Pumping Up Fire Protection

Pumping Up Fire Protection

Plant’s communication and intelligibility issues solved

Pumping Up Fire ProtectionThe Grundfos-Indianapolis manufacturing facility in Indiana, a plant that produces a broad selection of water pumping equipment, much of which results in small to large fire pump systems for commercial facilities, was in need of a fire alarm upgrade.

Initially, the plant intended to get a code-compliant, addressable fire alarm system with horns and strobes for notification capable of covering the site’s 300,000 square-feet of offices and manufacturing space. However, following a demonstration of a Gamewell-FCI E3 Series fire alarm and voice evacuation system, given by local fire and security integrator USAutomatic, the factory decided to undertake a more comprehensive life safety upgrade.

“First and foremost, we needed a better monitoring system,” said Mike Garland, environmental, health and safety manager at Grundfos-Indianapolis. “But once we discovered this E3 [Series] technology, we figured, ‘why not add on the voice evacuation system’ as we did not have an adequate notification system in place. Plus, we liked the fact we could use the new system for adverse weather alerts.”

Grundfos-Indianapolis wanted a fully-supervised fire alarm with the capability to broadcast live and pre-recorded messages, but the ambient noise throughout this mainly-industrial facility posed a challenge to the intelligibility of those communications. Moreover, the system had to be easy to use, monitor and economically accommodate future facility expansions.

Industrial Intelligibility

When USAutomatic was initially consulted, company Vice President Brent Agan and his team performed a walk-through of the plant to evaluate its existing equipment.

“The intelligibility of the notification throughout their plant was poor, and we quickly assessed that the existing speakers were inadequate,” Agan said.

To distribute power from the E3 Series’ digital voice system, Agan’s team selected six AA-100, bulk audio amplifiers (70.7rms) capable of supplying up to 100 watts of power to approximately 63 supervised horn loudspeakers equipped with a highly-efficient compression driver, providing up to 15 watts of power per speaker. This bulk audio package enabled the complete installation to be done using only eight circuits with approximately eight speakers per circuit to assist with minimized disruption to plant activity and a reduction of installation costs. Each speaker tapped between 1.8 to 7.5 watts, and USAutomatic centralized the bulk audio amplifiers in a convenient location for ease of access, service and inspection

“For large, open spaces, such as the Grundfos-Indianapolis factory, the E3 Series’ digital voice capabilities, combined with the proper selection and placement of horn loudspeakers with ample power, can deliver a level of communication intelligibility far exceeding any customers’ expectations,” Agan said.

Notification for the facility offices involved the installation of 86 strobes and horns, plus 25 additional speakers and strobes throughout. Two horn loudspeakers were installed outside and away from the building in employee gathering sites to ensure all emergency notifications could be heard and understood.

“With the outside speakers, we can now let people know when an emergency situation has cleared, and they can return to their workstations,” Garland said. “We didn’t have that capability before.”

When it came to fine-tuning the audio intelligibility, Agan said, “With some help from the Grundfos-Indianapolis staff, we walked the facility with a decibel meter and recorded ambient noise throughout the facility. We then plotted those results on a drawing and ultimately designed the speaker system to make sure we covered all areas adequately. The result was a highly-intelligible system in an increased ambient noise environment due to the manufacturing activities taking place.”

Before voice evacuation and mass notification systems became popular, the fire alarm industry had a different design focus than acoustic systems designers or public address and music systems. When the 2010 edition of NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code expanded its coverage of emergency communication systems (ECS), which included new intelligibility requirements for fire alarm voice evacuation and ECS, the industry’s focus on proper system design and testing for intelligibility changed.

Signal-to-noise ratio is a comparison of the volume that is being produced by a speaker to the ambient or background noise in a space. Chapter 18 of NFPA 72 calls for the speaker sound output to be an average of 15 decibels (dB) higher than ambient to achieve the needed intelligibility. Any higher than 15dB over ambient will most likely diminish the level of intelligibility; therefore, it is recommended that more speakers be added at lower tap settings as opposed to increasing existing speakers’ sound output.

Proper layout and placement of speakers is another factor that greatly affects intelligibility, particularly in large, open spaces with high ambient noise. Commercially-available software programs can be used to simplify the design of intelligible voice evacuation systems. Sound designers use these programs to model the acoustical properties of specific environments and speaker configurations. With proper speaker, space and room layout information, these programs can help predict the intelligibility of a voice system before installation.

Expandable Networking

The modular design of the E3 Series allows each system to be scalable to provide a custom fit that can be easily expanded or reconfigured over time, extending the system’s lifecycle.

The plant’s current system can support up to 64 nodes, and adding an expander board can double the capacity of that single fire alarm control panel. Using a twisted pair of copper wires or fiber optic cable to network all major components makes expansions and retrofits easy and more economical.

“The E3, in my view, is one of the strongest building blocks of emergency voice evacuation in that we can continue to add and expand using modules, which makes installation cheaper and easy,” Agan said. “The device is complex, but the componentry is simple and easy to expand.”

Use of the System

“This project does a great job of showcasing the E3’s emergency voice capabilities,” said Agan.

Prone to severe weather during the spring tornado season, the Indianapolis plant recently broke in its new notification system to instruct employees to take shelter during a dangerous storm.

“We recently had a severe thunderstorm, which caused a phase reversal fault in a fire pump, and the [fire alarm control] panel pulled that right up, significantly reducing our troubleshooting efforts,” said Todd Walterman, environmental, health and safety coordinator for the company.

Garland’s staff specifically appreciates the system’s battery back-up, which was lacking in their former communications system. The site recently experienced a power outage and for the first time during such an event, the facility’s staff was able to communicate with employees to convey appropriate instructions.

The new fire alarm also monitors the plant’s new sprinkler system installed by USAutomatic, in addition to the existing suppression system that runs on a pump produced by Grundfos- Indianapolis.

“Grundfos-Indianapolis has been generous in allowing us to invite other end users to witness their monthly testing to see what the system can do,” complimented Agan.

Experience Counts

While the E3 Series system was easy to work with, Agan’s crew did have to contend with executing the installation in a busy, ongoing industrial environment.

“The logistics of having access to all areas required a high degree of coordination with floor production and the EH&S department,” Agan said. “Some equipment could not be moved, so we had to have boom lift equipment to be able to operate in those areas. While installing wire wasn’t difficult, sometimes getting to the spot was challenging.”

Ultimately, due to its size and high level of intelligibility, the plant has become a flagship installation for USAutomatic.

“Overall, it was just a great system for us to put in here,” Garland said. “I wanted a system that I was very comfortable with, and I’m very pleased with what we got. I think it’s a great product.”

This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Security Today.

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