An innovative and device-integrated fire-protection concept allows reducing the inherent fire risks that come with any electric cabinet, device and appliance. Components so small they fit inside electric products detect and suppress emerging fires directly at the point of origin and at the earliest possible point in time. This approach minimizes the fire risks for people and helps prevent fire-related service interruptions and economic damage for operators and insurers.
Electricity is dangerous. Statistically, every two minutes the fire services are called to a fire scene in Europe and North America. Electricity, electric systems and electronic devices cause one in three of these fires (Source: Institut für Schadenverhütung und Schadenforschung, Kiel 2020). In practice, there may be even more fires that are not reported for fear of possible consequences such as investigations, raised insurance premiums or simply because prompt and competent intervention of persons present avoided larger damage, especially in industrial environments.
Moreover, fire reports make it into the news regularly. Some recent examples include the tragic hospital fire in Western India in which 18 Covid patients were killed (April 2021), the severe fire at a subway station in Berlin (January 2021) or, as pictured on the front cover of this magazine, the devastating fire at the Timmelsjoch Historic Bike Museum in Austria in January this year. Luckily, no one was injured in this fire.
Most often, only minor causes lead to all these fires, causing large damage and operational downtime, evacuation of stations and costly business interruptions.
The impact of fires are frequently devastating – not only for the people affected but also for the companies that are economically linked to such an incident. Costs for repairs and replacement of damaged equipment, vehicles or devices often represent the lesser evil – the largest damage is caused by the concomitant service interruptions. In 2020, the well-known Allianz risk barometer lists these ‘service interruptions’ as by far the largest risk for companies in the German-speaking area for the fifth time in succession, still ahead of cyber security threads and pandemic induced risks.
Because the risk for the affected companies is high!
According to the German VdS (VdS Schadenverhütung GmbH, one of the world’s most renowned and prestigious institutions for corporate security and safety, specializing in fire protection, security and natural disaster prevention), every third fire causes material damage of more than EUR 500,000, with the result that the affected companies often do not recover from this incident. Only 23% of the companies that were affected by fire can resume their business operations fully. More than 40% of the companies, however, have to discontinue their business after a fire (cf. Logistik Heute). For owners, operators, transport carriers and insurers this means standstills, unhappy customers, cancellations and delays, long discussions, investigations and bureaucratic efforts.
Current fire prevention and protection standards are often cited as being sufficient in preventing fire-related accidents. Manufacturers of all kinds of technology (like power supplies, digital signage equipment, household appliances, production machines and infrastructure equipment) routinely look at fire protection as only the ‘necessary evil’. Driven by economic considerations only, such companies just implement the minimum that is legally required, without being aware of the potential economic impact on their own business, and the potential harm to their customers, as well as all the other stakeholders involved.
If implementing current fire-protection requirements were sufficient, it can be asked: how do fires still happen so frequently?
Typical human behaviour often leads to insufficient contemplation of fire protection
Behavioural studies suggest that one of the reasons why humans tend to repress thoughts about risks of fires can be found in the typical pattern of thinking. The brain is ‘wired’ to use heuristic thinking in complex and unknown situations (cf. Mintzberg, The Structure of ‘Unstructured’ Decision Processes, 1976). People are using their ‘gut feeling’ and trust their perception and senses rather than what knowledge and education would suggest. A typical example from the fire-prevention industry is what people do when they are at a station and a fire alarm is set off. As long as there is no smoke or other obvious signs of fire (e.g. active fire brigade’s emergency forces or first aiders showing up), people tend to assume that this must be a false alarm, because there is no fire to be seen and felt. Tragically, this often happens until it is too late for an evacuation or escape (cf. Kemerovo Shopping Centre Fire, 2018).
Every third fire is caused by electrical devices and systems
There is a wide variety of causes for electrical fires: faulty components, poor soldered joints, manufacturing faults, disconnecting plug connections, impermissible operating conditions or sudden component failures. Users and consumers are affected in the form of fire, resulting reworks, breakdowns and even product recalls (look for ‘fire’ at https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/).
Common protective measures like fault current switches, contactors or fuses often recognize a fault condition very late or not at all. Many of the fault sources cannot be directly influenced by the manufacturer or operator, which is the reason why such risks can often not be recognized or considered.
The existing fire-protection concepts are, of course, very extensive already and their application saves lives and values in many places. The current adopted fire-protection model used in most industries relies on organizational fire protection (e.g. escape routes and fire-protection assistants), technical fire protection (e.g. fire-alarm systems or smoke detectors), structural fire protection (e.g. fire doors and walls) as well as on defensive firefighting by fire brigades and first aiders.
The existing standards, concepts and technical solutions are undoubtedly good. They work and save people. Taking the above mentioned statistics as a basis, however, shows that it may prove beneficial to consider further possibilities to increase fire protection (beyond the legally required minimum).
