Feb 01, 2018

The Innovation Machine Behind a Revolution in Precision Measurement for Inert Gas Fire System Readiness

If necessity is the mother of invention, she sure knows how to light a fire under our team—or more correctly, how to help them put one out.
Game-changers:<br />The Innovation Machine Behind a Revolution in Precision Measurement for Inert Gas Fire System Readiness

In a recent post, we took you inside DIMES IG, a revolutionary new digital cylinder contents measurement system for ensuring fixed installation inert gas fire system readiness. While traditional inert gas pressure gauges use cylinder pressure to calculate contents, temperature fluctuations can throw that off dramatically, causing inaccurate measurement and possible fire safety system failure.

To measure inert gas cylinder contents accurately, you need to calculate the dynamic relationship between temperature, pressure, and the compensation of real gas behaviors.

Enter: Dr. Thomas Andreas—inventor of the DIMES CO2 System that transformed CO2 cylinder content measurement. Building on that success, he and his colleagues spent two-and-half years studying the dynamic factors for four main types of inert gas used in fire suppression: nitrogen, argon, IG 55 and IG 541. An integrated processor calculates the exact cylinder contents using an algorithm that factors in the relationship between pressure and temperature and real gas behaviors for each specific gas mixture.

The DIMES IG system is designed for cylinder pressure from 0 to 400 bars, offers measurement readings with 99.9% accuracy, and runs off an easy-to-use software interface (read more here). Along the way, Dr. Andreas and his team provided a snapshot into the approach Rotarex takes to developing innovative solutions and bringing them to market. The following is excerpted from a recent conversation with Dr. Andreas, edited for clarity and space.

#1. Solve Real Customer Challenges with Real Expertise

To understand how DIMES IG came to be, you must go back to the development of DIMES for CO2. For that system, we had a very good customer in Switzerland who did a large number of fire system installations, maybe 1,000 per year. One of his customers had a very large CO2-based fire detection and extinguishing system installed. Over time, there was leakage in the system's cylinders. Then, a fire breaks out. But because of the leakage, out of 20 kilos of extinguishing agent, there was only one kilo remaining. The machine burned down and the damage was over $2 million. The system worked perfectly, but there was no remaining agent in the cylinders.

Normally, CO2 cylinders need to be taken down and weighed once a year or so to determine the amount of extinguishing agent remaining. Our client commented that's too complex and too expensive. He wanted a simple solution integrated into some kind of smart electronic device. That got us thinking about how we could implement a smart electronic system that measures the stored amount of agent in the cylinders 24/7, and prompts action if the volume of gas drops lower than the concentration needed to extinguish a fire.

#2. Employ Nimble Teams & Agile Methodologies

Rotarex has over 90 years of experience in gas flow control for all major gas types, as well as our own in-house electronics laboratory for developing digital technologies. For that first DIMES system, we researched possible solutions, and what emerged were eight to 10 concepts.

From there we prioritized down to three concepts. One was ultra-sonic measurement. Another was hydrostatic pressure measurement, and the third was capacitive measurement. Through careful experimentation, we ultimately selected capacitive measurement as the basis for our system.

I developed the concepts. Two lab technicians tested the measurement modalities, including the dynamics of different filling densities, and the subsequent behavior of the gas. One of our electronic engineers in the Netherlands developed the technology to make the whole calculation using input from sensors within the cylinders. We're talking about a nimble team of three or four people to develop a digital gauge that would display the correct amount of gas, and software for easily managing systems.

When we had the first prototypes, we worked with our customer in Switzerland to do a year-long field study. From beginning to end, the development of DIMES for CO2 took three years, and has been in-market since 2004.

#3 Optimize Solutions for Customer Benefits

Shortly after we launched DIMES for CO2, we realized inert gas extinguishing agents were slowly gaining momentum, and that customers who use them would face similar measurement challenges. But we also recognized it would take several years for the market to reach the scale needed to make such an inert gas solution cost effective for our customers.

A few years ago, market velocity was such that it made sense to start developing DIMES IG. We knew that while traditional pressure gauges can work very well in stable conditions, there are a lot of applications that involve big variations in temperature that can impact the accuracy of measurements.

With hot climates or applications, you might get a false read for a fully pressurized cylinder, even when there's a leak. With a colder climate or application, you might actually set off the alarm, despite having the correct amount of gas. To work, DIMES IG would need to account for the dynamic relationship between pressure, temperature and the resulting behaviors of each of the inert gasses used in fire suppression.

One of the challenges was finding a supplier that could combine pressure and temperature measurement in the same sensor cost effectively. There was no point developing a system that would be too expensive. So, we worked with suppliers to make it work.

Today, the DIMES System for inert gas uses advanced sensor technology and algorithms to measure both pressure and temperature, then calculates the real gas cylinder contents at ambient temperature with 99.9% accuracy. That means engineers, installers and their customers can all have more confidence that their IG fire protection systems will be ready for action, and won't fail at that critical moment.

Continuously Refine & Innovate

One of the things we've heard from customers is the desire for remote monitoring via mobile device. For the future, we want to develop a cloud-based system that leverages our sensor technology to send alerts to your mobile phone based on the parameters you set.

Instead of continuously checking installations on a pre-set basis, you can receive an alert only for those where an issue demands your attention. That alone could save a vast amount of time and money for installers and their customers. For us, it's always about listening to customers about their needs and working collaboratively to develop the most innovative solutions to meet them.

To learn more about DIMES IG from Rotarex, download a FREE brochure, here.

Paul Delecourt
Paul Delecourt
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