Fire sprinklers might be a safety necessity, but they come with their own risks in regard to maintaining them.
Sprinkler systems are difficult to drain without causing a mess, are risky to health and can damage the contents of the properties they’re installed in, not to mention the property itself, but this is nothing new.
What is new is the recent digital integration by the FST company to innovate the working model of the fire sprinkler head so it can be installed, audited, monitored and managed with less risk and more certainty. It is a digital push with plenty to offer.
FST Innovation Ltd, a think-tank group engaged in designing and improving fire-safety products that assist the fire-protection community, have invented and patented the ’Connectable’ Fire Sprinkler across 2014–2017, calling it the SmartConnect sprinkler.
I had the opportunity to sit down with FST Innovation founder, and SmartConnect creator, Mr Shae Mete, to learn more about the company and what it wants to achieve:
‘I had the idea some years ago when I was installing and teaching technicians about fire sprinkler systems, and working with young tradespeople,’ says Shae. ‘Property damage from accidental flooding was always a risk. Whenever a fire sprinkler was knocked by someone or maybe a ladder, it could trigger the system and do some serious water damage. It was an unfortunate risk we had all just come to accept as a by-product of having sprinkler protection.
‘Even now, water damage from accidental flooding continues to be a risk with current sprinkler systems, as deactivating them once they’ve been triggered requires a trained technician to come and attend, allowing time for significant inundation.
‘I kept thinking, “What if we had some kind of better form of shut-off tool that could stop a sprinkler discharge before it became a disaster?” That led to the design of the associated FloodStopper.
This is one of a family of devices connected to FST’s overall SmartConnect sprinkler range. Shae is also the company’s Engineering Director, and oversees the construction, refinement and use of these FST products directly.
Accidents aside, even a specialised technician-led drainage of sprinkler systems can be problematic, according to Shae:
‘During renovations or re-partitioning, even when a sprinkler system is correctly isolated, it’s still hard to control the discharge when removing them. All that stagnant water sitting in the sprinkler system, often from when it was first installed, is black from contaminants. It smells awful and will stain everything it wets.
‘Typically, the premises need to be vacated for after-hours technicians to come and lay down plastic and other protection, which just adds cost.
‘Installing [SmartConnect] sprinkler,’ says Shae, ‘will allow a solo technician to just attach our relevant “DrainConnect” tool and drain the discharge out through a hose system so there is no contamination or risk of flooding.’
Alongside the health and property risks outlined above is the issue of auditing the sprinkler system. The process, even now, is not perfect as it is the technician’s responsibility to randomly select a representative sample of a premises’ sprinklers, and then remove them for off-site testing. This seemed unnecessary to Shae: ‘The inaccuracy of that testing was just something I didn’t like.’
Shae says he wanted to create a solution that could eliminate the laborious process but also validate the performance and health of the whole sprinkler system, not just the sprinkler head. ‘We needed to enable insurers and certifiers to test newly installed fire sprinkler systems just after they’d completed a major fit out to a new building. I wanted to ensure that the installed system performed exactly as it was designed to.’
To achieve this, Shae developed the SmartTester so it could be attached to any of the connectable sprinkler heads in the system and determine the compliance of that specific head in terms of its heat-activation, seal ejection and hydraulic performance. Used on-site, the results of the SmartTester are digitally recorded and likewise saved in real-time onto any smartphone or tablet.
This digital record allows vital sprinkler head (data sheets) and sprinkler system info (Block Plans and other Baseline Data) to be stored in a link, so that fire brigades and techs have immediate access.
When asked to elaborate on this feature, Shae says: ‘Being able to digitally connect to a sprinkler test-tool like the SmartTester with WiFi capabilities, and then into the backend of a Building Fire Maintenance System, just makes sprinkler system audits much more rigorous. It also delivers quantifiable results that can be defined as Baseline Data for the system.’
The arduous 10–25 yearly maintenance test is legally required to be completed, but Shae says he has seen people not comply with that standard, because of these associated risks and headaches. If made easier, there is every chance that sprinkler audits could be done as regularly as every few years, and without reluctance, inaccuracy, or doubt.
‘Providing the ability for an insurer or auditor to select any installed sprinkler head in a building and test its operation in situ, without removing it first, is something we’ve never been able to do. Once activated, we then have the ability to verify pressure, flow and alarm activation, from that sprinkler location.’
When asked where the decision to go digital came from, Shae says: ‘Some of our staff and directors have deep experience in areas like electronic engineering, wireless communication and IoT sensor technologies, so this came naturally to us.’
He is quick to add: ‘It is this use of digital technology within our product that provides this confidence.’
It is indeed confidence that seems to be the unique value proposition of the SmartConnect, as well as the running theme in my discussion with Shae.
‘The digital sprinkler head also guards us against the counterfeit “dupes” entering the market. The embedded digital component in the sprinkler head is what makes it impossible to counterfeit. That way we can be sure it’s going to do its job.’
Curious about counterfeiting in the industry, I ask Shae to explain:
‘Well, these dupe sprinkler products are becoming increasingly hard to tell apart from genuine listed sprinklers. The probability that a counterfeit sprinkler will perform as required is a roll of the dice.’
With real-time digital records, a means to authenticate product safety, an efficient and sanitary option for installation, renovation or removal – and all at a fraction of the total expense – FST’s SmartConnect sprinkler product is a shift towards a digital future.