More than four years since the Grenfell tragedy, we are still very much in the midst of the ACM cladding fiasco. While the government has committed to spend £600 million on the replacement of unsafe cladding on both social housing and private leasehold high-rise buildings, the reality is that it takes considerable time to commission and mobilise the significant works required to remove and replace cladding from high-rise buildings – especially in such vast numbers.
The fire and property management industries have, therefore, looked to bridging safety measures, the most common of which is the waking-watch service. Here residents are provided with 24/7 human-patrols, with personnel trained to provide an immediate response to fire safety incidents. Unsurprisingly, these services come at a considerable cost, and often a cost that again is falling to residents.
With the cost of these services so high, in December 2020 the government committed £30 million to fund alarm systems for the common areas of buildings where waking-watch measures have been implemented.
As an industry, it has been vital for us to look to how we can best use SMART technology and advanced fire safety systems to address the monumental challenges residents and building owners are currently facing, and utilise the relief fund in the most cost-efficient, fast and effective way.
And more than six months on, there is still considerable scope to do so. The ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has released data that concludes as of 30 June, applications to the fund total 292 buildings, of which 191 were successful, which amounts to just over half (£16.5 million) of funding under the scheme.
Modern commercial fire safety systems are extremely reliable at detecting fires and can be remotely monitored to ensure critical infrastructure such as hospitals, transport hubs, data centres, offices, schools, universities, etc. are protected – without having to rely on waking-watch systems.
The challenge in installing these systems as a response to the current urgent need (and within a pandemic climate) is speed of installation. And the solution is clear. It is in wireless fire detection and alarm systems, which can be commissioned and installed in a matter of days or weeks rather than weeks or months – as is the case for wired systems that require invasive building works. Wireless systems can also be set up off site prior to installation, further reducing time required on site. As a life-safety controls system manufacturer, the result is an explosion in demand for residential, high-rise wireless fire detection and alarm systems.
Whereas in the security industry 95% of new systems installed are now wireless, penetration of wireless systems in the fire industry is alarmingly low at only 5%.
The primary reason for this is that there is usually a wider breadth of security and access control systems installed in a building, often at different times, meaning for ease and convenience of installation the industry had a greater need to go wireless. Wireless systems’ reliance on batteries has also been a challenge, with storage and concerns over limited battery life – and the frequency with which such batteries needed to be replaced – being particular issues.
There have also been industry concerns over the potential for wireless technology to lose radio signal performance in the event of a fire incident. However, we now know the technology is robust enough to withstand extremely high temperatures – and if a fire was catastrophic enough to generate a plasma effect – the detection devices in the room would have also perished!
The advent of dynamic mesh networks
In moving to wireless technology, the security industry has deployed mesh networks. Using mesh networks in fire safety systems was traditionally problematic, however, as they needed extensive installer training and expertise and the technology was not as reliable as is required for life safety systems.
Whereas previously we were limited by expanders that meant systems did not talk to each other at the required speed, technology has advanced and is enabling our industry to adopt wireless fire detection systems with complete confidence. Kentec’s new wireless detection system, for example, uses a true dynamic mesh network – which makes it easy to use, install and commission – and ultimately it provides robust assurance that fire incidents are detected and communicated immediately.
It seamlessly integrates with Kentec’s globally proven Syncro addressable fire control panel, which provides the programming power normally associated with much larger systems. As a multi-protocol panel, it enables complete flexibility in system design, and can be expanded and networked to become part of larger systems (utilising Kentec’s award winning Taktis panel) if the need arises, therefore providing a future-proof solution for any size of installation.
It also has a ten-year battery life – twice that of most manufacturers – and battery size has dramatically reduced so that large, unsightly power supplies are a thing of the past. The technology is also fully expandable and configurable from anything from two to 2,000 devices so even the largest, most disparate and complex sites can now be protected wirelessly.
How it works
A wireless translator module, which sits at the centre of the Kentec system, is hard-wired to the fire alarm control panel loop and communicates continuously with the wireless devices.
Wireless sensors are supplied in three variants – optical, thermal and multi-criteria – with the optical and multi-criteria sensors featuring adaptive signal processing and double dust traps to prevent false alarms. Thermal detectors can respond to a fixed temperature threshold or detect a rate of rise in temperature. Wireless sounders, call points and testing kits are also available within the range.
Wireless expander modules are used to extend the radio mesh network, increasing the reach and capacity of the overall system. It works by creating a self-healing mesh network, which constantly relays field device signals back to the translator module. Each wireless device determines which expander has the strongest signal path and automatically connects to it. The expander mesh network therefore guarantees an ‘always on’ connection between the wireless devices and the translator/fire control panel.
Further capabilities include a communication range of up to 1,200m, approximately eight times further than typical wireless devices, and the use of 120 devices per expander.
Critically important in protecting large numbers of the public, in addition to LPCB and EN-54 approval, Kentec’s system is also the only wireless full-range fire detection system to have the radio equipment directive (RED) approval, which sets essential requirements for safety and health, electromagnetic compatibility and the efficient use of the radio spectrum.
Training and manufacturer responsibility
It is our responsibility as manufacturers to invest in the research and development to ensure that systems meet the needs to the current market – however fast-moving and urgent they might be. It is also our responsibility to ensure that installers are fully trained in the systems they are installing – to this end, our wireless customers are automatically signed up to the Kentec Installation Partners (KIP) programme, providing them complimentary access to a complete suite of training and resources on the wireless range and all our fire detection panels. Indeed, to meet demand, we are currently running a weekly training course.
While the reality is that our wireless system is very engineer friendly, and once trained can be installed in less than an hour, we must be certain that when embracing new technology at speed we ensure that competency matches capability – a goal we are achieving through our KIP programme.
For more information, go to www.kentec.co.uk
Patrick Carnell, Managing Director of PJC Electrical, an installer on Kentec’s KIP scheme who has already installed a Kentec wireless system, says the range’s ‘self-healing’ mesh technology significantly increases its reliability and system performance:
‘It means the system utilises additional transmission routes if one signal is broken and adapts automatically to changing operating conditions.’
Commenting on its ease of use, he says: ‘We were able to program the devices at our offices, so when we got on site it was just a matter of fixing and turning them on. Spending less time on site benefits us, and also provides peace of mind to the occupiers. I will definitely be using and recommending Kentec’s wireless system for future projects.’