Integrating smoke control solutions

Multi-storey buildings such as apartment blocks or office buildings usually have escape routes via corridors or stairwells. In the event of a fire, smoke can be the biggest risk to life as it spreads quickly in a short space of time, making it difficult for occupants to escape and for fire fighters to gain safe access.

For this reason, legislation provided in Approved Document B (ADB) 2006 requires buildings with three or more floors to have smoke control solutions. Smoke ventilation systems should be installed in all buildings covered by the legislation to keep escape routes smoke-free. Additionally buildings with any floor over 18m in height should also incorporate a fire fighting shaft which is protected from smoke to provide clear access for fire and rescue services.

Benefits of integration

Smoke control solutions can be integrated as part of a wider building management system (BMS), slashing maintenance and installation costs while producing a more efficient overall system.

A fully integrated system allows all of a building’s services such as the fire alarm, security, CCTV, smoke control, passive ventilation and lighting systems to work together, with the overall operation of the building managed through one Human Machine Interface (HMI).

A HMI screen provides one point of control for the fire brigade and building management team to access all services within a building. This makes monitoring and fault diagnosis much more straightforward.

Duplication of materials

When each element of a BMS package is developed in isolation, as is commonly the case, this causes issues with communication when the systems are all connected at the conclusion of a project. The nature of this type of segregated installation requires each package to have its own associated hardware to make it function. The duplication of materials creates waste and as a result, the overall system is more expensive.

When packages are designed separately each service has a network of controllers, a software programme to operate it and a main control panel for each service. Often these controllers will be located adjacent to each other at multiple locations throughout a building. The hardware and field wiring will also be duplicated for each service.

When you consider the sheer volume of hardware required for this, it’s easy to see why an intelligent building management system, where the circuit boards are networked together and are programmed to work with each other, is far more cost effective.

Another key issue with non-integrated building services is the variety of communication protocols between the different components, which can cause problems when it comes to the different elements communicating with each other.

When system services are designed in isolation and each specialist uses its own preferred communication platform, a closed protocol is created. This means that different contractors do not necessarily have knowledge of the software and components that those boards use, causing problems, for example, with the fire alarm communicating effectively with smoke control systems.

Interface gateways can be used to correct this problem to allow various systems to talk to each other. However, this can be costly and there remain limitations as to how well the different services work together.

Building management systems are currently being used in many buildings to interface different services to some extent. This differs from total integration and usually extends to relaying status information through volt-free contacts. The use of volt-free contacts limits the development of any future work to the system or any wider integration as the information that can be exchanged is fixed.

A totally integrated network system, based on open BMS protocols, enables a flexible approach by making information available to all parts of the system. Feedback loops can be easily created leading to enhanced performance, reduced operating costs and a more user-friendly system.

Advantages for fire safety

In the event of an emergency, where building services systems aren’t integrated, the fire brigade can be faced with smoke control, fire alarm and BMS panels all providing critical information designed to assist them in an emergency. However, the multitude of information presented can be complicated and hard to understand without substantial training.

Integrated control systems can reduce the burden on the fire brigade. The HMI can present visual information that is clear and easy to understand including, theoretically, live video footage of the fire area. The system can also identify where people are located in a building, enabling the fire brigade to manage emergency situations more effectively and safely.

Maintenance benefits

A fully integrated system with one HMI enables the user to have complete control over the building services from one location. The single point of control makes monitoring and fault diagnosis simpler and reduces maintenance costs.

Where separate contractors maintain individual systems, there is no single contractor looking after all of a building’s services as a whole. This results in higher maintenance costs as it requires different contractors to attend site to carry out a small amount of work on each service.

This problem can be removed where a system is combined onto a single platform and responsibility for maintenance is taken by a single contractor. Less site visits are required for planned maintenance, which in turn lowers costs. In addition, if problems arise, only one contractor is required to attend the site to find the cause and undertake corrective work.

Collaboration

So if integrating all services into one system creates a more efficient and intelligent building that is more cost effective, you might wonder why all building management systems aren’t commissioned and designed in this way?

The reality is that contractors and engineers generally specialise in one field such as smoke control or air conditioning, so when a building management system is being planned, it is often designed and installed by separate specialists in isolation. This means communication and integration between the different services is minimal.

Collaboration is not encouraged because contractors are keen to maintain an edge over competitors, and there is no incentive to share information that could create a better overall output and generate safer conditions for a building’s occupants and the fire service.

Additionally, the design and engineering of fire safety systems is a complex area that should only be undertaken by trained and accredited specialists. This ensures that one person with the ability to take responsibility for multiple packages can design out wasteful duplication and deliver integrated systems that achieve cost savings in building construction and operation, while enhancing safety through improved communication.

If the industry is to make forward strides in value engineering, individual providers need to embrace true collaboration. Only then can we be in a position to provide the buildings of the future with the best possible management solutions and safety conditions.

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