Life safety industry prepares for UL864

July 2007 is significant because that’s when fire alarm control panels and related accessory manufacturers must meet
Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Ninth Edition Standard or they can’t ship their products. UL’s fire-alarm controls document—Standard for Safety for Control Units and Accessories for Fire Alarm Systems, 864 Ninth Edition—has shaped up to be one of the most momentous propellants of change to the fire and life safety industry in decades, having a profound effect on panels, sensors, detectors, power, signaling and transmission, logging 180 changes in all.

From one end of the spectrum to the other, UL’s Ninth Edition has caused changes in the life safety systems market. Some of the changes and refinements include faster detector cycle time from inception of alarm to point of notification, from 90 to 10 seconds; enhanced immunity to radio frequency interference; better synchronization with notification appliances; and greater software integrity and broadened programming requirements.

UL Ninth Edition also has driven power supply technological changes and modifications, and supplies have increased capability and must perform under a broad spectrum of devices. Because strobe synchronization is required under UL 864, power-generating products must be able to handle the extra surge in an alarm or activated condition.

Manufacturers have been working for years to meet the compliance date. But, they have taken it as an opportunity to refine and streamline products and upgrade panels with microprocessor controls and cutting-edge hardware, software and communications technologies. Like many other products on the market, fire alarm control panels (FACP) often act as mini-computers—communicating information via digital or other network transmissions and allowing installers to supervise, program and troubleshoot units remotely.

As a result of these changes, fire alarm systems and their signaling and sounding components have become more intuitive devices that pinpoint alarmed detectors and areas in distress and quickly bring first responders to trouble spots in a facility. Coupled with ever-evolving intelligence in smoke sensors and other detectors, life safety has evolved into next-generation proactive life-saving equipment, helping occupants egress the building effectively and fire authorities to do their jobs more efficiently.

“There have been many enhancements to both addressable and conventional fire alarm control panels as well as innovation that focuses on installation savings and ease of maintenance,” said Beth Welch, manager, Communications and Media Relations, Honeywell Life Safety Group, Northford, Conn. “Fire-Lite Alarms has standardized the chassis or cabs across the FACP line and focused on labor savings. Our new common enclosures feature more room and quick mounting and dismounting of electronics. Printed circuit boards are mounted on a metal chassis that can be removed and replaced with just two bolts. This allows the installer to mount the back box and pull and tag the wire while keeping the electronics safe in the box or in the truck.”

Fire-Lite Alarms also used UL’s Ninth Edition mandates to bring new features to its conventional hardwired panels.

“Now, conventional panels offer addressable and intelligent features as well,” Welch said. “FACPs can be programmed to synchronize horn and strobe notification appliances (one of the requirements in UL864), and customers aren’t forced to replace those types of costly devices throughout a facility. Coupled with intelligent detectors, conventional panels take on many of the features of addressable and continue to meet the needs of many different fire alarm applications.”

Addressable panels continue to make inroads into smaller footprint installations as well, as the cost difference between the two close in on each other, said Jeff Hendrickson, director of marketing, Silent Knight, Maple Grove, Minn.

“We took our existing line and upgraded it to the new standard, so it was a natural migration,” he said of the UL standard revision. “It gave us a chance to concentrate on the growing market for addressable fire alarm panels. Definitely, the cost difference between conventional and addressable systems is really closing in now.”

Now that UL Ninth Edition work is over, manufacturers can focus on refining products further, and that’s sure to bring another round of intelligent, network-ready, full-service fire alarm system solutions to the industry—even better than the round of astounding changes that came to market since the UL standard went public. Look for network-ready devices and the Internet to play an increasingly greater role in fire alarm communications, programming, supervision and control. EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.