Hatches leak for a variety of reasons, but mainly because of poor maintenance or failure to seal them properly after loading.

 A watertight hatch cover is designed to prevent the passage of water in either direction under a head of water for which the surrounding structure is designed.  Many mariners may think hatches are robust, monolithic structures, thereby failing to appreciate the small tolerances on panel alignment and gasket compression. It is better to think of hatches as complex, finely-made structures, to be handled with care. All types of seals, experience dynamic stresses as part of their operational lifetime. For example, 4mm wear on the steel-to-steel contact is sufficient to damage rubber sealing gaskets beyond repair; 5mm sag along the cross-joint can cause a large gap between the compression bar and gasket.

The risk is worsened by the ageing nature of many bulk carrier ships in particular. There is also a degree of bending/deformation that naturally occurs in ships during travel, which puts pressure on hatch covers and can damage sealing. A recent wave of inexperienced crew members has swept across the shipping industry as a cost-saving mechanism, leaving vessel maintenance and hatch cover testing to decrease in quality. While hatch covers are often perceived as indestructible due to their large size and bulky exterior, in reality they are complex, finely made structures that need to be handled with care, a point that many mariners do not realise.

The case study of the Emma Maersk exemplifies the danger of improper servicing. A severe leakage occurred on the container ship in February 2013 when it was loaded with 14,000 containers. The leakage was caused because of a mechanical break-down of a stern thruster, creating the shaft tunnel to flood, as well as leading to severe ingress of water in the aft part. Eventually there was flooding of the main engine room. This was because of non-effective cable penetration sealings, in a sudden blast, four cable penetration sealings in the watertight bulkhead gave way to the water pressure followed by a massive ingress of seawater. Shortly after this, the other three cable penetration sealings also failed, resulting in an even larger ingress of water into the engine room. This led to approximately USD 45 million worth of damages and towage cost.

The use of UT is far more efficient than the traditional methods described in the previous section, taking less time and requiring no clean up while being in a portable, light-weight model for ease of use. Due to its convenience, UT tests can be conducted more frequently and can contribute to safety management and preventative maintenance procedures on board.

hatch covers testing

For further information, contact Coltraco Customer Service

The main cause of vessel loss is sinking

As the main cause of vessel loss is sinking, the maintenance, testing and monitoring of watertight hatches, doors and multiple cable transits on vessels is essential. A watertight hatch cover testing is designed to prevent the passage of water in either direction under a head of water for which the surrounding structure is designed.  Many mariners may think hatches are robust, monolithic structures, thereby failing to appreciate the small tolerances on panel alignment and gasket compression. It is better to think of hatches as complex, finely-made structures, to be handled with care. All types of seals, experience dynamic stresses as part of their operational lifetime. For example, 4mm wear on the steel-to-steel contact is sufficient to damage rubber sealing gaskets beyond repair; 5mm sag along the cross-joint can cause a large gap between the compression bar and gasket. The importance of continually maintaining seal integrity should take a more prominent position in ship maintenance scheduling.

The future of watertight integrity testing is with continuous monitoring. A lack of proper servicing of seals can lead to deterioration which endanger the lives of the crew, vessel and cargo.  The large issue here is that ships are only tested before and after one or perhaps several journeys; yet a leak could occur at any point in between testing and continue unnoticed until the next inspection. A vessel generates its leak sites due to load states, sea states, wind states, and dynamic movement. The severity is amplified within a vessel structure constantly changing by varying sea, wind, load states, cargo types and dynamic stresses. There is a great deal of bending and deformation that naturally occurs in ships during travel. It was found that a comprehensive, autonomous continuous monitoring system for the watertight integrity of a ship’s cargo hatches, weathertight doors and other seals is possible to be developed. One that is capable of automatically detecting emerging leak sites, alerting officers and crew of the location and severity of the leak site and logging all data for future review. The developments in continuous monitoring technology being undertaken by Coltraco Ultrasonics will drive the industry towards ensuring that watertight integrity is never left to chance.

The case study of the Emma Maersk exemplifies the danger of improper servicing. A severe leakage occurred on the container ship in February 2013 when it was loaded with 14,000 containers. The leakage was caused by the mechanical break-down of a stern thruster, creating the shaft tunnel to flood, as well as leading to severe ingress of water in the aft part. This led to flooding of the main engine room. This was caused by non-effective cable penetration sealings: in a sudden blast, four cable penetration sealings in the watertight bulkhead gave way to the water pressure followed by a massive ingress of seawater. Shortly after this, the other three cable penetration sealings also failed, resulting in an even larger ingress of water into the engine room. This led to approximately USD 45 million worth of damages and towage cost.

Water Ingress Must Become a Thing of the Past

In a recent position paper, the Swedish Club warned bulk carrier operators to pay attention to watertight integrity, as the average cost for a wet damage cargo claim is almost $110,000. In this article, global British ultrasonics experts, Coltraco Ultrasonics, break down why this is the case.

Why is watertight integrity an issue?

In 1989 IACS introduced its guidance to owners concerning the care and survey of hatchcovers as follows:

Loss of weather-tight integrity continues to be a constant factor leading to cargo damage which could result in a threat to the safety of the crew, the ship and its cargoes, despite advances in modern shipbuilding technology, construction, navigation and means of preventing ingress of water into hold spaces.”

Little appears to have changed over the intervening years.

What risk does water ingress pose to the crew?

Lives are at stake. This is unacceptable.

As the main cause of vessel loss is sinking, the maintenance, testing and monitoring of watertight hatches, doors and multiple cable transits on vessels is essential.

The case study of the 2015 El Faro disaster exemplifies the danger of water ingress. SS El Faro was a United States-flagged, combination roll-on/roll-off and lift-on/lift-off cargo ship crewed by U.S. merchant mariners. All 33 crew members tragically died in the sinking, when El Faro sailed from Jacksonville into Hurricane Joaquin, while heading to Puerto Rico. The wreckage was discovered more than 15,000 feet below the sea surface, Northeast of Acklins and Crooked Island, Bahamas. The NTSB have concluded that gaps in safety management contributed to the sinking of the El Faro. One of the significant issues was “poor watertight integrity which allowed seawater into the ship” stating that this accident may have been avoided if “crew had more information about the status of the hatches”. The tragedy of the El Faro has exemplified why it is crucial for the watertight integrity of vessels to be upheld.

Coltraco Ultrasonics strongly believe that tragic incidences such as these must become a thing of the past. Safety of life at sea is paramount when pushing forward with the implementation and development of regulations.

What concerns have been voiced?

Water ingress on board ships can be devastating, to crew, vessel and cargo.

The Swedish P&I Club have recently stressed that proper weathertightness is a key factor in keeping cargo dry and crew safe. To ensure that the hatch covers are weathertight the sealing system needs to be in a good condition. 

The North of England P&I Club state that defective hatch cover maintenance is an “expensive problem with a low-cost solution”.

What are hatch covers?
A watertight hatch cover is designed to prevent the passage of water in either direction under a head of water for which the surrounding structure is designed.  Many mariners may think hatches are robust, monolithic structures, thereby failing to appreciate the small tolerances on panel alignment and gasket compression. It is better to think of hatches as complex, finely-made structures, to be handled with care.

How are we failing to protect the crew by maintaining hatch covers?

Wrongly applied and poorly maintained cargo hatch covers tester and sealing systems increase the risk of cargo becoming damaged by water. The most common wet cargo problems include leaking cross joints, and compression bars, rubber gaskets, hatch coamings, drain channels and cleats in poor condition.

The importance of continually maintaining seal integrity must take a more prominent position in ship maintenance scheduling as demanded by regulations:

SOLAS Reg II-1/11.1  it states that hatches and watertight seals must be regularly tested: “Where a hose test is not practicable [sic] it may be replaced by [sic] an ultrasonic leak test or an equivalent test. In any case a thorough inspection of the watertight bulkheads shall be carried out.”

How have hatch covers been tested traditionally?

Chalk testing is used traditionally for visual inspection of the compression integrity of doors and hatches on vessels that hold the potential for flooding. Chalk is applied evenly around the knife edge, coaming compression bars or panel cross seams of doorways. The door/hatch is then closed and sealed. Once re-opened the rubber gasket which pushes against the knife edge is visually inspected for the chalk line. Any breaks in the chalk line indicate a lack of compression in that area. It must be noted that chalk testing is NOT a leak test, but only provides an indication of potential compression issues

The International Association of Classification Societies states that a chalk test must be followed by a hose test. The hose test is used in conjunction to determine the weather tightness of doors and hatch covers. The spray from a nozzle of 12mm diameter is sprayed from a distance of 1 to 1.5 meters with a water jet pressure of 0.5 

 This test should help identify any leakage from the hatch joints, although the exact location of the leakage sight cannot be pinpointed.

Why are these methods no longer recommended by P&I clubs?

