All over the world automatic fire sprinkler systems must comply with an international ISO standard known as the ISO 6182 performance standard. They must also gain approval from two U.S. underwriting companies, FM Global and UL. In order for manufacturers to meet the ISO/FM/UL benchmarks their sprinkler systems need to undergo a complex scientific exercise known as the "plunge test”.
The scientific test determines the Response Time Index (RTI) and Conductivity Factor (C Factor). [The RTI is used in conjunction with the C Factor to predict the response time of the sprinkler in fire environments defined in terms of gas (air) temperature and velocity versus time, enabling fire suppression system design engineers to design effective sprinkler systems].
This scientific process is conducted inside a unique custom-built RTI Plunge Test Tunnel. Archer is the world’s developer, designer and manufacturer of this highly sophisticated piece of test equipment.
Yamato Scientific Co. contacted Archer and requested that an RTI Plunge Test Tunnel be made for the Japan Fire Equipment Inspection Institute. The brief included having Archer fly to Tokyo to train their engineers. The JFEII was established in 1963 as a public organisation to conduct inspections of fire equipment across the Japanese mainland. It is housed in Japan’s National Research Institute of Fire and Disaster which is where the nation’s fire fighters are trained. JFEII specified that it wanted the same test equipment as FM and tasked Yamato Scientific Co. with sourcing it.
“The RTI plunge test tunnel is a highly specialised application-specific piece of world standard apparatus. The uniquely shaped wind tunnel is a fully integrated solution with process control for both gas (air) temperature and velocity, sprinkler response time control, and can measure pressure differences of less than 1 Pascal to a resolution of 0.0001 mmHg”, said Operations Director Russell Byrne.
Before Archer’s revolutionary tunnel was developed the few organisations which carried out such testing would build large test tunnels which were permanent fixtures of buildings. Then along came the Archer design which is free standing and fully self-contained. With dimensions of just 2200 x 1000 x 1600mm it is easily transportable and this has become the product-of-choice around the world.
The tunnel features custom fabricated stainless steel duct work with ceramic insulation and a painted mild steel exterior cladding. Archer manufactured all components of the tunnel: heating plenum chamber; plug fan assembly (housing, impeller and transmission); duct work, dampeners, doors and cladding; test section ducting and plunge mechanism; and other parts (excluding the electric motor and heater elements), including many precision machined components on our Okuma multi-axis machine centres. Next we integrated the electronics which included a programmable process controller, electric fan motor and variable speed drive, timer, pressure switches/transducers and temperature thermocouples. It took just over three months to build. The completed tunnel underwent stringent testing at the Archer Manufacturing Centre of Excellence before being shipped to Japan.
The Japanese RTI Plunge Test Tunnel project is a good demonstration of the diversity of Archer. Engagement went all the way from designing the first-of-its-kind solution with best of breed 3D CAD/CAM/CAE software to product development, sourcing of materials, manufacturing parts, electromechanical integration, product testing, installation, commissioning of the equipment, training personnel and producing the operations manual in Japanese! A complete end to end delivery.
In the words of Managing Director Brad Byrne,
"We always like to take on a new challenge and extend ourselves. We are known for taking on the projects that others regard as 'too hard'. With the wide range of equipment that we have in place and the combined expertise of our team we really are suited to developmental manufacturing for R&D, making working prototypes, producing low volume runs of complex and specialised components, and helping to test them."
Russell emphasises that being hands-on right to the end of a project is a ‘signature’ of Archer methodology,
“It’s one thing to manufacture a product, it is another thing to ensure that your customer understands it and will get the best return on investment from it. When you are dealing with international customers it is vital that you go the extra mile. We are up against tough competition from overseas but I believe here in Australia we have the know-how to provide highly specialised technology to the world. Brad and I stayed over there for five days installing the tunnel, comissioning it and training the JFEII engineers. What was interesting was that they also sought out our expertise and experience to assist them with understanding the ISO performance standard for automatic fire sprinklers. They saw us as an authority in this field. So we spent time helping them get a good understanding.”
Adds Brad, "We are focused on accurately defining our customers' solutions. We develop a complete understanding of their environment and challenges. Our expertise in production engineering and manufacturing processes combined with our passionate results-centric philosophy delivers the very best outcome."