The future of fire protection

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An art gallery's natural light was no barrier to the latest smoke beam detection solutions.

The world of optical smoke beam detection is evolving to provide solutions for both historic and modern architecture, guaranteeing optimum fire protection while maintaining aesthetics.

Over the past 10 years, there have been real advancements in the fire prevention and protection industry, reflecting emerging technologies and the changing requirements in the marketplace.

This progress in innovation is now emerging in the fire alarm industry too, particularly within beam detection solutions. Fire alarms have been falling behind the technological times with limited adoption of new technologies. Modern building design has also provided a challenge for those innovating in this area of fire protection.

What’s changing?

Traditionally, beam detector systems — which work by detecting light obstruction to identify a fire —are used in large buildings such as warehouses, factories, atriums or venues. This is due to standard spot smoke detection units having a limitation to the height at which they can detect smoke and, therefore, not being suitable for buildings with high ceilings.

However, there are other benefits beam detection units boast compared to traditional systems including accuracy, the area coverage, their compact size and the ease of installation.

Even though these innovative devices have many benefits, there were restrictions on the type of building in which they could be installed, due to an array of design difficulties. These include buildings with glass ceilings and large skylights or areas that use strong artificial lights, such as a laboratories and classrooms, due to light obstruction causing false alarms.

As the design and aesthetics of a building are now just as important as the function it was first intended for, modern buildings are being designed with irregular features and impressive glass atriums, so it’s imperative that the safety features installed are able to work reliably in the new era of buildings, both operationally and artistically.

In many cases the design and aesthetics of a building are just as important as its function, so there is a need for fire detection systems to fit nicely

What’s more, as technology develops, society’s requirements for quick, seamless and simple systems are increasing and workers, including facility managers and maintenance staff, want easy installation. Complicated systems that require endless wiring, time-consuming maintenance processes and lengthy set up are becoming a thing of the past.

As the design of buildings becomes more and more important to organisations, experts recognised that traditional beam and spot detection units couldn’t offer sufficient fire protection to a range of infrastructures.


There have been a number of cases where buildings across the globe have now been able to utilise beam detectors due to technological advancements including the Los Angeles Federal Courthouse, where the height of the atrium was causing difficulties for conventional smoke detectors due to both detection and maintenance issues.

Another case is the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London, where, again, due to the design of the building, the architect’s desire to preserve the aesthetics and the nature of displaying artwork, proved challenging for conventional spot detectors to be installed. To modernise the building and to showcase the artwork in the best possible light, the gallery installed skylights along the length of the building.

This type of design would normally have prohibited beam detection systems being fitted due to the natural light obstruction; however, FFE’s Light Cancellation Technology continuously monitors and compensates for ambient light, meaning false alarms are no longer triggered. As a result of the compact nature of the beam detector, the gallery was able to achieve optimum protection while not compromising on design aesthetics.

Future prevention 

Fire prevention has come a long way in recent years, with more choice being offered to architecturally-focused buildings. However, manufacturers of fire detection units are still working to develop products that go further to offer optimum protection. The fire industry, like many, is faced with ongoing advances in connectivity and new technologies and so must continually look to evolve and change to meet the needs of tomorrow.

Society is driven by legislative change and by the need for high standards and, following a rise in health and safety awareness, people’s expectations and attitudes have evolved. This has ultimately changed how the industry operates by holding more people accountable, resulting in an increase in the care being taken when installing protective devices.

Oliver Burstall is managing director at FFE


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