 Various drawback come with chalk and hose testing, for instance;

  • The hold is required to be empty as cargo can be damaged by water. This is not always possible and certainly poses more issues once the ship is laden with goods. 
  • The test requires drains to be opened posing a genuine pollution risk. 
  • Two people are required to carry out the test effectively. 
  • Cannot be performed in sub-zero conditions.
  • Water pressure and distance can affect results.
  • Time-consuming.

Both of these tests are time-consuming and sometimes completely impractical. Some circumstances have been highlighted that prevent this test from being conducted such as the hose test if dry cargo is within the hold being tested but these tests conducted at port or in dry dock will never reproduce conditions when the ship is at sea and therefore cannot expect to achieve the same standard. Claims resulting from water damage due to leaking hatch covers still contribute a huge part of the overall loss figures on dry cargo ships. This method is neither accurate nor time effective.

What is the alternative?

Ultrasound.

The Swedish P & I club recommend using Ultrasound. As stated in their 2018 report “A much more effective method is to use an ultrasonic device, which is designed for this purpose and can pinpoint the area which is leaking, and if the compression of the gasket is sufficient. The advantages of using this type of equipment are evident, since ultrasonic tests can be carried out during any stage of the loading without risking cargo damage. The test can also be completed in sub-zero temperatures. The ultrasonic test should be carried out as per the class requirements.” 

Ultrasonic testing is a dramatically more sensitive, accurate and reliable method for testing cargo hatch covers, bulkheads and doors for watertight integrity on all vessels. A multi-directional ultrasound emitter is placed in a hold. The opening being tested is then sealed and the receiver switched on ready to receive any leakage of ultrasound via a set of headphones. An increased reading of ultrasound signal signifies an issue with the integrity of the door/hatch. Further, and closer inspection will allow identification of any specific leakage sight along with the severity. This test will take approximately 10 minutes and requires only one operator. 

Which is the best ultrasonic test kit for hatch cover testing?

Owners, managers, marine surveyors, third party servicing companies and other mariners have pledged their support for the Portascanner® WATERTIGHT for years.
For 3 simple reasons: “it is faster, better, cheaper” than any competitor. But don’t take Coltraco Ultrasonics’ word for it, here are 3 customer testimonials:

We did some transit inspection work on one of our customers vessel using the Portascanner and we are very pleased with your instrument. We are looking forward extending our service offer using it.” – Techsol Marine, Canada

“The fleet was equipped with a unit per Bulk Carrier and the units are and working well, providing the confidence that there will be no problems with water damage claims.” Ship Management Company

“Our PORTASCANNER WATERTIGHT unit performed well during the entire period of use, proved rugged and we feel sure that if it had not required returning for mandatory calibration and certification, the unit would have performed well for many more years to come.” Captain J.F. Holmes, Botrans

The Portascanner® WATERTIGHT is:

  • Faster: designed for ease of use from poorly educated crew up to chief engineer – no need for extensive and expensive training courses, simply read the operating instructions in the kit and away you go
  • Better: most mathematically accurate to 0.06 (+/-0.02mm) to identify leak integrity quickly and easily allowing prompt maintenance if required
  • Cheaper: never beaten on price guarantee from Coltraco Ultrasonics who are used to serving the world’s leading fleets for 30 years

Coltraco Ultrasonics’ mission delivering Safeship® solutions to improve safety of life, assets and vessels at sea. They do  by manufacturing high quality British instrumentation, supplied to over 100 countries worldwide, since 1987. Coltraco Ultrasonics focus on benefitting the crew; designing innovative ultrasonic solutions which the crew will be happy to use by being easy to operate, quick, accurate and a better method to traditional techniques. Thus increasing the likelihood of tests being regularly conducted, in line with regulations and even going above and beyond for more frequent testing. By so doing, the crew will be creating a safer ship.

Discover more about Coltraco Ultrasonics’ commitment to customer care and safety on www.coltraco.com.

Improve Safety Management Systems with the Portasteele® CALCULATOR

A key elements of the offshore protective system is the fixed fire suppression system. These are made up of a number of cylinder points that will release the suppressant agent when a fire incident is detected.  One of the key challenges with fixed fire suppression systems has been monitoring the individual cylinder points liquid level. Cylinder points can suffer from leakage and accidental discharge over time. Often, cheap systems only minimally comply with the regulations and there are very few qualified engineers who may be considered experts on the subject matter. Routine maintenance is liable to be overlooked because it is difficult, the crew are unqualified to test and may be given insufficient attention by the rig owners. No longer necessary to use the laborious  weighing method to monitor the contents of suppressant agents, now ultrasonic technology offers a better method. The Portasteele® Calculator is an advanced calculator application, that converts the liquid level height of CO2 & marine CO2 systems, NOVEC™ 1230 and FM-200® liquefied gaseous extinguishant agent readings taken on an ultrasonic non-destructive liquid level indicator device into the agent weight/mass. The cylinder database function means often tested cylinder types, such as 45kg CO2, commonly found on supply vessels, rigs and platforms, can be recalled reducing testing time, providing an incredibly quick to use tool. Plans to incorporate additional functionalities, such as agent type indication, are already in their final planning stages. In the long term, the acquisition of Portasteele® Calculator into offshore platforms, oil tankers etc. will improve overall Safety Management Systems and reduce cost associated with the maintenance of fire suppression systems. When these fire systems are properly maintained, the cost associated with fire damage is likely to reduce dramatically as we know fire damages on these hazardous offshore environments are generally catastrophic to lives, asset, environment and company reputation.

Case Study: Oxygen Reduction System - Data Centre, England 2018

Oxygen Reduction System and Need for Monitoring: Oxygen Reduction system works by taking Nitrogen from the air outdoors and pumping this into the room consistently in order to suppress oxygen levels, down to the level where combustion can no longer occur. To ensure the system works safely and efficiently, room integrity is of utmost important for two reasons: (1) A properly sealed room will contain the Nitrogen for a longer period of time, therefore putting less work on the air compressor in order to save energy. (2) If Nitrogen starts to leak from the Server Room, there are safety concerns over where this Nitrogen would leak to as it has the potential to harm occupants in other rooms if the Nitrogen leaks into their room and the oxygen levels were unmonitored.

Testing of the Server Room: The Server Room had an area of about 91 metres square. Several areas were tested with an ultrasonic room integrity tester where leakage was probable and the readings were noted on the drawings. These were the doors, vents, cable penetrations and also sections of the wall where gaps were visible.

Results: The ultrasonic room integrity tester identified the main source of leaks for the room, the doors, where full readings were clearly detected. Multiple air vents in the room were also improperly sealed and some leakage was found into the external room. Cable penetrations leading to the area outside the Server Room were also found to be leaking. 

Conclusions: Once the required maintenance was conducted and assuming no changes were made to the room, it is safe to assume that the room retains its integrity, thus comply and exceed current ISO 14520 regulations requiring periodic inspections of room integrity whereby visual inspection is usually specified and is not sufficient. The most suitable way to address periodic inspections is through the use of ultrasound.

Kit for Cargo Hatch Cover Protection

The Portascanner® Watertight is used onboard bulk carriers for inspecting the Watertight or Weather tight hatches for leak sites. The magnetic generator can be positioned just inside the hold, on the hatch combing, removing the need to climb down to position the generator at the bottom of the hold on the tank top.

This hatch cover tester is used by the crew for regular maintenance to dramatically reduce the risk of cargo damage from water ingress, and by Marine surveyors for carrying out P&I, Classification Society or Insurance surveys.

Multiple Cable Transits (MCTs) with Hatch Cover Tester

Cable Transit Seals provide a key element in maintaining the integrity of bulkheads and watertight seals onboard Naval, Offshore Oil & Gas and Marine assets. As one of the most neglected areas onboard, having the means to quickly identify the exact location and severity of issues in MCTs can dramatically assist Contractors and Fleet Operators to enhance the flood, fire & smoke protection that a correctly installed MCT seal provides.

Watertight Doors with Hatch Cover Tester

Watertight Doors on offshore Oil & Gas Rigs, Naval and Marine Vessels are regularly inspected & maintained to ensure the integrity of the Bulkheads and watertight barriers are secure. If these areas are neglected, there can be drastic impacts on flood prevention in the event of a major incident, which is exactly what the Portascanner helps to avoid.

Removing old fashioned and inaccurate chalk testing, the Portascanner® Technology provides a very quick and accurate method to identify problem areas and fix the issues that exist within these seals.

Monitoring Gaseous Extinguishing Systems 

  • The reality is that gaseous systems are checked for contents annually because they are pressurised and anything that is dynamic offers risk of loss of contents , but this fails to deal with the probability of discharge or leakage for the 364 days per annum in the interim between certification checks. 
  • We manufacture the portable liquid level indicator Portalevel used by fire technicians for the contents checking of CO2, old Halons, FM-200 and Novec 1230 gas suppression system.
  • Portalevel liquid level readings are then converted to agent weight readings via Portasteele Calculator – the world’s first
  • Constant monitoring of the contents of gaseous systems are now enabled via the 24/7 system Permalevel Multiplex, but the fire industry is highly resistant to using technology to constantly monitor the pressurised systems which it installs.

