Joint ven­ture at cut­ting edge of fire safety re­search

Ul­ster Univer­sity and en­gi­neer­ing firm Efec­tis com­bine at fire test­ing fa­cil­ity

The Irish Times - Business - - BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY - In­no­va­tion Pro­file Ul­ster Univer­sity Barry McCall

The re­cent Gren­fell Tower tragedy in Lon­don and the rev­e­la­tion that five re­cently built schools in Le­in­ster had failed fire safety au­dits have brought the need for rig­or­ous en­force­ment of fire safety stan­dards into sharp re­lief.

The launch in Au­gust 2017 of Ire­land’s first com­mer­cial ac­cred­ited fire test­ing fa­cil­ity by Ul­ster Univer­sity is all the more timely in this con­text.

Efec­tis UK/Ire­land Ltd is a joint ven­ture be­tween Ul­ster Univer­sity’s world class FireSert re­search cen­tre and Efec­tis Group, a lead­ing in­ter­na­tional fire test­ing and en­gi­neer­ing com­pany with 16 of­fices and lab­o­ra­to­ries across Europe. The new com­pany will of­fer fire test­ing and ac­cred­i­ta­tion ser­vices to con­struc­tion prod­ucts man­u­fac­tur­ers as well as the broader con­struc­tion sec­tor on the is­land of Ire­land and fur­ther afield.

While Efec­tis will op­er­ate in­de­pen­dently of Ul­ster Univer­sity, it will make use of its best-in-class test­ing fa­cil­i­ties and re­search re­sources.

FireSert (the Institute for Fire Safety En­gi­neer­ing Re­search and Technology) is in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised as a cen­tre of ex­cel­lence for fire safety science and en­gi­neer­ing re­search. Its mis­sion is to en­hance pub­lic safety and the com­pet­i­tive­ness of in­dus­try through per­for­mance pre­dic­tion meth­ods, mea­sure­ment tech­nolo­gies and the de­vel­op­ment of fire safe ma­te­ri­als.

Ori­gins

The institute can trace its ori­gins back to the 1980s when a team from Ul­ster Univer­sity’s School of the Built En­vi­ron­ment es­tab­lished a fire test­ing re­search cen­tre in an in­dus­trial es­tate in Car­rick­fer­gus, close to the univer­sity’s Jor­danstown cam­pus. Its di­rec­tor Prof Ali Nad­jai joined in 1994 from the Univer­sity of Sh­effield, where he had en­gaged in fire re­search.

“I joined to as­sist in cre­at­ing a state of the art re­search fa­cil­ity for the fu­ture”, Nad­jai says. “We brought peo­ple in from many dif­fer­ent places and suc­ceeded in win­ning a pres­ti­gious £5.7 mil­lion (€8.5 mil­lion) grant from the UK govern­ment and other fund­ing agen­cies.”

To­day, FireSert’s fa­cil­i­ties in­clude a 600sq m (6,460sq ft) burn hall which al­lows full-scale fire re­search to be un­der­taken, a large-scale com­bi­na­tion wall and floor fur­nace, as well as in­ter­me­di­ate- and small-scale fur­naces.

Th­ese fa­cil­i­ties are com­ple­mented by a fire dy­nam­ics and chem­istry lab­o­ra­tory fur­nished with the lat­est test­ing equip­ment, as well as ex­ten­sive ded­i­cated com­puter fa­cil­i­ties for mod­el­ling fire growth, smoke and tox­i­c­ity.

A spe­cific set of lab­o­ra­tory fa­cil­i­ties is also avail­able for the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of hu­man be­hav­iour in fire.

Struc­tures

Re­search ef­forts also fo­cus on the be­hav­iour of fire’s im­pact on struc­tures.

“The state-of-the-art in­fra­struc­ture and equip­ment at FireSert are mak­ing a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to the study of how fires de­velop, how struc­tures re­spond to fire, how peo­ple re­act to fire and how to model fire and fire-re­lated phe­nom­ena in­clud­ing build­ing evac­u­a­tion,” says Nad­jai. “Stu­dents from across Europe and the world are at­tracted to, and ben­e­fit from, the fire safety en­gi­neer­ing train­ing of­fered at FireSert.”

“The new joint ven­ture will al­low FireSert to fo­cus its re­search on fire science whilst Efec­tis UK/Ire­land will con­cen­trate on third-party as­sess­ment of prod­ucts and build­ings and as­sist govern­ment bod­ies with fire safety is­sues,” says Talal Fateh gen­eral man­ager of Efec­tis UK/Ire­land. “One of our main ob­jec­tives is to be the main cen­tre for con­struc­tion fire safety on the is­land of Ire­land and help to pre­vent sim­i­lar tragedies to Gren­fell Tower and to guar­an­tee the safety of Ir­ish build­ings like schools and other pub­lic build­ings.”

The es­tab­lish­ment of the new ven­ture is very much mar­ket led ac­cord­ing to Efec­tis UK/Ire­land ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Seán Nel­son.

“It can be quite dif­fi­cult for man­u­fac­tur­ers to get their prod­ucts tested and ac­cred­ited to fire safety stan­dards. At present, we are hear­ing about firms be­ing told there are six or even nine month wait­ing lists for test­ing and we have even heard of com­pa­nies send­ing prod­ucts to Malaysia for test­ing. The joint ven­ture will help meet that de­mand on the is­land of Ire­land as well as over­seas. ”

Efec­tis UK/Ire­land is al­ready up and run­ning from the FireSert fa­cil­ity in Jor­danstown is ac­tively re­cruit­ing ad­di­tional staff. “We al­ready have en­quiries from Ir­ish firms and from Europe”, says Fateh. “We hope that this is just the first step and that we will move into other forms of in­dus­trial test­ing in fu­ture.”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: NIGEL MCDOW­ELL/UL­STER UNIVER­SITY

Ire­land’s first com­mer­cial ac­cred­ited fire test­ing fa­cil­ity, at Ul­ster Univer­sity.

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