Manufacturer and supplier of fire-detection and extinguishing equipment Alien Systems & Technologies (AST) has launched a range of foam-based vehicle fire-detection and extinguishing systems for use on light- to heavy-duty vehicles and nonroad equipment.
The Astex Vehicle Fire Suppression System can be installed on vehicles, excavators, draglines, dozers, graders, underground mining equipment, forklifts, buses and medium-sized commercial vehicles, as well as four-wheel-drive vehicles that are used on mine sites.
AST business development manager Grant Wilkinson tells Engineering News that the system was developed to control potential fires caused by overheating vehicle turbochargers and hydraulic bays.
He points out that most diesel-powered vehicles and equipment use turbochargers to increase engine performance.
During operation, the turbocharger becomes hot and this, combined with a damaged fuel line, may cause the diesel vapour to ignite when it comes into contact with the hot turbocharger, explains Wilkinson.
The system detects, by means of heat, that a fire has started, after which it automatically signals the driver while stopping the vehicle and initiates the system to extinguish the fire.
The Astex Vehicle Fire Suppression System uses a foam-based extinguishing medium. The foam not only extinguishes the fire but also cools down the engine bay, reducing the risk of possible reignition.
The traditionally dry chemical powder systems, which are used in South Africa, extinguish fires quickly and efficiently, but are unable to cool down the engine.
Wilkinson says the Astex system can be customised according to specific client requirements and the risk requirements of the vehicle.
Meanwhile, AST also provides suppression system users with a complete working risk assessment, including comprehensive documentation.
This service entails consultation with the client, risk manager, vehicle foreman and, possibly, the vehicle-manufacturer representative to establish an acceptable approach on how the system will work from a risk point of view and what the requirements will be, explains Wilkinson.
The system is available in three ranges – the Astex Maxi Foam Fire Suppression System for heavy vehicles, the Astex Mini Foam Fire Suppression System for medium vehicles and the Astex Micro Foam Fire Suppression System for light vehicles.
The system is compliant with the Standards Australia AS 5062 fire protection standard for mobile and transportable equipment, is available in an electrical or pneumatic heat-detection version and is controlled using an in-cab indication and control panel.
A more basic system is also available and features manual activation points, says Wilkinson.
AST has an African footprint and has supplied its products to mining operations, industrial plants and commercial buildings in Namibia, Botswana, Ghana, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Tanzania, besides other countries.
The company has also established subsidiary companies in the UK, with a partnership in Malaysia, and exports its products to Australia and Latin America.
Meanwhile, Wilkinson says the fire-prevention industry is actively moving towards the development of carbon-sensitive products, in line with the global trend to reduce global warming and carbon emissions.
The industry is eliminating the use of products that have significant global warming or ozone layer-depleting effects, such as halon gaseous extinguishing systems, which were effectively phased out under the Montreal Protocol in 1987 and the use of hydrofluorocarbon gases that have been deemed ‘unsustainable’ by the European Commission’s EC842 regulation, which aims to reduce emissions of fluorinated gases, which significantly contribute to the greenhouse effect.
Although these products extinguish fires well, customers have become increasingly averse to using them because of their negative environmental impact, says Wilkinson.
“Extinguishing system manufacturers are now generally moving towards using inert naturally occurring gas blends, such as argon and nitrogen, which have no global warming or ozone layer-depleting potential.”
End-users and customers with knowledge of environment-friendly fire-prevention systems are choosing products such as the locally manufactured Pyroshield fire-suppression system or other imported systems.
AST has always followed the trend towards promoting the use of environment-friendly suppression systems.
The company’s South African Bureau of Standards- and Bureau Veritas-approved Pyroshield Gaseous Extinguishing System was chosen as the runner-up in the ‘Best Product under R1-million’ category at the Green Supply Chain Awards 2012 in August, which was hosted by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport South Africa, the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa and Supply Chain Today magazine.
Dimension Data Advanced Infrastructure, a builder of server rooms and computer rooms, has standardised the use of AST’s Pyroshield Gaseous Extinguishing Systems in all of its server rooms, notes Wilkinson.
AST has introduced the Cirrus Pro range of aspirating fire detectors, which is an early warning fire-detection system that can detect combustion at the insipient stage, when smoke is not present.
The system uses cloud-chamber technology, which does not detect smoke particles, as is the case with traditional smoke detectors, but detects invisible submicrometre combustion particles, making it impervious to false alarms caused by dust particles, humidity and temperature variations.
The Cirrus Pro system, which was launched in 2010, is versatile and can be used in almost any application, from a clean server room environment to very dirty coal mining environments, as the dust particles have no effect on the system’s detector.
Since the product’s launch in 2010, AST has had enquiries about the system from coal mining operations for use in conveyor belt tunnels to cement manufacturers for use in cable tunnels, as well as from clients operating clean server rooms and high-bay warehouses.
The Cirrus Pro Fire Detector was recently used at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Despite the local industry’s move to carbon reduction and technological innovation, Wilkin- son says there is still a demand for skilled people in the fire protection industry, specifically people with an understanding of fire-protection engineering and what the discipline entails.
As an engineering discipline, fire-protection engineering involves the understanding of many different engineering disciplines, such as mechanical, civil, electrical and chemical engineering, which invariably requires tertiary education.
“At this stage, institutions like the Fire Protection Association of Southern Africa and the Institution of Fire Engineers provide training; however, there could be greater focus on fire-protection engineering at tertiary education level in the fire-protection engineering discipline, much the same as is offered in Europe, North America and Australia,” asserts Wilkinson.
Further, there is also an increased need for qualified people to train others in the fire-protection industry, he says.
The Institution of Fire Engi-neers offers internationally recog- nised courses. In spite of the insti- tution’s good work in this regard, Wilkinson notes, much still needs to be done to ensure that more qualified peeople are available.