Monitoring Room Integrity

  • Coupled to this is a  lack Room Integrity testing after the gaseous system has been installed. 
  • As buildings age or their internal use is changed leak sites develop. 
  • If the gas cannot be “held” in the room on discharge during a fire event the probability of its suppression diminishes in direct proportion to the size of the leak sites.
  • Portascanner 520 is a hand-held product designed to identify leak-sites in Protected Spaces. it is simple to create from this the means to constantly monitor room integrity as the building ages or its internal use changes and leak sites develop.

We design the UK technology which enables  the continuous monitoring of both.

Fire Safety in the Aluminum Industry

When aluminium is burned, it creates a very intense fire. The industry directly creates more than 155,000 jobs and is adding more yearly. With growing numbers of employees in the aluminium industry, their safety and well being has long been a commitment. There is a need for comprehensive fire safety measures, specifically the fixed fire extinguishing systems in aluminium production and fabrication, in casthouses, foundries, recycling and reclamation plants.

The Permalevel® MULTIPLEX which is designed for permanent contents verification. The continuous monitoring system  utilises ultrasound technology to detect the level of contents non-invasively and transmits the level information from the wired sensors to the main unit which is then processed and reported to the building’s BMS or local control panel wirelessly through TCP/IP. This is to ensure that fire suppression systems are always stored at their designed concentration and that no accidental discharge has occurred, which could affect the effectiveness of the overall fire protection system in the event of a fire. The neglect of continuous monitoring - of the fundamental protection provided by the gaseous extinguishing systems - is to the peril of the lives of occupants of the premises and at the risk of causing financial and reputational loss to the facility comprising the critical infrastructure.

The system developed utilises the Internet of Things (IoT) to achieve its full potential of visualising the monitored contents worldwide. IoT enables a worldwide transmission of data starting from sensor to sensor to the microprocessors and to the facilities manager or maintenance team. Instead of waiting for annual checks, owners and building managers can now identify any changes to their installed fire suppression system contents in real time and dispatch their servicing or maintenance team as soon as notification is received about a change happening to the installed system. This is now entirely possible through the reliance on recent IoT developments.

The difficulty of fire in wind turbines:

  • Potential ignition sources are mainly inside the nacelle where there is fast moving machinery (generators, gearboxes e.t.c) which creates heat and combustible oil and solid material in the. Even with the incredible engineering and safety measures in place, a fire can ignite and develop, leading to the possible complete destruction of the turbine.
  • It is estimated that 0.3-0.5 fire incidents occur per 1000 wind power stations (onshore and offshore) every year (Technical Research Institute of Sweden). 10-30% of all loss-of-power-generation incidents in wind power plants are due to fire.
  • Gaseous Extinguishing Systems in turbines:
  • Wind turbines require an active fire protection system, which includes but is not limited to detection (of flames, heat, gas, and smoke), alerting personnel and rescue services, and activating systems for fire suppression or extinguishing. Due to the height and location of wind turbines, classic firefighting methods come up against their limits and therefore fire extinguishing systems that use gases such as carbon dioxide, inert gases or clean agents such as FM 200 fire suppression system and Novec™1230, which are especially appropriate for dealing with fires in electrical systems because they extinguish the fire quickly whilst not damaging the electrical systems or the compartment in which they are being discharged.
  • Regulations demand maintenance of the systems to ensure that they are operational in the event of a fire: ISO 14520-1:2015(E) assumes that these systems accidentally discharge and leak. 9.2.1.3 The storage container contents shall be checked at least every six months as follows. a) Liquefied gases: for halocarbon agents, if a container shows a loss of agent in quantity of more than 5 % or a loss of pressure (adjusted for temperature) of more than 10 %, it shall be refilled or replaced.”
  • The reality is that gaseous systems are checked for contents annually because they are pressurised and anything that is dynamic offers risk of loss of contents, but this fails to deal with the probability of discharge or leakage for the 364 days per annum in the interim between certification checks.
  • Coltraco have now developed the Permalevel® Multiplex, a fixed fire suppression monitoring system, designed for continuous contents verification. Permalevel® is designed to ensure that fire suppression systems are always fully operational and that no accidental discharge has occurred, which could affect the effectiveness of the overall fire protection system in the event of a fire.

Avoid Accidental Discharge of Contents

To extinguish a fire, ships need:

  1. the correct amount of gas in the fire suppression system cylinders to extinguish the fire
  2. compartmentation integrity to starve the fire of oxygen
  3. pipework integrity to ensure the gas discharges correctly

To ensure vessels sail safely these points must be implemented, meaning:

  1. the crew must have the means to test the cylinder content themselves ie. liquid level indicator, as the crew is not qualified to traditionally weigh
  2. there is a need to educate the crew about fire engineering to protect against risk of CO2 actuation in manned areas and to ensure compartmentation etc

As stated in IMO SOLAS FSS Ch5. 2.1.1.3: “Means shall be provided for the crew to safely check the quantity of the fire extinguishing medium in the container”. Often this is misunderstood, this code specifically states that the crew must test their extinguishing installations in between the periodic inspection, maintenance and certification. Only having the annual inspection by accredited marine servicing companies is not enough – the crew must take responsibility for their own fire protection.  However, what must be noted is that the crew are often not trained or certified to shut-down, dismantle, weigh and re-install the gaseous cylinders. To overcome this, ships need to test their CO2 & marine CO2 systems for contents in-between the annual certification checks by marine servicing companies. Using an ultrasonic liquid level indicator is the only way that the crew can safely test their CO2 without disturbing them. Coltraco Ultrasonics designed the Portalevel® handheld ultrasonic liquid level indicators, because radioactive units were being phased out. If shipping companies implemented the IMO SOLAS FSS codes by testing safely and quickly (just 30-60 seconds per cylinder) by using liquid level indicators and marine servicing companies were able to do their work without allowing for time pressures, then marine safety would be far safer.

Maintain your Fire Systems

To prevent fires, regulations require installation of a fixed fire protection system and annual maintenance by a licensed servicing company to check its condition. Following from the above it is now possible to go above and beyond the regulation requirement of annual maintenance which may not be sufficient to cover the remaining periods when the vessel is out at sea alone. The idea of continuous monitoring of fire suppression systems has been made possible and is done by non-invasive ultrasonic liquid level indicator monitoring of the contents within the fire suppression cylinders. This ensures the quantity of agent required to extinguish a fire is always at its designed concentration to guarantee an efficacious fire protection in the event of a fire breaking out in the vessel.

Liquid level indicator monitoring is done using compact, low-cost ultrasonic sensors that are linked to a central control module that broadcasts the liquid level information over WSN allowing dissemination of information to the appropriate parties. The ultrasonic sensors are attached to the walls of the cylinders and propagates ultrasound pulses which travel across the cylinder and returns to its starting position. As the ultrasound pulses travel across the cylinder, the contents within the cylinder will absorb the signal energy in proportions relative to their phases. This ensures that the difference in returned signal above and below the liquid level is always sufficiently large, allowing the liquid level to be identified each time. By fixing the sensor onto the cylinder permanently, any changes in the contents’ level will be identified immediately. Research conducted in the labs have proven accuracies up to 0.1 mm when tested with the commonly known fire suppressing agent cylinders. This proprietary system by Coltraco Ultrasonics is the Permalevel® Multiplex and is capable of using the latest advancement in IoT to collect and disseminate sensor information and forwards them onto the control panel situated on the vessel’s bridge to be integrated as part of the vessel’s overall monitoring system.

Save lives! How & why to improve water mist maintenance.

Despite the difficulty that shipping businesses are subjected to, fire safety standards on board cannot begin to slip. Fires on board ships can be devastating, to crew, vessel and cargo. There is a call to respond to regulations with a rigorous attitude, to go above and beyond, to provide security of life and infrastructure. Water mist fire suppression systems must be maintained so that they can provide the protection that they are intended for: protecting lives, assets and vessels whilst at sea.

 Assessed by FM Global, one of the main causes of failure to water mist systems derives from human error, commonly the water tank being empty. If there is a lack of water supply, the system will be dysfunctional when required, such as failing to extinguish the fire and thus, resulting a significant risk in safety and high-asset applications. Organizations such as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) have called for the correct installation and maintenance of Water Mist systems. 

