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Software certainty reducing the risk

With the rapid shift in building design, materials and specification, how is the fire protection industry to keep pace? Here, Bob Glendenning of Sherwin-Williams Protective & Marine Coatings looks at some emerging solutions through the use of software tools.


In recent years, and particularly over the past five to 10 years, the UK steel construction industry for medium and high-rise buildings has evolved rapidly. It is now commonplace to see long span construction, with fewer columns, coupled with down-stand cellular beam construction to incorporate services through floor beams, rather than below as was the norm some years ago.


This construction style brings several advantages, including more ‘lettable’ floor area, future-proofed spaces, lines of uninterrupted view, faster construction, reduced floor zone depths allowing lower building height and reduced cost or more available floors as a result.


However, in achieving these benefits there are also challenges including the communication between the various parties in the supply chain involved. How are they to share information at the relevant time to make sure the project is compliant and that fire performance is factored in with the quality and specification required? Project teams are becoming increasingly global with different parts of the team spread across different parts of the world.


From the designer, to the specifier and to suppliers through to installers and building control officers, the detail can be lost, misunderstood, or not addressed at all.


The basic concept of Building Information Modelling (BIM) answers many of these questions. It offers the sharing and exchanging of data across multiple disciplines within the built environment in order to better and more fully communicate details and data.

Within the structural steel frame environment, remote global offices and different parts of a project team can exchange data so that information can be viewed about the various steelwork elements, almost in real-time.


Incorporate other elements


This is normally now done in a 3D format with other information being linked to allow fourth, fifth and sixth level dimensions, for example the delivery and build scheduling.


3D models also exist to incorporate different disciplines even within the steel frame, so for example the design model as well as the detailing model, and for the oil and gas industry, the process model to incorporate other elements beyond the structural frame.


These models can be linked together to allow data to flow from one to another to avoid conflicting elements. It can also now allow for review of the design process for the intumescent coating including any real or assumed design parameters.


One issue here in the protection of steel structures, for example, is to assume the steel design output and subsequent ‘redundant’ load bearing strength, leading to an increased ‘critical temperature’ and therefore reducing the level of coating protection required. To under-estimate for any reason is a high-risk approach that should be questioned vigorously. Only ‘actual’ design output should be used and be supplied by the project design team.


To assume a value to gain a competitive advantage or solve a challenge is not engineering. It is potentially risking life and property safety. That is why we are increasingly turning to software which removes any doubt in the process.

The starting point here lies with the architect, and then the specifier for recommending the most suitable products and standards that they must reach. Responsibility cascades through the supply chain to the manufacturer, the installer of the products and those officers auditing quality and safety through to sign-off.


The fire engineer or consultant should also be factored in earlier rather than later by the project design team, and this is where problems can emerge. If the fire engineer is called in to assess fire safety when the project is at an advanced stage and the solution has to be ‘retro-fitted’ then this can be too late.


Working with the steel fabricator, the fire protection measures - as with other safety measures - can be developed effectively early in the development of the design, making consideration of the material, the requirements according to structural design, fire design and other parts of it, for example cellular beams. BIM allows for all this to be available for all parties within the supply chain.


Level of compliance


The fire protection contractor may be considering on-site application or off-site depending on preference, so this too should be considered and how this may affect the process of fire safety measures.

We should ask, in handing over to the owner or manager, is the development delivering what they expected, and is the design and specification meeting the required level of compliance through the process with all necessary certificates and approvals etc?


At Sherwin-Williams, we have developed a working partnership with Trimble, one of the world’s leading suppliers and providers of technology for the steel and concrete industries and the built environment.


We recognised the need for a technology that would allow an accurate and risk-free design process to allow the dry film thicknesses (DFTs) of our intumescent coatings to be seamlessly incorporated into the steel fabricator’s 3D model.


With Trimble, we have developed a secure plug-in linked to our own software, the Firetex Design Estimator 2.0 (FDE2.0) which enables accurate calculations for complex projects as modern building design becomes ever more complex.


It handles every complexity imaginable, giving the added benefit of colour filtering to allow 3D analysis of the coating properties.

Steel fabricators rely almost entirely on such 3D models to effectively run their operations with the BIM platform, producing contract drawings and enabling the ordering of materials such as steel and bolts. So why not intumescent coating too?


Product referencing


With the continued rise of the use of off-site intumescent solutions, it makes sense to allow the fabricator to take control of the DFT design and then the paint application from his steelwork 3D model.


As they could be responsible for both steel and fire protection, this approach allows the fabricator to incorporate the intumescent product referencing as well as details such as the multiple product thicknesses that comes with an intumescent solution into their QA processes and systems.


Product information can be incorporated onto drawings and reports and linked to planning systems automatically without the risk of error from manual processes. This allows them full control of the fire protection system application and helps with pricing and ordering too.


It also allows for a building to have an ‘as-built’ record of the coating design and fire strategy, useful for onward building management once it becomes operational.


With the use of BIM, speed of operation is dramatically enhanced – a 15 storey model (full of varying span cellular beams) took less than four hours to complete - and the risk of error is almost wiped out.

The outcome of this process ultimately is safety, accuracy, peace of mind and efficiency benefits to our customers.


Bob Glendenning is the Global Fire Engineering Manager, Sherwin-Williams Protective & Marine Coatings. For more information contact Sherwin-Williams, tel: +44 (0)1204 521 771 or visit http://sherwin-williams.com/protectiveEMEA

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