Unifire FlameRanger Featured in International Fire Protection Magazine

FlameRanger is an advanced, fully autonomous fire detection and suppression robotic nozzle (fire monitor / water cannon) system, manufactured by Unifire AB of Sweden.

The system was successfully tested under the European Union funded LASH FIRE as a cutting-edge solution for improving fire safety on Ro-Ro ship weather decks.

The following article, co-authored by Roger Barrett James of Unifire and Magnus Arvidson of RISE Rise Research Institutes of Sweden (RI.SE), was featured in the September 2020 edition of International Fire Protection magazine. The following is the text (only) of the article. To view the original with images on IFP Magazine’s website, click the following button and go to page 22.


LASH FIRE Tests Autonomous Monitor System for Ro-Ro Weather Deck Protection

The European-Union funded project, Legislative Assessment for Safety Hazards of Fire and Innovations in Ro-ro ship Environment, or LASH FIRE (lashfire.eu), has successfully tested a fully autonomous monitor system for the automatic fire protection of ro-ro ship weather decks.

The tests have established the ability of an autonomous monitor system to detect fire within seconds, triangulate and track the three-dimensional position of up to four fires simultaneously, and dynamically guide the water streams of two robotic nozzles towards the fires in the order in which they were detected. The system, called FlameRanger, is developed and manufactured by LASH FIRE project partner Unifire AB of Sweden (Unifire.com).

Autonomous monitor systems will be included in the definitions and standards of the LASH FIRE project reports and considered by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for possible inclusion in new regulations and standards for the protection of ro-ro ship weather decks.

The LASH FIRE Project

LASH FIRE is a currently ongoing international research project aiming to significantly reduce the risk of fires on board ro-ro ships and develop maritime fire safety solutions with innovative technologies, operations and applications.

The project stems from a proposal from the European Commission, the IMO adopted a new agenda item to the Maritime Safety Committee in November 2016, called “Fire Safety of Ro-ro Passenger Ships” (MSC 97/19/3), and studies are, and have since then been, carried out to analyse critical aspects in previous ro-ro passenger ship fires.

LASH FIRE brings together the relevant expertise to cover the challenge of developing and demonstrating new procedures and technical innovations for maritime application. The ambition of the project flows is in line with that of the IMO and other regulatory bodies to greatly enhance the safety of ro-ro ships.

LASH FIRE will provide a basis for the revision of international maritime regulations.

The consortium is coordinated by RISE Research Institutes of Sweden (www.ri.se) and comprises 26 partners from 13 Member States of the European Union and other industry partners, research institutes, universities, regulatory bodies, trade associations and experts in communication and external relations.

One area of focus of the LASH FIRE project is to research, analyse and test innovative fire protection solutions for open weather decks on ro-ro ships. Weather decks present unique fire detection and suppression challenges, which may benefit greatly from new technologies and solutions.

In this context, in June of this year, the LASH FIRE project, under the direction of RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, conducted initial tests of a fully autonomous monitor system. The primary goal of these initial tests was to determine the general viability of such a system for the protection of weather decks on ro-ro ships.

The tests were successful in showing that an autonomous monitor system is indeed able to rapidly detect fires, accurately locate them, and successfully target them in a matter of seconds, and without any human involvement.

Challenges of Fires on Ro-Ro Weather Decks

Because fires grow in size and intensity extremely quickly, and ro-ro ships typically must be self-reliant on their own fire safety systems, the LASH FIRE project aims to seek state-of-the-art solutions that are not only fast-acting, but also effective, practicable, and cost-effective. Ro-ro weather decks present a number of challenges to both fire detection systems and fire suppression systems.

Weather decks are fully exposed to the harsh environmental conditions of sun, rain, sea water, wind, wide-ranging temperatures, and a highly corrosive environment. It is difficult to undertake manual fire-fighting due to limited accessibility on the deck and the potential for unexpected fuel spill fires, explosion hazards, jet-flame fires from electrical vehicles, etc. Moreover, a fire breaking out may be blocked from fire suppression systems, as well as from view and fire detection by the cargo and vehicles on deck.

The classes of fire detection technologies that can perform reliably under these conditions, and without significant susceptibility to false alarms, are very limited. For example, smoke detectors are ineffective in the open, windy conditions on the weather deck.

Both fire detection and fire suppression systems on weather decks must, therefore, be designed to reliably and effectively operate under these particularly challenging constraints.

