International Fire Protection (IFP) recently caught up with Paul Pope, Group Business Development Director at Global Fire Equipment (GFE), to discuss the total cost of ownership of fire detection and alarm systems and the advantages of complete systems procurement.
IFP: First of all, Paul, can you explain what is meant by the total cost of ownership?
PP: The total cost of ownership (TCO) of a fire detection and alarm system (FDAS) takes into account not just the upfront purchase cost of the system but also the additional costs required to support and maintain the system for its working life.
Those responsible for procuring FDASs will often base their purchasing decision on the upfront cost alone, but this only represents a small proportion of the entire life-cycle costs of the system and does not take into account the system’s specification and costs in terms of the full life-cycle performance of the system.
IFP: What factors should be taken into consideration when trying to determine the TCO of a system?
PP: Well, the system’s communication protocol and access to the system information are among the most important considerations. Other considerations include the manufacturer’s upgrade policy, whether backwards and forwards product compatibility is maintained, whether system maintenance can be carried out by any competent third party and what the anticipated maintenance and replacement parts costs are over the working life of the system. The predicted costs of labour for services, call outs and software upgrades should also be taken into account, as should whether any warranty is provided – and whether there any onerous conditions attached to the warranty. It’s also important to know what the recommended working life of the system is.
IFP: With a lot of emphasis on energy efficiency across the sector, should energy efficiency also be taken into consideration when determining the TCO of a FDAS?
PP: Definitely. Although some systems will have a higher upfront cost, you need to consider the energy efficiency of the system over its working life. We know of some control panels on the market today which use double the power consumption of our panels and some door holders which use ten times the power consumption of ours. With energy costs increasing rapidly, it is vital to take power consumption into account.
The carbon efficiency of a FDAS should also be taken into account. Lower power consumption results in a more carbon-efficient system. Let’s take the example of a small hotel that may have 40–50 door holders. By choosing our door holders which use one tenth of the power of some alternative products on the market, the carbon saving is substantial. When you reduce your power consumption, the system becomes less likely to fail as it is not as reliant on battery backup in the event of a power outage. For example, if one control panel uses 100 milliamps (mA) and another uses 50mA, the 50mA panel will only require half the battery backup of the 100mA one.
IFP: Why is it important to take the system’s communication protocol and access to system information into consideration when determining the TCO of a system?
PP: The communications protocol is effectively the language that enables field devices such as manual call points, detectors and interfaces to communicate with the fire control panel. Some manufacturers have a ‘closed’ or ‘managed’ systems approach whereby all of the individual items of equipment (detectors, control panels, manual call points, interfaces, etc.) are compatible with each other as they use the same communication protocol. However, with closed or managed systems, only the manufacturer or its appointed agents are allowed to manage the ongoing support and maintenance of their products or the products manufactured on their behalf. The manufacturer and agents do not normally pass on the system information and management software to the end user or their chosen competent third parties to allow them to work on the system. This leaves end users dependent on the manufacturer/agents for spares, servicing, modification and upgrades of their systems. End users could also face expensive ‘hidden’ life-cycle costs if any work on the system is not covered and pricing structures are not agreed upfront in the initial procurement costs.
On the other hand, when an ‘open’ system approach is taken, the system information, operating software, training and technical data required to design, install and maintain the system are widely available to competent companies. As such, the end user is not tied to the initial system provider and can choose from a number of competent suppliers for both the system installation and any future servicing, modifications or upgrades to the system. An ‘open’ system approach also promotes competitive system support, which leads to cost savings and greater flexibility for the end user. Access to system information will be freely provided, ensuring easy access to all the required information about the system such as installation and commissioning manuals.
IFP: Are there benefits associated with purchasing from a complete systems manufacturer rather than a number of different component suppliers?
PP: Yes. Establishing the TCO of a FDAS is far easier and more transparent if you choose to purchase the system from a complete systems manufacturer, and there are a number of other advantages associated with this approach.
Firstly, system control is guaranteed as a complete systems manufacturer develops the system from scratch in-house and can support full system design and advise on how all the different parts of the system interact. If you have separate suppliers, you don’t know where all the individual components are coming from and how they interact. Liability is through one individual company which avoids any uncertainty about where the liability lies if components are purchased from multiple suppliers. Independent testing is undertaken for the system as a whole whereas if you have different suppliers, none of them are responsible for whole system testing.
By procuring from a complete systems manufacturer, technical and service support will be provided for the entire system rather than having multiple points of contact and being passed from pillar to post between different suppliers. You will have one dedicated point of contact to assist you with any required sales, technical, maintenance and warranty support.
Also, a competent trained fire alarm company will be able to install, commission and maintain the system, giving you greater choice of who to appoint, and spare parts will come from one source, making them easier and often quicker to order.
IFP: How important is the competency of your chosen supplier/s when procuring an FDAS?
PP: Really important. You need to understand the competencies of your chosen suppliers at every stage in the design, procurement, installation and maintenance of the system. Companies and individuals need to be able to demonstrate suitable evidence of their competence to deliver the service for which they are being appointed. If you choose trained individuals and organisations during the FDAS procurement process, you can be confident that they will be up to date with the latest revisions to fire-protection standards.
IFP: So, should those responsible for procuring FDASs seek out suppliers that have third-party accreditation?
PP: Yes. By only appointing companies that have been independently accredited by an accredited third-party certification company, such as UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) in the UK, you can be assured of the competence of your chosen supplier or suppliers. Third-party accreditation independently verifies that your chosen supplier is competent to undertake the work you need and has been assessed at least once in the previous 12 months to re-evaluate their level of competency. For fire safety products, third-party product certification demonstrates that the product is fit for purpose, that it has been manufactured in line with a defined quality system and that the production process has been rigorously tested.
Should a situation arise that requires an investigation, if your chosen supplier has third-party certification, you will be able to demonstrate that you have actively taken steps to ensure the competence of your chosen supplier during your procurement process.
IFP: And what about independent certification?
PP: If you purchase different components for the FDAS from separate suppliers, you will not know if the whole system is compatible, but by purchasing from a complete systems provider who also has EN 54-13:2017+A1:2019 approval you have the extra assurance that the compatibility and connectivity of the system components and the entire system have been independently certified.
Whereas component suppliers will only be able to achieve approval for their whole system if one manufacturer takes responsibility for the other’s products, a complete systems provider with EN 54-13:2017+A1:2019 approval has far greater control and can test and maintain compliance and certification, including developing new products and making any adjustments to existing products – all under one roof. End users and installers can have full confidence that the system has been tested under the harshest of conditions.
We were one of the first fire detection and alarm manufacturers to be awarded this latest approval in March 2021 by an international third-party accredited laboratory for our entry level and high-end addressable fire detection and alarm systems.
IFP: Any final advice for those readers who are considering investing in a new FDAS?
PP: Yes. Take the time upfront to research the total cost of ownership before making any purchasing decisions. The arguments for taking a whole systems approach to procurement are compelling – and even more so if you add in EN 54-13:2017+A1:2019 approval.
For more information, go to www.globalfire-equipment.com