 For a system that fully relies on the supply of pressurized water, if there is no availability of this source of water, there is no possibility of fire depletion exemplified by the MCA: “effective fire-fighting can only be achieved when the water mist is released promptly on demand.” This is demanded by the IMO regulations MSC.1/Circ 1432, Ch 5.4: “Verify that sprinkler pressure tanks or other means have correct levels of water”. Further to the NFPA 750 regulations state that “Water Storage Vessels must be equipped with a means of checking the level of water inside during a weekly or monthly inspection. Some high-pressure storage cylinders do not have a means to confirm water levels. If such cylinders are present in a system, extra measures should be implemented.” There is an industry wide recognition that these cylinders need monitoring for the safety of the crew and vessel. Ultrasonics is an innovative technology to answer this call.

 To ensure that Water Mist systems are fully operational in the event of a fire, and to avoid the serious risk of empty cylinders, the liquid level of the cylinders should be checked non-invasively using ultrasound. One of the sciences being harnessed by innovators in the fire safety sector is that of Ultrasound: i.e. acoustic (sound) energy in the form of waves of high frequency that are above the human audible range. By utilising a sensor which acts as a transceiver, an ultrasonic liquid level measuring device is capable of detecting liquid levels within any single-skinned container through transmitting an ultrasonic pulse and analysing the strength of the returned signal to determine the level of contents. As sound behaves differently in air and liquid, so will the strength of the returned signal be different in the liquid allowing us to identify the level of contents accurately.

 Better maintenance of water mist fire suppression systems will save lives. Innovative ultrasonic technology enables the crew to be in full compliance of the regulations at all time, delivering a Safeship to protect the lives of crew/passengers/cargo and vessel, quicker, better and more effectively than other traditional methods.

Protect Your Ferry From Fire

Fires on board ferries can be devastating, to crew, vessel and cargo. There is a call to respond to regulations with a rigorous attitude, to go above and beyond, to provide security of life and infrastructure

Misunderstanding exists across parts of the ferry industry regarding the application of a part of the International Maritime Organization, Safety of Life at Sea, Fire Safety Systems (IMO SOLAS FSS) Code; the need for crew to test the contents of their CO2, FM-200® & Novec 1230 gas suppression system in between the periodic inspection, maintenance and certification intervals.

IMO SOLAS & FSS Code Chapter 2.1.1.3 - “Means shall be provided for the crew to safely check the quantity of the fire extinguishing medium in the containers.”

The reason the IMO requires crew to test for contents in-between these is that the “ferries sails alone”; it must act as its own emergency fire service. 

A ferries’s gaseous extinguishing system typically comprises between 200 and 600 cylinders each containing 45KG of CO2 under high 720 psi/ 49 bar pressure. Some marine service companies estimate that 20% of a ferries CO2 cylinders have discharged or partially leaked their contents at some point in their lifetime. Yet although this poses high levels of risk to the service companies and the crew, because gaseous extinguishing systems are highly pressurised, the risk of leaking and discharging is accepted as part of their use and this is shown in the regulations that demand their upkeep.

Using an ultrasonic liquid level indicator is the only way that the crew can safely test their CO2 without disturbing them. If ferry companies implemented the IMO SOLAS FSS codes by testing safely and quickly (just 30-60 seconds per cylinder) by using liquid level indicators and marine servicing companies were able to do their work without allowing for time pressures, then marine safety would be far safer.

Any vessel with a Marine Gaseous Extinguishing system needs to consider 3 factors :

  • Unless compartmentation exists the gas will not be able to concentrate
  • Unless the contents exists in sufficient quantity design concentration will not occur
  • The pipework and flanges must be tested to be free of corrosion-generated particulates which block the nozzles and must be tested to be able to withstand the shock of gas discharge on actuation

How often should I calibrate?

We are often asked about calibration, why it is important, how often it should be done and why. The reason we know calibration to be important, and recommend its annual frequency is because our equipment is designed to improve safety and best practice. Ensuring the equipment used by crew/technicians/engineers to conduct such inspections is accurate and calibrated is a necessary one. Our manufacturer’s recommendations are based on the best that exist in ISO 17025 – an international standard for the calibration of any monitoring or measuring equipment: it must be at least once a year.

 Calibrating measurement instrumentation is vital for business continuity through improved maintenance procedures for all industries, yet the calibration of such equipment is not commonly discussed. All good companies will comply with calibration requirements, understanding the need to ensure their equipment works as designed. Yet negligence is commonplace due to lack of understanding of the value of calibrations and not knowing  the regulations.

But, what about 5 year calibration certificates? On calibration and as a manufacturer of quality, we are clear that it is unsound, unsafe and unprofessional to compete on calibration cost as some competitors offer 5 year calibration certificates. How can the manufacturer know its calibration will hold given the array of climate, humidity and environmental conditions that a product may go through 365 days per year ?  We wish to uphold the best there is in ISO 17025. Nor do we wish customers to believe that it is the manufacturer who dictates calibration standards, which is not the case – the key here is that we will not issue calibration certificates beyond a year.

 When you buy from any premier manufacturer, you have confidence in the longevity of your equipment, aided in our case by our Coltraco Customer Total Care Commitment, which includes life-time support. In addition, we have set up ODA Service Centres at major ports and centres worldwide, so our customers can send equipment for its calibration quickly and locally. We always do something “over and above” to enhance the unit for customers during its calibration and we have a wonderful reputation as a consequence.

Protect the Protective System

A key elements of the offshore protective system is the fixed fire suppression system. These are made up of a number of cylinder points that will release the suppressant agent when a fire incident is detected.  One of the key challenges with fixed fire suppression systems has been monitoring the individual cylinder points liquid level. Cylinder points can suffer from leakage and accidental discharge over time. Often, cheap systems only minimally comply with the regulations and there are very few qualified engineers who may be considered experts on the subject matter. Routine maintenance is liable to be overlooked because it is difficult, the crew are unqualified to test and may be given insufficient attention by the rig owners. No longer necessary to use the accurate fire extinguishing agent mass without weighing method to monitor the contents of suppressant agents, now ultrasonic technology offers a better method. The Portasteele® Calculator is an advanced calculator application, that converts the liquid level height of C02, NOVEC™ 1230 and FM-200® liquefied gaseous extinguishant agent readings taken on an ultrasonic non-destructive liquid level indicator device into the agent weight/mass. The cylinder database function means often tested cylinder types, such as 45kg CO2, commonly found on supply vessels, rigs and platforms, can be recalled reducing testing time, providing an incredibly quick to use tool. Plans to incorporate additional functionalities, such as agent type indication, are already in their final planning stages. In the long term, the acquisition of Portasteele® Calculator into offshore platforms, oil tankers etc. will improve overall Safety Management Systems and reduce cost associated with the maintenance of fire suppression systems. When these fire systems are properly maintained, the cost associated with fire damage is likely to reduce dramatically as we know fire damages on these hazardous offshore environments are generally catastrophic to lives, asset, environment and company reputation.

Fires Happen: it’s Time to Act

The FFS code also specifically states that the crew must test their extinguishing installations in between the periodic inspection, maintenance and certification. Having an annual inspection by accredited marine servicing companies is not enough – the crew must take responsibility for its own fire protection.  However, what must be noted is that the crew are often not trained or certified to shut-down, dismantle, weigh and re-install the gaseous cylinders – the traditional method.

A ship’s gaseous extinguishing system typically comprises between 200 and 600 cylinders each containing 45KG of CO2 under high 720 psi/ 49 bar pressure. One of the highest probabilities of discharge occurs during their maintenance. Some marine service companies estimate that 20% of a ship’s CO2 & marine CO2 systems cylinders have discharged or partially leaked their contents at some point in their lifetime. The loss of contents in the cylinders poses a serious threat to the crew, as this could mean that in the event of the fire, there may not be enough CO2 to extinguish the fire.

Bad industry practice is unacceptable when fire risk may have catastrophic results due to risk to life, downtime in operation due to ship safety and repair work and incalculable reputational damage. The crew, cargo and vessel must be protected when at sea because it is its own fire brigade without accessibility to typical emergency services. This is a call to respond to regulations with a rigorous attitude, to go above and beyond, and to provide security of life and infrastructure.

The fire industry must lead the way to a safer future.

For contents verification, there are inspection tools currently in use – and a nod to the future of constant monitoring remotely 24/7 365: Coltraco manufacture the portable liquid level indicator Portalevel™ used by fire technicians for the contents checking of CO2, old Halons, FM-200™ and NOVEC™ 1230. Portalevel™ liquid level readings are then converted to agent weight readings via the Portasteele™ Calculator - the world’s first.

Constant monitoring of the contents of gaseous systems is now enabled via the 24/7 system Permalevel™ Multiplex, but the fire industry is highly resistant to using technology to constantly monitor the pressurized systems which it installs. The Permalevel® Multiplex is the first system worldwide that is capable of monitoring the liquid level indicator of critical fire suppression cylinder systems on a constant basis. It gives a facility total visibility on the real-time status of all their critical fire systems. Continuous monitoring must be implemented, in 2017, this is expected.  

For Room integrity: Portascanner™ 520 is a hand-held product designed to identify leak-sites in Protected Spaces. It is simple to create from this the means to constantly monitor room integrity as the building ages or its internal use changes and leak sites develop.

