Industrial-strength design: Fire and life safety

Manufacturing and industrial facilities tackle heavy-duty projects during their day-to-day operations—so it makes sense that engineers working on such structures face a number of tough challenges. Engineers offer advice on how to achieve strong results for fire suppression, life safety, and other fire protection systems.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer June 30, 2015


Jerry Bauers, PE, NEBB Qualified Professional, National Program Executive, Outcome Construction Services, Kansas City, Mo.

Jason R. Gerke, PE, LEED AP BD+C, CxA, Mechanical and Plumbing Group Leader, GRAEF, Milwaukee

Mark O’Connell, PE, Manager of Facilities Engineering, Matrix Technologies Inc., Maumee, Ohio

CSE: What unique fire suppression systems have you specified or designed in manufacturing and industrial facilities?

Gerke: We are currently engaged in the design for a foam suppression system at a 1-million-sq-ft chemical production and storage facility. This system will provide suppression by blanketing flammable materials with the foam product when commanded to discharge. There are a number of special design requirements with this system including containment for spills/discharged suppression product, environmentally safe drainage of suppression product, and coordination with the client’s insurance carrier for compliance with their standards.

CSE: Describe a recent project in which you have specified systems to mitigate combustible dust or other explosive particulates, such as explosion-proof enclosures.

O’Connell: We recently completed an engineering project associated with evaluation of an 8-story flour processing facility. Our analysis was governed by NFPA 68: Standard on Explosion Protection by Deflagration Venting. The facility had explosion-relief panels installed in 1975. Over the years, the hardware for the explosion panels deteriorated significantly. In addition, the facility’s maintenance group had applied a sealant around the perimeter exterior of the relief panels to minimize water and air infiltration. These modifications changed the performance characteristics of the explosion relief panels to the point where they would not operate as designed. Matrix Technologies designed replacement relief panels using a Kalwall system. The system was designed to accommodate the explosion relief pressure, while adding additional daylight to the space, adding thermal performance, and maintaining cleanliness for food safety.

CSE: What new and innovative technologies have you recently specified into a manufacturing or industrial building? How have these made a difference?

O’Connell: Many times an arc-flash study yields areas with high-incident energy that cannot be lowered to acceptable levels via protective device settings. In this instance, we have implemented the concept of a virtual main. This design introduces arc-flash detection relays with fiber-optic cable sensing that quickly interrupts the transformer primary of medium-voltage transformers. These techniques have resulted in lower incident energy values, and reduced the risk of serious injury during an electrical short-circuit fault event.