before and where 3-5 days delivery was once the norm, consumers now demand same-day delivery causing retailers to play catch-up.
As a result, a key issue that is often overlooked is the increase of goods and packaging leading to an increased fire risk in warehouses. As retailers prepare their operations in light of the uncertainty of Brexit, stockpiling products is becoming commonplace, leading to even greater strain on the warehousing sector. As such, the demand for safe, secure warehousing is greater than ever before. Logistics and storage providers must ensure the safety of their staff and the security of stock is able to withstand these pressures – and solid fire suppression is absolutely crucial.
To combat the growing threat and reduce fire risks in warehouses, sprinklers are now compulsory in warehousing facilities over 2000m2. The impact of sprinkler systems in warehouses cannot be overstated. The British Sprinkler Alliance (BSA) found that warehouse fires cause a loss of £230 million to UK business every year, and a further annual loss of £190 million in the impact on productivity and the supply chain. This makes no mention of the most important factor: the threat to lives and livelihoods.
The technology itself
When it comes to fire suppression, the key piece of equipment is sprinklers. While the fire suppression landscape has changed enormously over the years, the technology behind sprinklers has been mostly unchanged for decades now – a temperature of more than 68 degrees causes a bulb in the nozzle to fracture, discharging water through the sprinkler. The quicker this happens, the better, and this hardware has been proven to work by controlling or ideally extinguishing a fire as soon as possible. A fully-functioning and well-maintained sprinkler system should prevent fires from ever getting out of control, even in a large and complex environment like a warehouse, and the basic components do succeed in preventing further damage.
Intelligent systems are the next step forward for fire suppression in warehousing. By connecting sprinkler systems to intelligent devices throughout the building, safety teams can gain access to monitoring data from offsite and receive regular updates on any anomalies or alerts. This has multiple benefits: the obvious increased safety for people and assets in the warehouse, a reduced need for on-site teams to physically investigate incidents, and improved convenience for on-duty safety personnel.
A connected sprinkler system could perform basic analysis on an activated unit, along with other safety systems, to establish whether it is or was a real fire, and if so, how severe it is. This is currently a hypothetical ability in most warehouse facilities, but with the Internet of Things and its associated technologies becoming more ubiquitous across industries, it won’t be long before increasingly sophisticated, connected, and intelligent sprinkler systems are commonplace.
Ultimately, reducing the risk of disastrous and life-threatening fires in warehouses requires an understanding of the solutions available and access to a system provider that is able to advise as well as offer the suppression equipment that will best suit a warehouse. When it comes to building the safest and most secure warehouses possible – for both the goods and the workforce – contractors fitting new or existing warehouses have three key things to consider: expertise and knowledge of the sector, the speed at which equipment can be deployed and the project completed, and the agility of the team they employ to do the job.
Expertise within the industry
The first consideration when it comes to choosing a provider is the level of expertise and knowledge of the overall fire suppression system offering. This is a crucial part of the decision process as careful consideration and planning should go into every step of the job. Companies should look out for a company with a history of providing cutting-edge fire suppression solutions, which will allow contractors to benefit from expert consultation and technical support from the very beginning.
Hiring a provider with the high level of expertise can also ensure that the project is managed in a way that meets the company’s needs, but also presents new opportunities that will suit the warehouse if not considered initially. Being able to work with a team who can come in at the earliest stages of development to design a unique infrastructure is key – whether from scratch or retrofitting around existing, or changing infrastructure.
There are several ways to evaluate the expertise of a provider. These include finding out about their track record of delivering projects successfully and on time, their ability to design systems efficiently, and whether they effectively consult contractors from the start of a project to completion – but more importantly, throughout the life of the system. With the right provider, the consultation shouldn’t end when the project ends. Aftercare and ongoing service and maintenance should be built into the contract, ensuring the contractor can benefit from the provider’s expertise long after the initial installation is complete.
Speed and efficiency of the team
Secondly, choosing the best fire suppression provider relies on knowing who can deliver what is needed at speed. Most warehouse projects are fast-tracked – as soon as a contract is signed, the retailer wants their products on the racks as quickly as possible. Having a compliant fire suppression system ready to go is one of the necessities, and without it, a retailer is missing out on profits.
Generally speaking, the larger the retailer, the faster they want their warehouse up and running. For example, a contractor working with an online retailer setting up around the country will need a provider who can deploy teams whenever, wherever, to ensure projects aren’t stalled by a lack of resources. A large retailer needs a large company as its partner to make sure that the requirements of the warehouse can be met without limitations.
Speed and efficiency have long been pinpointed as key considerations for projects that can be run seamlessly. It is important to highlight that this can only happen with careful planning. The speed of a project should be monitored closely, to ensure that the desire to complete the project on time doesn’t override the quality of the project.
Agility, flexibility and collaborative working
The final step is agility, which will always be a vital component in the ever-changing world of logistics. This is even more pertinent in the current consumer demand-driven landscape. Throughout the course of a contract, your chosen provider needs to have a collaborative and flexible approach, which ensures they can deliver consistently to the highest specification.
As projects have the potential to adapt and change from the initial planning stage, having an agile, flexible and collaborative provider will also allow the team to be able to explore all options before coming to a decisive conclusion throughout all stages of the project. This will limit the chances of meeting roadblocks that could delay the project, as all eventualities and possibilities have been thought through already.
Alongside working with the contractor, every service provider must work alongside others – including heating, lighting, alarms, and sprinkler system providers – to ensure the completion of a whole facility. In this case agility and flexibility will be key differentiators between a collaborative provider and one that is not. With varying time plans, your provider should be able to accommodate and work well with other system providers without delaying the project. Equally important to agility is choosing providers who work with the most reliable supply chain partners. This way, you can rely on products being supplied on time, and guarantee the quality of every part of a system.
However agility cannot only be referenced when it comes to the ability to work with other providers. With health and safety being the crux of the growing demand on retailers and therefore the warehousing industry, you should also look out for a provider that is able to keep up and stay on top of the latest regulatory standards. Doing so is crucial to protecting assets and lives. Only agile teams with the expertise and desire to keep up can consistently meet health and safety standards.
Combining all three elements
Choosing your fire suppression provider comes down to three key elements: expertise, speed, and agility. By selecting service providers who are able to demonstrate consistent expertise, deliver at speed, and remain agile throughout a project and beyond, contractors can be sure that warehouses are as compliant and effective as possible. Having these considerations highlighted at the beginning of the project, and kept at the forefront of minds, will result in a warehouse’s workforce being able to deal with the demand from retailers without too much worry over health and safety. In turn, retailers can be equally safe in the knowledge that their stock and employees are safe, and that business can begin and continue quickly and efficiently.
For more information, go to www.johnsoncontrols.com/en_gb