There is no use in waiting or denying the problem, continuous monitoring and Safesite technologies must be adopted now. Technological development is inevitable and that can’t wait for regulations any longer.

We will not stop until the ungoverned space is fully recognized and dealt with. There is no room for the industry to fall back into old habits. The ungoverned space must be recognized, the science is clear and it shows that the risk to people and infrastructure is real and high

Speaking volumes

Leakage of fire suppression agents from firefighting systems remains an ongoing, complex problem, and one that is often incorrectly attributed to system failure. OMT speaks to Coltraco Ultrasonics about the extent of such incidents and the solutions developed by Coltraco to combat undetected leakage

The offshore sector may still be mired in recession at present, but the need to retain a vigilant eye on fire safety remains as vital as ever.

To some degree, offshore oil and gas companies are still haunted by the blaze and explosion that destroyed the Piper Alpha oil production platform in July 1988, causing the deaths of more than 160 personnel aboard the structure – a tragedy that resulted in some much-welcomed ‘toughening up’ of offshore safety requirements.

All the same, fire-related incidents still occur aboard many offshore assets, putting the burden on owners and operators to ensure that safety standards do not slip. This burden becomes more onerous when one considers that the majority of offshore companies are scaling back their budgets at present, as well as warm-stacking and cold-stacking some of their most valuable vessels and rigs.

However, companies have a duty to ensure the protection of personnel, as well as a natural incentive to safeguard some of the most expensive assets to be stationed at sea – as well as their own reputations – and fire safety is a factor that simply cannot be neglected. This is not purely a problem for the offshore sector: a study conducted by the Finnish Transport Safety Agency has revealed that, between 2004 and 2010, 800 fires were logged in European waters, approximately 10% of which were classed as ‘serious’ and 25% of which required external assistance to successfully extinguish.

For its part, Coltraco Ultrasonics has developed a range of solutions to speed up the cylinder-checking process without compromising on safety standards. The company manufactures two particular tools specifically for this purpose: the Portalevel® MAX Marine and the Portasteele® Calculator application. Used in conjunction by a single person, Hunter claims, these two products can enable crew to identify a leaking cylinder (or one that has previously leaked agent) within as little as 30 seconds.

The first step is to place the Portalevel MAX Marine against the side of the cylinder. This handheld unit fits in the palm of the hand monitor pings an ultrasonic signal into the cylinder, which allows the user to “pinpoint the liquid level indicator of suppressant agent”, Hunter says. In this way, the liquid level height has been obtained under 30 seconds for a competent user.

However, it is not a given that the user will know how to convert this figure to determine the weight and mass of the extinguishing agent – nor that they will have the time to sit down and manually calculate hundreds of such readings. The second step, then, is to feed the data captured by the Portalevel MAX Marine into the Portasteele® Calculator app. Hunter elaborates: “The app is installed on a  ruggedised 7” tablet. The user inputs information related to: the extinguishing agent type [ie, CO2, Novec 1230 gas suppression system, etc]; the cylinder dimensions; the temperature of the agent; and the liquid level height. The Portasteele® app then instantly provides the agent’s weight.” This process can also be conducted vice versa, inputting the suppressant agent’s mass/weight to generate a reading for liquid level height. This data can then be logged and saved for future transfer to a PC or similar device, so that operators/owners and crew can prove that they have carried out adequate checks in compliance with existing safety regulations and in fact going above and beyond them.

How does the Portalevel® MAX contribute to safety at sea?

Marine Fire Safety has come into the spotlight again in recent months after a number of fire events and with a focus on changing guidelines for Ro-Ros in particular. A recurring element is the lack of understanding of the engineering of marine fire extinguishing systems, the physical principles and characteristics of their contents, pressurisation and discharge behaviour into protected spaces which lacks room integrity to confine the gas into it on discharge and a lower awareness of the risks and how to mitigate them. One simple, cheap and effective solution would be to apply the IMO SOLAS FSS code maintenance by introducing useful and easy to use technology to ensure the crew can test the contents of each CO2 cylinder in less than 30 seconds, as part of routine maintenance which is now readily available. This has to be done because Gaseous Systems are highly pressurised at 49Bar or 720 psi and can leak as they exist in a dynamic state. Anecdotal evidence suggests that 20% of cylinders aboard ships are partialy empty or empty

Portalevel® MAX Marine is an  8th generation hand-held ultrasonic liquid level indicator from Coltraco Ultrasonics with ABS Type Approval. “This technology has been around for years” I hear some of you say. And yet, why is it that so many people are still wholly unaware of this method for testing the fixed fire extinguishing systems onboard vessels, instead relying on the traditional method of weighing or neglecting to test the contents of ships CO2 & marine CO2 systems until the annual certification check by shore-based contractors ? The industry desires to improve maintenance of the fire-fighting system – one of the key elements protecting the crew, cargo and vessel when out at sea without easy accessibility to a typical shore-based emergency fire service. While there may be a few other brands of liquid level indicator available, the Portalevel® MAX Marine is an innovative and crew-safe method by which it can :

  • test the ships CO2 system contents in compliance with the IMO SOLAS FSS Code,
  • enabling for the first time adherence to ISO 14520 the “gold standard” for clean agent systems in identifying 5% of contents loss
  • check its liquid level readings to ones of weight and mass and
  • monitor that the “protected machinery space” has sufficient room integrity to contain the CO2 on actuation.
  • An ATEX-certified Zone 1 Intrinsically safe version is soon to be available for Gas Carriers
  • Its Marine Multi-Bank Extension Rod is the smallest in the world able to operate on even the smallest cylinder spaces on Japanese built vessels – 12mm
  • It is designed for non-English speakers to operate and cylinders can be tested in 30 seconds
  • A Cylinder Cooling Jacket is designed to enable CO2 cylinders to be cooled in hot weathers

What are the key benefits of Constant Monitoring of Gaseous Extinguishing Systems?

ISO 14520 is the fundamental regulation for Gaseous Extinguishing Systems, referencing:

  • The need for pipework to be able to withstand the agent pressures on discharge; 
  • The need to test that the room into which they discharge can hold the agent and that the room can withstand the peak pressure of its discharge;
  • The need to monitor contents of liquefied gaseous extinguishing systems.
  • The engineering reality that anything such as a cylinder under pressure needs its contents and its pressure  to be constantly monitored 
  • The under-reporting of accidental discharges or leakages of pressurised fire systems unless fatalities are its consequence
  • The over-reliance on contractors to maintain fire systems at periodic intervals rather than their operational and daily integration into an overall fire and security plan

Overall the assumption is that little needs to be done on a “pressurised, dynamic system” after it is installed and nor is the “protected space” constantly monitored for room integrity and this “agent hold time”. This leaves a clean agent gaseous extinguishing system un-monitored for 364 days a year. No essential machinery in defence, offshore oil and gas or power generating would be left un-monitored for 1 hour per day.  This is the “Ungoverned Space” which we invite you to work with us on to close the gap for your customers and provide added protection, minimising the risk of fire.

How? 

  • The constant and portable Monitoring of liquefied gaseous extinguishants such as NOVEC™ 1230 or FM 200 fire suppression system with Permalevel™ Multiplex and Portalevel™ MAX respectively giving accuracy of +/-1.5mm
  • The conversion of liquid level readings to ones of weight/mass with Portasteele™ Calculator
  • The portable and semi-fixed monitoring of room integrity with Portascanner™ 520
  • The development of constant monitoring capabilities of non-liquefied gaseous extinguishants such as Nitrogen or Inergen – with Permagas™. We estimate that we are in the final 6-8 months of a 2 year project aiming for 1-2% accuracy
  • To critical infrastructure customers who need to integrate their fire systems into their operation in-between the maintenance intervals
  • Rather than to customers who are installing fixed systems for compliance reasons
  • The ability for high asset value customers to minimise risk, deliver business continuity and enhance resilience of their facilities
  • Such customers may include data centres, power generation stations and electricity distribution sub-stations

Who today in the security industry would consider installing an alarm system without monitoring its overall status and integrating the whole of it to the building management system with central monitoring

being an essential part of it? This is a basic engineering principle: build redundancy into one’s systems and monitor critical systems, to protect people or a critical infrastructure or asset. 

Hear, Understand and Action upon the Ungoverened Space

After Coltraco Ultrasonics’ continued efforts to make the ‘ungoverned space’ in the fire industry heard, understood and actioned upon, the problem is starting to be recognised by some, but not all. This haphazard approach is dangerous and often unknown to the users of the infrastructure. The ungoverned space in the fire industry must end now. You might have heard of it, but now it is time to do something about it.

Simply put, the ‘ungoverned space’ is the area in the fire industry where either the regulations or the protecting systems of the critical infrastructure are not effectively providing consistent and reliable safety. Coltraco repeatedly push for this life-threatening issue to be dealt with, with specific regard to loss of contents in fixed fire extinguishing systems.

