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System Sensor: This is groundbreaking technology

18 January 2013

David Strydom spoke to two technical specialists at System Sensor - David Howard (DH) and Johan Vossen (JV) - regarding hazardous area in the food and beverage sector. Excerpts:

FP: What is System Sensor and what does it do?
JV: We work as part of the Honeywell Group, within which we specialise in the design and manufacturing of fire detection and evacuation solutions. We go to market through a network of OEM partners - the people who actually design and build fire systems and commercialise them through their brands. As a result we're the largest manufacturer of fire detectors in the UK and across the world. We don't generally deal with the food manufacturers directly or even, in most cases, with the system integrators as this is managed by the OEM. However food manufacturing is an increasingly important market for us as we are developing specialist solutions to cope with these challenging environments.

FP: How strong are you in the UK compared to your presence in the rest of Europe?
JV: System Sensor is one of the largest manufacturers of commercial fire detection devices in the UK and the rest of Europe - particularly Italy, Spain and the Benelux region where we are seeing growth at the moment. Residential detectors are different types of devices and we don't get involved in those currently though it is something we are looking at. We work with a variety of specialist fire systems manufacturers both within Honeywell and outside of the group - all of which are focused on life safety. We have always been renowned for providing commercial fire detection solutions. However we now offer a more extensive range of specialist solutions to improve detection performance and reliability in challenging environments. That's why we have brought a new range of aspiration detectors to market that will reliably be able to detect fire before it happens in areas where high levels of steam or dust are present.

FP: Which part of Europe, including the UK, has the biggest potential for growth?
JV: Throughout Europe there's plenty of opportunity, particularly because fairly recently a new European standard for aspirating systems was launched, along with new codes of practice for specialist applications, such as BS 6266 for data centres, which was updated in 2011. Aspiration systems work by drawing air through a network of pipes into a detection chamber and inside the chamber, the air samples are analysed using a combination of different technologies - Infrared Laser and LED in the case of System Sensor. Based on that, you can identify issues via the fire panel well before an evacuation system needs to be activated. That technology has been around for many years but the real innovation is that we can analyse the smallest concentration of smoke particles even if the air has been contaminated by non fire related things like steam and dust. The UK is one of the largest markets due to the introduction and implementation of the legislative Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order.

FP: What differentiates you from your competitors?
DH: What makes us leaders in the market is the amount of innovation and expertise that has gone into producing aspirating technology - an incredibly fast growing field. It was originally used as an early warning system for data centres due to the incredible cost of a downtime and disruption. What happened was the technology in the aspirator itself was only tested and certified to the level of a normal point detector you'd get in an office block, for instance. So the EU brought in a new legislative standard that created three classes of sensitivity which means you can cover many more applications; the knock-on effect is that by analysing these particles using ultra fine filtration processes we can differentiate between dust, steam and smoke. Most systems, including those of our main competitors, don't have false alarm immunity so when the detector actually samples the air that's drawn in through the pipe network it can't differentiate between steam or dust, so there are many false alarm issues. System Sensor has placed considerable time and money into researching this groundbreaking piece of technology. In addition, we placed three innovative defences against false alarms in the aspirating detector.

FP: Are UK food factories reluctant to invest in the solutions you offer?
DH: There has been some reluctance in the past but that is changing dramatically thanks to awareness of the value that early warning and false alarm immunity brings to an organisation, but also because of the new legislation being introduced. I have worked with many food factories in my time - commissioning, installing different fire protection systems. What we find now is that because of legislation they have to - and want to be - compliant - and they have a much better understanding of the solutions that are available. It's the biggest shot in the arm the UK fire industry has had in a long time. Manufacturers are looking seriously at the issues. For instance, the legislation says any installed fire protection system has to be maintained under law. Records have to be kept and it has to be in good working order. It has to be appropriate for the building and application use as well. This has been a big driver for these companies to get their act together. Some of these companies' systems are still not up to scratch - I can think of a number of food factories I've been to where this was the case - and if someone were to get injured from a fire, there could be prosecutions and even imprisonment. That has changed people's perceptions.

Johan and David were speaking following the recent launch of System Sensor's cutting-edge aspiration detection system, FAAST.

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