Device-integrated fire protection saves lives and values, and accelerates product approvals
Almost all fires start small. If an emerging fire was detected and extinguished early and directly at its point of origin, many large fires could be prevented. This is the approach taken by the innovative ‘device-integrated fire protection’ concept. Modern fire-extinguishing components are so small they can be installed directly onto printed circuit boards inside of power supplies and any other powered device alike.
How does it work?
The E-Bulb is a robust glass bulb similar to the ones that are used in fire sprinklers. These bulbs, at the size of commercial micro fuses (5x20mm, 5x40mm, 7x40mm), are filled with the non-conductive, non-toxic NOVEC engineered high-tech fluid made by 3M. Furthermore, the glass surface is coated to be electrically conductive, which means it can be integrated into the power supply circuit. The glass bulb is calibrated in such a way that if a defined trigger temperature is exceeded, it bursts and releases the extinguishing agent directly inside the device where the fire was detected. As such, an emerging fire is extinguished immediately. The selection of the suitable E-Bulb for a given application can be done, for example, according to EN15004-2. NOVEC has a very low evaporation point and becomes a gas at the moment of release. This endothermic process effectively extinguishes even a high-energy fire through cooling, without leaving any residues of the extinguishing agent or causing collateral damage of the device.
The temperature-induced activation also destroys the conductive surface of the glass bulb interrupting the electric current flow over the glass bulb reliably and permanently. As a result, the electric fire cannot re-ignite from the power supplied.
The effectiveness and reliability of the patented E-Bulb has been tested and confirmed by UL but also by accredited organizations like VDE and MPA2, as well as by the German VdS (VDS2344 and VDS2562).
Since the protected volume is limited by its compactness, typical applications for the E-Bulb are small, clearly defined enclosures and housings, such as with power supplies, monitors and small household appliances.
By incorporating a small fire detection and suppression device like the E-Bulb, an electrical device like the presentation monitor mentioned at the beginning can be installed and operated safely in public and semi-public areas (e.g. hospitals, train stations, shopping centres and airports). Digital signage applications with integrated extinguishing protection are being operated at Frankfurt International Airport (and others) where they are approved for operation also in critical areas (escape and traffic routes).
Existing solutions as display systems at airports and trade fairs, media cabinets in railway vehicles, even in on-board toilets and restaurants, as well as in simple fuse boxes in hotels, demonstrate the efficiency and simplicity of the implementation even in non-industrial environments.
By supplementing the existing fire-protection model with the innovative device-integrated approach to detect and extinguish a fire, and to interrupt the electric power so preventing re-ignition, operators, manufacturers and suppliers in the electric and electronics industry can develop and implement their creative ideas using new smart technologies by meeting the highest possible fire-protection requirements.
With the need for ever more competitive products, manufacturers of electronic device are faced with the challenge of ensuring operational safety, being economically and substantially attractive as well as being able to integrate new technologies easily and safely. In today’s world, electrification can be expected to continue to rise. Advanced and innovative fire protection is therefore of increased importance.
Resting on the implementation of the minimum requirements resulting from the relevant standards no longer guarantees company survival in the long term, or to win out over growing competitive pressure.
The use of electricity-powered modern technology provides a great opportunity for succeeding in the market because customers demand more and more ‘smart’ features, comfort and digital user experience. Manufacturers and operators of equipment are required to integrate the latest technologies to survive in the market.
The risk of fire arising from all these electric and electronic systems and devices is huge and can only be addressed effectively by innovative solutions that go beyond the requirements of existing standards and the traditional fire-protection concept.
Reducing the risk of fire to zero is not possible. However, the adaptation of device-integrated fire protection with the smallest fire extinguisher in the world, the E-Bulb offers an opportunity to extend the existing fire-protection concepts economically and to making safe products safer.
Earliest possible fire detection and extinguishing directly at the fire’s point of origin not only allows for the reduction of approval times and costs for alternative solutions but in some cases even enables the use of such technologies like digital media technology, and prevents or minimizes possible fire damage in high-risk areas.
Risk mitigation through device-integrated fire protection is the state-of-the-art way to protecting people and assets, avoiding environmental pollutions from fires and protecting stakeholders from economic impacts of electrical fires for manufacturers and operators… a concept that is of benefit to everyone!
For more information, go to www.e-bulb.com/en/
- Source: https://www.agcs.allianz.com/content/dam/onemarketing/agcs/agcs/reports/Allianz-Risk-Barometer-2021.pdf, as surveyed on 05/12/2021)
- VDE (Verband der Elektrotechnik e.V.) and MPA (Material Prüfanstalt) are independent accredited testing laboratories and authorized bodies for product safety.