Gaseous extinguishing systems protect urgently important infrastructure against special hazards, fundamental for the safeguarding of critical facilities.

Although many in the fire industry work towards meeting better standards, in their experience, Coltraco have numerous concerning anecdotes of non-compliance: systems portrayed and installed by contractors as Novec 1230 gas suppression system but filled with sand or water… room integrity testing with questionable results and with the room integrity remaining un-monitored after testing… liquefied extinguishants being confused by installers with Inert gas systems… service engineers asking how to test the liquid level in powder… the list goes on.

Coupled with these anecdotes, currently the regulations are not extensive enough to deal with the risks presented in gaseous systems. In 9.2.1.3 the regulations explains that the storage container contents shall be checked at least every six months as follows. : a) Liquefied gases: for halocarbon agents, if a container shows a loss of agent in quantity of more than 5 % or a loss of pressure (adjusted for temperature) of more than 10 %, it shall be refilled or replaced. b) Non-liquefied gases: for inert gas agents, pressure is an indication of agent quantity. If a container shows a loss of agent quantity or a loss of pressure (adjusted for temperature) of more than 5 %, it shall be refilled or replaced. Essentially, it is known in regulations that the gaseous systems leak and need to be maintained. Given that the gaseous systems are designed specifically to the individual need of that room, building e.t.c, a 5% loss of agent may mean that they would not fully extinguish the fire.

Can one annual check account for the probability of discharge and leakage for the other 364 days of the year between certification checks?

No.

The neglect of continuous monitoring - of the fundamental protection provided by the gaseous extinguishing systems - is to the peril of the lives of occupants of the premises and at the risk of crippling financial and reputational loss to the facility comprising the critical infrastructure.

The examples of where continuous monitoring are essential are many, extensive and varied. If you protect critical infrastructure, then this article applies to you.

Focused on continued advancement of safety technology, Coltraco have now developed the Permalevel® Multiplex, a fixed fire suppression monitoring device, designed for permanent contents verification. The Permalevel®  Multiplex is designed to ensure that fire suppression systems are always fully operational and that no accidental discharge has occurred, which could affect the effectiveness of the overall fire protection system in the event of a fire at a nuclear power plant.

The application of the Permalevel® reaches further, with customers using this equipment in alternate specialist and confidential manners to ensure safety in the station. With guaranteed systems operations, adaptability for purpose, 24/7 remote access to the systems status, an interruptible power supply and remote real-time monitoring, the Permalevel® offers the efficiency that is now a requirement for encompassing protection. The likes of the Atomic Energy Authority asked Coltraco Ultrasonics to tailor make them a solution to constantly monitor a special application using the Permalevel® Single Point for over 10 years.

There is no use in waiting or denying the problem, continuous monitoring and Safesite technologies must be adopted now. Technological development is inevitable and that can’t wait for regulations any longer. We will not stop until the ungoverned space is fully recognised and dealt with. There is no room for the industry to fall back into old habits. The ungoverned space must be recognised, the science is clear and it shows that the risk to people and infrastructure is real and high. Constant monitoring of gaseous extinguishing systems and must be implemented, people’s lives depend upon it.

Think again. Are you being passive toward active fire protection? If you are, we are here to help you ensure critical safety.

How can the Portascanner® WATERTIGHT show the extent of a leak?

The extent of the leak is indicated by the numerical readout by this hatch cover maintenance and watertight integrity-testing device. In terms of the numerical readout:

  • “0 - 5” or ”0 dB” indicates seal watertight integrity
  • “6 - 100” or “1 dB - 26 dB” indicates weather-tightness only
  • “101+” or “27 dB+” indicates weak seal compression
  • High values indicate a full leak site

Technical Features of Portascanner Watertight

Here below are the technical specifications, which you want to know:

Portascanner Watertight is especially designed to enhance the ease and accuracy with which critical airtight, watertight or weather tight seals can be inspected for leak sites or areas of reduced compression in the seal.

Technical Specifications of Portascanner’s Generator

  • Powered By: 2 x 9V PP3 batteries
  • Weight: 431 Grams
  • Battery Life: 10 hours minimum
  • Size: 15cm L x 9cm W x 5cm H
  • Enclosure: ABS material
  • Mounting Arrangements: Permanent Magnet
  • Output:  0.1 watt/100dB unidirectional

The generator is an ultrasonic generator with three transducers. This will produce a strong signal in one direction i.e. directly from the transducer, which fills the compartment being tested with ultrasound pulses e.g. providing sufficient coverage to fill the hold when the hatch-covers are closed. The generator is permanently fitted with a powerful magnet which allows it to be attached to the vessels structure where required. A magnet cover is provided when the magnet is not in use.

Technical Specifications - Receiver

  • Powered By: 1 x 9V PP3 batteries with low battery indication
  • Weight: 419 Grams
  • Battery Life: 10 hours continuous use minimum
  • Size: 21.5cm x 8.5cm W x 3.5cm H
  • Enclosure: Aluminum IP65 Waterproof
  • Output:  1 watt (maximum) audible signal (via calibrated headphones with visual 4 digit LCD display and graph)

The receiver of this hatch cover tester uses ultrasonic technology to convert the 40KHz pulses sent by the generator into three easily comprehensible readings: audible, bar graph and numerical which enables the operator to understand if the seal is wholly watertight or to what extent a leak exists.

For further information, download PDF

Groundbreaking Technology: Portasteele® CALCULATOR

Maintaining high standards of fire safety practice does not have to be expensive or time consuming, Coltraco strive to provide easy and long lasting solutions that are suitable to varying budgets. There is a call to respond to regulations with a rigorous attitude, to go above and beyond, to provide security of life and infrastructure. Installations must be maintained so that they can provide the protection that they are intended for. Fire can cause crippling financial, physical and reputational damage to happen to crew, vessel and cargo. 2017 Coltraco developed a quick, easy and safer solution to weighing the ships’ fire suppression system: Portalevel® MAX Marine + Portasteele® Calculator.

The Portalevel® MAX Marine is designed primarily for maritime applications where either third party service companies or the vessels’ crew themselves, inspect large fire suppression systems of up to 600 cylinders. Innovative methods of inspecting leaking cylinders with ultrasonics, enables identification in under 30 seconds using Portalevel® MAX Marine with one person, instead of the traditional 15 minutes, with two people labouriously shutting down the system, dismantling the cylinders and weighing them. Using ultrasonic technology - to pinpoint the liquid level of suppressant agent in the cylinders of the extinguishing system - testing is quicker and easier. The ease of operation in comparison to weighing, increases the ability of more regular and frequent checks, improving fire safety management onboard. Portalevel® MAX  enables its users to go above and beyond minimal regulations compliance, thus becoming industry leaders. Combined with the Portasteele® Calculator, the weight can be found in just 30 seconds more. It is an advanced Liquid level to mass conversion calculator application, that converts the liquid level height of C02, NOVEC™ 1230 or FM-200® liquefied gaseous extinguishant agent readings taken on the Portalevel® into the agent weight/mass. There is no other similar alternative to weighing available on the market. Furthermore, the Portasteele® can convert an expected agent weight back to the required liquid level allowing users to anticipate where the level should be. This method also enables recording and downloading of the data, adding value to servicing reports and improving the safety management system for a auditable data trail.

The implementation of regulations through Safeship® technologies ensure that the gaseous extinguishing systems are functional in the event of a fire. The ease of operation in comparison to weighing, increases the ability of more regular and frequent checks, improving fire safety management onboard. Coltraco’s innovative method of inspecting leaking cylinders with ultrasonics, enables identification in under 60 seconds using Portalevel® MAX Marine and Portasteele® Calculator with one person, instead of the traditional 15 minutes, with two people laboriously weighing. In real terms, it is commonly unfeasible to test a complete system in the minimal hours that a ship is in port, thereby resulting in random checks or only a minimum number of cylinders really being checked. This creates risk in the event of fire in case the fire systems do not have the design concentration required to extinguish it. Manual weighing is not only laborious, but also hazardous to the crew conducting the servicing. New technology allows ship owners and crews implement both the spirit and letter of the regulation and thus know that their vessel is protected in the event of a fire.

What are the Portascanner® Watertight Receivers and Generators?

Portascanner® Watertight receiver:

  • It comprises of following parts:
  • expansion bar connector
  • Gain 1,2,3,
  • Volume Up and Down Buttons
  • LCD Visual Display Mode
  • On and Off Buttons
  • Headphone Connection.
  • How do you use the Portascanner® Reciever?
  • It is tuned for recognizing the specific recurrence of ultrasound ways.
  • It has sound and visual yields.
  • As sensor pole is joined to it, a client can filter the seal at short proximity altogether.
  • LCD screen demonstrates the visual yield of recognized ultrasounds.
  • The visual information got can be changed over to decibels (dB) perusing which is impeccable to be tried to accreditation society principles.
  • Bar diagram portrayal is likewise accessible.
  • With standard jack of 3.5 mm, an earphone is appended to the collector to get sound signs.
  • Heterodyning is the procedure through which collector changes over the ultrasound waves into sound flags with the goal that client can without much of a stretch hear.

