Fire Alarm Addressables
May 1, 2008
In the years since addressable fire alarm systems debuted in the marketplace, their superior advantages have become well-known â€” the ability to pinpoint the exact detector, pull station or other device that is in trouble or alarm, thereby making it easier for end users, first responders and dealer/installers to get the job done.
However, like the general electronic marketplace, technology is anything but static, and the latest incarnations of addressables prove that. New developments in the technology â€” both within the detector and panel, as well as their ability to communicate externally â€” are bringing addressable technology to more applications than ever before. Additionally, they are making it easier for the dealer to install and troubleshoot in all sorts of settings.
“Some of the latest trends in addressable fire systems are speed, power, agility and ease of use,” says Jack McNamara, director, industry affairs, Bosch Security Systems Inc., Fairport, N.Y. “Speed has increased in polling time and the confirmation of a valid alarm.
“Power has been added to the addressable systems to ensure proper operation of synchronized appliances and added system capacity,” McNamara continues. “IP makes fire systems more agile, with faster communication to the central station, and more cost-effective through the elimination of phone lines dedicated for communications. Customers have also demanded products that are simple to program and offer intuitive operation.”
SPEEDING UP AND BRANCHING OUTAddressables have changed in all sorts of ways in recent years. For one, they are faster. In the past, polling times and alarm verifications were accomplished in 90 seconds. That time has been drastically reduced now.
“The ability to have an alarm in a shorter period of time is a big development,” says Laurie Eisner, vice president of product management for Mircom Group, Vaughan, Ontario, Canada. “Alarm requirements over time have gotten shorter and shorter.
“Right now the requirement is at 10 seconds, with some jurisdictions requiring as few as three seconds,” she reports. “So both panels and devices have been changing over time to be faster.”
They also are smaller. “I think the biggest trend we are seeing across the board is the continued transition to smaller, addressable systems, away from conventional systems,” says Shawn Laskoski, marketing leader, fire and communications, for GE Security, Bradenton, Fla.
Eisner points out that addressable systems are being applied to smaller jobs. “In the past, jobs with just a few zones might be handled by conventional systems, but now a lot of smaller jobs are addressable,” she says.
Changes in the way addressables are connected plus the increased cost of labor are two big reasons for this change.
“Addressable products have moved from a single notification appliance protocol to multiple synchronization protocols covered by a single panel,” McNamara says.
“Modules make installations easier,” adds Tim Frankenberg, fire products manager, Potter Electric Signal Co. LLC, St. Louis. “Originally, systems operated on a single contact module. Now there are multiple input devices.”
This means that labor is less for an addressable system than a conventional system. “The equipment is more expensive [for addressables], but the labor is a lot simpler,” Eisner maintains. “Because labor rates keep going up, the economics mean the customer will go for an addressable system at a lower and lower number of zones.”
A single-loop addressable system, for example, requires an installer to pull just one pair of wires for the system, whereas a conventional system requires a wire to each zone.
“So if you are installing a 10-zone system, you would need 10 separate wires,” Frankenberg points out. “With addressables, the same number of zones can be installed with just one set of wires. With the rising prices of copper, that also helps reduce installation costs.”
Eisner thinks this reduced wiring makes addressable systems better for retrofit situations. “It is much easier to fish one wire than multiple wires,” she adds. “The addressable system makes a lot more sense.”
What this means for the customer is that the cost versus benefit equation now favors the more feature-rich addressables, Laskoski says.
“There is significantly less labor involved in addressable panels,” he asserts. “And there are significantly more features. When you put in an addressable system, every single detector is tracked. A conventional system can only tell you what zone.
“Previously, the cost point had people willing to forego that,” Laskoski concedes. “But it is really cost-effective now both from an end-user and from an installer standpoint to put in that addressable panel.”
What is that cost point currently? Frankenberg believes it is from 10 to 12 zones. “If you have that many, it is less expensive to put in a small addressable system than a conventional system,” Frankenberg declares. “On the front end, the cost may be a little more for smoke detectors and modules, but long-term, addressable makes a whole lot more sense as far as troubleshooting and maintenance.”
INSTALLATION AND MAINTENANCE BENEFITSChanges to addressable systems have made it easier than ever to install and maintain them for the customer. The increasing proliferation of addressables into smaller and smaller applications means these benefits are available to a wider range of customers.
Besides less wiring, the new modules also are allowing easier expansion of a system. “In the past, they had to put in a contact module and use a conventional device,” Frankenberg says. “Now with the addressable device, they put a single device in, and they are done.”
Another feature many addressable panels have is synchronization to meet requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). “NACs [notification appliance circuits] can drive synchronized strobes,” Eisner says. “ADA buildings require strobes to all flash at the same rate, and many addressable panels include those protocols.”
Frankenberg adds that more manufacturers are including synchronization protocols, which makes them easier to install. Maintenance also can be smoother using addressable technology.
“In general, addressables are easier to troubleshoot,” Eisner maintains. “The addressable gets you indications of wiring or device faults down to the point, whereas conventional is just down to the zone.”
Features like a two-line display indicating the source of a signal, such as ‘Kitchen on 4th floor,’ are available in less expensive panels, she points out.
“It was often lengthy and tedious to maintain conventional systems,” Frankenberg says. “You didn’t necessarily know where a wire ran.”
SMARTER SYSTEMSOne of the features making servicing and installing smarter is the integration of IP features into addressable systems.
“Something that is getting a lot of attention lately is IP DACTs [digital alarm communicator transmitters],” Frankenberg says. “It has to do with the reporting, how the panel communicates with the outside world.
“With the IP DACT, there is less cost for the installer to run phone lines,” Frankenberg asserts. “For long-term use on the end-user side, monthly charges are reduced, which makes an easier sale for the installer.”
Laskoski notes that IP is being incorporated in newer panels. “That is becoming a trend, with smarter panels,” he says. “You might be able to take one device off the system and it will recognize that particular device. It is that continued intelligence and smarts that will further the trend to the IP networking world.”
This has been an expectation at the high end of the market for a while. “There, IP is well-used,” Laskoski says of the high-end. “But what we are seeing is similar addressables replacing conventionals at the lower end. If we were to have this discussion two or three years from now, it would be all about smaller addressable networks in the marketplace.”
IP systems make installation and maintenance even more seamless. “On the installation side, it allows programming remotely, which means much faster uploading on the job site,” Laskoski says. “On the servicing side, it means the ability to get more information faster from the panel. If you can get a lot of information remotely, you can arrive on-site with the correct part in hand. There is a much greater ability to do diagnostics.”
Another advantage to these communications options is they allow more constant and reliable contact with central monitoring stations, Eisner says. “With the addressable system, since you know the exact point, that information can be sent to the central monitoring system,” she notes. “Panels in general are going to be more connected with central monitoring going forward.”
WHATâ€™S NEXT?Smaller and smaller applications will become the norm, and the increasing march of Internet-based features can only benefit the fire industry.
“Our view is that the current bunch of conventional panels being launched will probably be the last round of new conventional panels to ever hit the marketplace,” Laskoski maintains. “There will be this continued trend towards addressable panels in smaller and smaller applications. And they will continue to get smarter, especially on the installation side.
“I think anyone that is a major player will have entry level addressables,” he continues. “You will see less and less conventional systems. And I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t start to see smaller and smaller networked systems. That is the next trend in addressables.”
Frankenberg thinks the Internet is the next big thing. “We are just beginning to broach the idea of the Internet interfacing with addressables,” Frankenberg declares. “The fire alarm industry is slow to change, but as more manufacturers start to break that ice, we will see an increasing ability to look at these systems online and track what is going on that way. It is just getting better and better.”