Many installers have been installing conventional fire alarm systems for some considerable time and are very familiar with the technology. Of course, in the early days there were few options available and it was not uncommon to see comparatively large systems, e.g. 64 zones and above with quite complex control panels, running conventional detection circuits and multiple sounder circuits.
In answer to increasingly complex fire safety requirements, addressable systems have developed into a strong market sector. A division has appeared between the ‘Specialists’ who understand addressable systems and the less experienced ‘Installers’ who stay with conventional systems. Differences also exist in the way manufacturers have managed the marketplace, using PC configuration tools and sometimes limiting product availability to control those whom they will allow to work with their systems.
An installer seeking to make the move from conventional to addressable fire alarm systems may be filled with some trepidation. This is understandable when consideration is made of the complexities of some systems, limited access to programming software, often high equipment costs and of course the many scare stories that abound.
However, in recent years commercial forces have driven many manufacturers to work hard to implement the key advantages of top-end addressable systems into smaller and less complex packages. This has resulted in a wide range of systems to suit the needs of small to medium sized installations with the increased flexibility offered by an addressable system: often with considerable cable savings.
In the late 1990s it was generally not considered cost-effective to switch to an addressable system until more than 8 zones were required, but with today’s products it can sometimes be worthwhile for a system as small as 2 or 4 zones. Even the so-called ‘2-wire systems’ are facing the squeeze as there is little need for an interim product before switching to addressable technology.
What exactly is an addressable fire alarm system?
Conventional systems use radial detection circuits individually installed into each area (zone) and at least two sounder circuits across the entire premises. Devices are simple two-state (on/off) devices that use different levels of resistance (load) to signal to the control panel.
Addressable fire alarm systems use ‘data communications technology’ to individually monitor and control a number of detection and alarm devices on a single circuit usually in the form of a loop (or ring). Each device is given a unique identification number (address) and the control panel may be set to respond appropriately with location text, zone information, alarm type etc. for a detection device, or when and how to trigger an alarm or output device. Addressing varies from complex ‘Automatic Addressing’ systems known as soft addressing, through hand held programmers to simple dil switch binary coding on each device known as ‘hard addressing’.
Detection devices often use ‘analogue technology’ to give improved, and sometimes adjustable, sensitivity to alarm conditions. This has nothing to do with old style ‘analogue communications’ but relates to the way each sensor (e.g. smoke) converts a variable signal voltage into a digital number to enable analysis.
What are the key advantages?
Addressable systems can offer huge advantages over older conventional technology including the following:
- Reduced cable requirements (and hence installation costs).
- Simple loop based wiring common to all areas and all devices.
- Increased flexibility to encompass changes and alterations without major re-wiring.
- Sounders may be more easily integrated with detection.
- Displayed point text identification in the event of alarm rather than just a zone or area number.
- Event Log for fault finding and other diagnostic tools.
How does this affect a system installer?
Look carefully at each system you consider installing as it is no longer true that small systems should be based on conventional fire technology.
In considering a simple addressable system you may be able to offer a more competitive service whilst giving the end user a significantly better solution.
Do not be put off by complex addressing scenarios or the need to use a PC for programming and configuration. Addressable systems are now available that use simple addressing techniques and have no requirement for PC based programming tools: although as we are all familiar with PCs these days an averagely competent PC user should have little to fear.
The first port of call is always to ask your supplier to recommend the best product for your requirements. Most good suppliers will have their own technical support teams for this purpose and will be quite used to each situation.
Discount Fire Supplies is an established online wholesaler of fire alarms, gas detection and emergency lighting systems and we have an extensive product catalogue which continually expands to include the very best products on the market for fire alarm companies.
In a world where so many products are available online with little support or availability we are one of few fire alarm companies committed to;
- Holding adequate stock to ensure we can offer same day dispatch on orders received before 2.30pm.
- Providing our customers with free technical support (by telephone or email) from our team of trained engineers.
- Ensuring our prices are competitive.