Portascanner™ Watertight Generator:

  • It comprises of following parts:
  • Power On and Off Buttons
  • Transducers
  • Low Battery Indication
  • Battery Compartment.
  • It is set on one side of the fixed compartment and turned on.
  • User remaining on the opposite side of the compartment uses sensor bar to check the seal.
  • Increased flag quality will be demonstrated obviously for spill destinations.
  • The numerical show and volume of capable of being heard signs can without much of a stretch demonstrate the quality of the signs got by the collector.

Who are Coltraco Ultrasonics?

Coltraco Ultrasonics is a world leading British designer and manufacturer of ultrasonic fire and watertight integrity safety instrumentation.

Our core Safesite® and Safeship® technologies, which comprise the FLEETSAFE and FIRETEST packages are in the monitoring of:

  • Fire extinguishing systems, primarily pressurised liquefied gaseous ones as well as sprinklers, by our flagship UL and ABS approved Portalevel® MAX range of products and our unique fixed monitoring system, Permalevel®.
  • Watertight integrity of marine structures such as hatch-covers, multiple cable transit areas and watertight compartment doors testing with ABS Type-approved Portascanner® Watertight.
  • Compartmentation testing in buildings and civil engineering structures to supplement Door Fan Testing  with Portascanner® 520.
  • Condition monitoring through bearing monitoring, thickness gauging and flow monitoring.

We operate in multiple market sectors: Shipping, Fire, Naval, Offshore, Power Generating, Electricity Distribution, Data Centres, Banks, Telecommunications, Marine Surveying, Rail, Mining, Pharmaceuticals and Food Processing and most recently in Renewable Wind Energy.

We are supported by our global network of Strategic Partners, ODA Service Centres and Distributors.

Exporting is at our core and a consequence of conducting fine science and manufacturing in the UK.

Great science is based on the integrity of it, and that distinguishes how we compete.

How do Coltraco Ultrasonics support the marine sector?

Coltraco designs, manufactures and supports a world-leading range with a technological basis in ultrasonics. Their expertise developed from their flagship invention (the Portalevel® liquid level indicator), to over 30 equipment. Many of these are UL-listed, ABS & RINA Type Approved and IMO SOLAS FSS compliant. 

 Coltraco is transformational in manufacturing portable inspection products and Constant Monitoring systems for:

  1. FIRE SAFETY: monitoring CO2 &  liquefied Clean Agent’s such as FM-200™ & NOVEC™ 1230 and leak detection during Room Integrity testing 
  2. Sprinkler system flow rates, pipework integrity, monitoring fire pump bearing and checking leak sites during Room Integrity,
  3. VESSEL STABILITY: Watertight integrity of hatch-covers, compartment doors, multiple cable transit areas testing and fire penetration seals
  4. Corrosion monitoring, thickness gauging and bearing monitoring 
  5. R504 Refrigerant & IBC Tank Level monitoring with innovative portable technologies

Based in London, manufacturing in the UK, operating in 108 countries, on-board nearly 10,000 vessels, Coltraco has 30 years’ experience. 

Coltraco delivers Safesite™ & Safeship™ technologies at safety critical infrastructure and high value assets on land & at sea.  The crew, cargo and vessel must be protected because it is its own “emergency service” when sailing at sea, without access to a typical shore-based emergency fire service. A ships fixed extinguishing system protects the machinery spaces. They allow engine room fires to be responded to, with minimal risk to the vessels crew. However, the fixed extinguishing system has to be used properly and for this, its on-board maintenance is essential. At its heart are its contents in the cylinders. Our contribution to Safety at Sea has been to build a package of capability that can be easily and safely used by the crew in routine maintenance of clean agent extinguishing systems as part of the vessel Safety Management System (SMS).

Minimal/Non-Compliance with Regulations Cannot Go On

Would you enter a building if you were told as you stepped in that in the event of a fire there was a chance that the extinguishing system wouldn’t put it out? No! People expect, and rightfully so, that in the event of a fire the extinguishing systems would be in full working order to do just that – extinguish. Why have a fire extinguishing system if you cannot be 100% sure it is going to work? This is not a game of chance. The lives of people depend upon it. So why is this haphazard and dangerous attitude to maintenance continuing? Enough is enough. The technology exists right now to ensure that the fixed fire systems are in a constant state of operational readiness.

After a year of Coltraco Ultrasonics’ continued efforts to make the ‘ungoverned space’ in the fire industry heard, understood and actioned upon, the problem is starting to be recognised by some, but not all. Some have finally realised that minimal compliance with regulations is just not enough, and that the need to go above and beyond the standards exists for safety critical environments and high value assets. But simply identifying the problems with the regulations is not enough. This haphazard approach is dangerous and often unknown to the users of the infrastructure. The ungoverned space in the fire industry must end now. Change must happen and faster than it has been. Action must be taken and people must be kept safe from the danger of fire. The regulations and the attitude towards them must change. The technology exists to go above and beyond them.

What is the ungoverned space?

Simply put, the ‘ungoverned space’ is the area in the fire industry where either the regulations or the protecting systems of the critical infrastructure are not effectively providing consistent and reliable safety. Coltraco repeatedly push for this life-threatening issue to be dealt with, with specific regard to loss of contents in fixed fire extinguishing systems and need for improvements to room integrity testing.

  • Regulations mandate that gaseous systems are checked for contents once annually. The facts and the knowledge are out there: gaseous systems leak. i.e. the very part of the installation which puts out the fire. This is because they are dynamic systems: the contents are pressurised , which is why one annual check comes short in dealing with the probability of discharge or leakage for the other 364 days per annum between certification checks.
  • Coupled with this, as buildings age, undergo development and refurbishments, leak sites develop. This destroys the room integrity. Protected space integrity is essential for fire safety: the room must be able to hold the gas once released in order to suppress the fire, and the room must be able to withstand the pressure of its release.

Despite consistent efforts from us all within the fire industry to improve the standards, we can all learn from the two aspects of the Ungoverned Space, which is unnecessarily risky. In their experience, Coltraco have numerous concerning anecdotes of non-compliance: systems portrayed and installed by contractors as NOVEC™ 1230 but filled with sand or water… room integrity testing with questionable results and with the room integrity remaining un-monitored after testing… liquefied extinguishants being confused by installers with Inert gas systems… service engineers asking how to test the liquid level in powder… the list goes on.

“Meeting minimum fire standards is not enough”

In response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, June 2017, Council Leader Cllr Stephen Cowan said “The fire in Kensington has made one thing clear – just meeting minimum fire standards is not enough. The regulations are clearly not good enough so we will be going above and beyond what is required.” Quite clearly Coltraco are not the only ones who think this either. The regulations need to be promoting maintenance so that the systems are always ready to perform, the actuality of their purpose, not intermittent and unreliable annual checks.

The technology exists right now to solve this problem.  

For contents verification, there are inspection tools currently in use – and a nod to the future of constant monitoring remotely 24/7 365: Coltraco manufacture the portable liquid level indicator Portalevel™ used by fire technicians for the contents checking of CO2, old Halons, FM-200™ and NOVEC™ 1230. Portalevel™ liquid level readings are then converted to agent weight readings via the Portasteele™ Calculator - the world’s first.
Constant monitoring of the contents of gaseous systems is now enabled via the 24/7 system Permalevel™ Multiplex, but the fire industry is highly resistant to using technology to constantly monitor the pressurised systems which it installs. The Permalevel® Multiplex is the first system worldwide that is capable of monitoring the liquid level indicator of critical fire suppression cylinder systems on a constant basis. It gives a facility total visibility on the real-time status of all their critical fire systems. Continuous monitoring must be implemented, in 2018, this is expected.  

The Fire Industry must Lead the Way to a Safer Future

It is quite clear that minimal compliance with regulations is just not enough, and that the need to go above and beyond the standards exists for safety critical environments and high value assets. This haphazard approach is dangerous and often unknown to the users of the infrastructure.

There is an assumption that protecting buildings by installing fire extinguishing systems and covering the building with insurance is enough to provide full safety of a building. But this neglect and minimal understanding of the need for maintaining the fire extinguishing systems leads to only one thing, a gap in the protection of people, assets + facilities.

Simply put, the ‘ungoverned space’ is the area in the fire industry where either the regulations or the protecting systems of the critical infrastructure are not effectively providing consistent and reliable safety. Coltraco repeatedly push for this life-threatening issue to be dealt with, with specific regard to loss of contents in fixed fire extinguishing systems and need for improvements to room integrity testing.