A Promising Solution: Fully Autonomous Monitor System for Ro-Ro Weather Deck Fire Protection

The LASH FIRE project is investigating the viability of fully autonomous monitor systems as a solution to meet the challenges posed on ro-ro ship weather decks.

In June 2020, RISE conducted successful, proof-of-concept tests of such a system, called FlameRanger (see: FlameRanger.com), developed and manufactured by Unifire AB.

Each FlameRanger system is comprised of two IR array flame detectors, a monitor and electronic hardware and software enabling the system to automatically and autonomously detect and track, in real time, the presence and three-dimensional size and location of a fire, and dynamically guide the monitor to achieve fire suppression, without any human intervention. Additional (independent) FlameRanger systems can be used to protect a large area, such as a ro‑ro weather deck, with several monitors.

By using two detectors mounted at juxtaposed angles, the system’s software is able to triangulate the three-dimensional size and location of fires. The system is thus able to dynamically guide the monitor to aim at the detected fire, as well automatically open the valve to commence suppression, and close the valve automatically after flames are no longer detected.

The system’s susceptibility to unintentional activation is theoretically reduced to negligible by only deploying automatically if two separate, independent flame detectors both detect the same fire at the same place and at the same time.

Importantly, the system is able to detect and track up to four fires simultaneously, and if more than four fires are detected, the system cues them.

Test Results

The tests were conducted in June 2020, at the Guttasjön Fire training site, outside Borås, Sweden. The test was set up in an area of 50 x 30 meters, and two independent FlameRanger systems were mounted on opposite sides of the area. Fires were simulated using small propane gas burners strategically positioned within the area. Up to four separate gas fires were sequentially ignited in various locations, including in the more challenging peripheral of the detectors. Some of the tests were conducted with a large fan to simulate wind conditions.

These initial tests of the FlameRanger system were designed to determine whether a fixed, autonomous monitor system is able, within an area roughly comparable to an open ro-ro weather deck, to: 1) quickly detect multiple, separately-placed fires; 2) determine the fires’ three-dimensional positions; and 3) effectively guide the water streams of the monitors towards the fires.

In all tests conducted, the systems successfully proved the ability to rapidly detect each of the fires within less than 10 seconds of flame ignition, accurately determine the three-dimensional size and position of each of the fires, and successfully aim the water streams of the monitors to the fire location.

The system also performed well in the simulated wind conditions when using a jet stream, the trajectory of which was not significantly affected. As expected, however, using a fog or cone spray pattern during the wind simulation proved ineffective due to the wind’s effect. To reduce the effect of wind conditions under actual conditions, it is suggested that any location of a ro‑ro weather deck should be accessible by at least two monitors positioned at opposite sides of the deck.

A film showing clips of the tests can be viewed in the June 15 article at lashfire.eu/news.

Further Testing Plans

The successful initial tests have paved the way for further tests, currently being planned, which will focus on the system’s fire suppression capabilities in a more challenging and realistic scenario of a simulated, loaded ro-ro weather deck. This will include the design of mock-up vehicles to simulate an actual vehicle fire, with the additional challenge of blockage from nearby obstacles.

The FlameRanger system has also recently been installed on a ro-ro ship weather deck, in order to gather long-term detection data. Data from the flame detectors will be regularly recorded and analysed as part of the LASH FIRE research, and will help verify the system’s longevity, level of immunity to false alarms, and provide valuable fire detection data in the event of an actual fire.

Other Applications of FlameRanger

In addition to ro-ro weather decks, the FlameRanger is well-suited for fixed fire protection of a wide variety of large, open spaces both on- and off-shore. The system has been installed in waste-to-energy plants and recycling facilities, and is also well suited for applications such as Large Volume Spaces (LVS’s) on naval ships, atriums, aircraft hangars, helidecks, tunnels, historical building protection, manufacturing facilities, storage facilities of coal, paper, plastics, tires, etc., oil & gas facilities, and more.

Conclusion

Autonomous monitor systems are becoming ever-more ubiquitous as technologies continue developing at a rapid pace. LASH FIRE’s preliminary tests show great promise for their use to protect ro-ro weather decks. By combining rapid fire detection, three-dimensional fire location and tracking, and advanced monitor aiming capabilities, such systems may in the near future work their way into international maritime regulations for weather deck protection and substantially improve fire safety at sea.

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