To go above and beyond the regulations, building owners and managers must test and monitor their fire extinguishing systems to check for leakage. By using the ultrasonic liquid level indicator, the Portalevel® MAX and/or the constant monitoring system the Permalevel ® Multiplex, building owners and managers are able to exceed the standards and ensure that the gaseous extinguishing systems are able to extinguish in the event of the fire.

In a time when cost drives safety decisions, using either or both of these systems allows a company to reduce their insurance premiums without compromising the safety of lives, assets and infrastructure. The recommendation of using Portalevel® Max and Permalevel® Multiplex from insurers benefits them as to guaranteeing long-term top customers who aspire for improved safety.

As with many leaders in the fire industry, Coltraco are pushing for rapid action to be taken in protecting peoples lives. There is no room for the industry to fall back into old habits. The fire industry must lead the way to a safer future. Constant monitoring of gaseous extinguishing systems and room integrity must be implemented, people’s lives depend upon it.

Fire in Wind Turbines

Wind power is an exciting emerging sector that needs those of us involved in fire safety to get on board. As electricity generation becomes more reliant on renewable energy, wind power is becoming increasingly important in the energy mix. As our reliance on wind turbines grows, keeping them fully operational and at reduced levels of risk is becoming more important, and as a result, so is safety management. There are over 340,000 wind turbines around the world; yet the vast majority of turbines have no fire suppression system installed.

The fires in wind turbines not only lead to a loss of business continuity and a negative impact on the company’s reputation but also, most importantly, are a critical safety issue. Possibly harmful debris can drift into the wind in the event of a fire and there is also a significant risk to human lives. When turbines are under construction, commissioning maintenance and repair, escape routes for operators are often long and vertical.

A recent report found that three out of six incidents studied involved a human presence in the nacelle*3; hence, a fire becomes a safety concern.  In 2013, a crew of four engineers died in Ooltgensplaat, Netherlands in a wind turbine fire. This devastating loss of life calls for improved review of fire safety to minimise the risk to engineers.

A dynamic system needs monitoring.  The reality is that gaseous systems are checked for contents annually because they are pressurised and anything that is dynamic offers risk of loss of contents, but this fails to deal with the probability of discharge or leakage for the 364 days per annum in the interim between certification checks.

If the hazard is special and the infrastructure critical then this is the case for the constant monitoring of the suppression systems that aim to deliver the protection of them. Inspection should include an evaluation that the extinguishing system continues to provide adequate protection for the risk.

For regular inspection, there are solutions such as the Portalevel® MAX. This handheld ultrasonic liquid level indicator can service a cylinder in 30 seconds (in contrast to 15 minutes by traditional manual weighing) with accuracy of up to 1.5mm off the true liquid level.

Coltraco Ultrasonics provide smart Firetest® solutions that enable wind turbine owners and operators to improve their fire safety management and reduce the risks to human life, business continuity caused by any downtime and thus minimise risk to reputation by delivering a Safesite®.

Minimise Risk with the Portacare® Package

We know that the most important factor for our customers is to minimise risk. In fast paced businesses, downtime can be costly financially and for the maintenance of safety practices. For safety critical environments, we understand that it is essential that the equipment that provides protection must be fully operational at all times. Transfer the maintenance risk of your new equipment back to Coltraco Ultrasonics with the Portacare® package.

The Portacare® package is part of Coltraco’s Customer Care Commitment (CCC), designed to give a world leading support programme to our products over a 5 year term length. Coltraco Ultrasonics operate a whatever it takes approach to best support customers and provide enhanced after sales support.

What is the CCC?

Customer – we invite you to benefit from Coltraco’s ethos of integrity from design to lifetime support

Care – we think care is better if its personal so you can arrange a phone call any time that suits you worldwide to answer your queriesCommitment – we want to save you cost and time, whilst helping you improve safety.

How can you cut risk with the Portacare® Package?

Know your upfront unit cost plus maintenance cost when buying new equipment. The package includes:

  • Fixed costs for 5 years – All calibration costs within the first 5 year period (total of 4) – saving £250/year
  • Free replacement – If a component becomes obsolete, you receive a free replacement unit of similar life
  • Free repair – First line repair is free – saving £100 (repairs over £100 must be paid for. Please note that Portacare® excludes customer-induced damage). After the first repair, 25% discount is given on any further repairs and accessories. Priority assistance will be given in spares and repairs
  • Upgrades – Upgrades are available at 25% discount – transfer existing Portacare® to the new unit so no loss of fee.
  • Discounts – 25% discount on upgrade options, 10% discount of a second product and exclusive offers personalised to you Flexibility – Coltraco understand that every companies requirements are different, and are pleased to tailor a Portacare® package to your needs

How can the Portascanner® 520 be used to aid room integrity?

Complying with Regulations for Clean Agent Fire Suppression Systems

Current Situation:

Before installing Clean Agent fire suppression systems the integrity of the building structure commonly undergoes “Door Fan Testing’. This test determines the Peak Pressure and Agent Hold Time necessary for ensuring the effectiveness of these fire suppression systems. As required by NFPA 2001 and ISO 14520 standards to calculate the overall leakage of a room, this room integrity tester with ultrasonic technology is a great option.

Limitations:

Locating exact leak sites is currently done by a “puffer test” with smoke. However, such current methods do not provide precise, accurate results on leak location or size.

Solution:

Today, the industry can benefit from using the Portascanner™ Integrity Test Indicator alongside the Door Fan Testing for a complete and comprehensive regulatory room test. Ideal for precise leak detection, Portascanner™ is an exceptionally accurate (to 0.06mm) and fast method. It is the first of its kind, intuitive to use, non-invasive, and consequently, is of immediate use to the Fire Industry.

Package Offered with Portascanner 520:

Portascanner 520 is an ultrasonic room integrity tester introduced by Coltraco. The package includes:

  • Receiver Rod:

The user directs the rod at areas they will to survey. Any escaping ultrasound if received by the rod and sent to the main unit is recorded.

  • Generator:

The generator is an ultrasonic generator with three transducers. These transducers emit a strong signal in one direction that fills that room/space with pulses of ultrasound.

  • Receiver:

The receiver processes and displays any ultrasound that emitted from a leaking space. The results are visually presented to the user on the internal screen as well as outputted to external headphones.

  • Headphones:

Any ultrasound that is identified by the unit is outputted as audible readings via external headphones.

Fire At Sea

Coltraco Ultrasonics is aware of that there is failure to fully implement the regulations. Coltraco supply Marine Servicing companies globally share anecdotes - that at any one time the average merchant vessel in non-UK port visits has over 20% of its CO2 cylinders empty on inspection plus another 10-20% which have contents loss and also know that occasionally marine “servicing companies” unintentionally leave it disabled.

This is a result of the time pressures that are placed upon marine servicing companies. It is well known that vessels are kept at the dock for a minimum amount of time, which reduces time for repairs and thus efficiency without compromise of safety is key. Most marine servicing companies only have 4 hours on a vessel in a port to test up to 600 cylinders. It is known that it takes 15 minutes for a 2 person team to shutdown, dismantle and weigh a single CO2 cylinder, which is equal to 16 cylinders in 4 hours. Yet despite this, every CO2 cylinder on the vessel receives a “tested and certified sticker” and the CO2 & marine CO2 systems is certified and a certificate is issued.

This is the “ungoverned space” in the shipping industry in marine fire protection. Those in the shipping industry do understand that they must hydrostatically test its CO2 cylinders every 10 years (sometimes 5).  Many just do not unless the marine servicing companies demand it – which they often can because the regulation for it exists. However,  it is not the hydrostatic testing that matters. The amount of cylinders that fail that test is very low, unless they are heavily corroded which the monthly crew inspection under IMO SOLAS FSS Code Ch 5 should have spotted years before it became in such a condition.

 Fire System Designers routinely apply an excess of 20% to the design concentration required in the CO2 system to account for safe limits in the space being protected, which has merit in a new system. This is only has meaning when the space is fully compartmented and sealed fully, which a new vessel probably is.

The Portalevel® MAX in 7 Simple Steps

7 simple steps to use the Portalevel® MAX:

  • Attach the sensor to the main Portalevel® MAX, switch the unit on and ensure the “Battery Low” Indication is not showing.
  • Depending on the condition of the cylinder, some couplet may need to be applied to the side of the cylinder; this could be in the form of Water spray, Ultrasonic Gel or an Oil & Water mix depending on what is easily accessible. This is not always essential and they all accomplish the required results.
  • Place the senor towards the top of the cylinder and engage the “CAL” feature. This will set the unit to that particular cylinder, catering for the material thickness, paint or surface covering.
  • When engaging the “CAL” feature, the Bar Graph on the screen will extend all the way to the right and the numbers will read high values.
  • The user should then move the sensor down the cylinder in small steps, making sure not to drag the sensor down the cylinder face.
  • When the sensor passes the level mark, the numbers will drop dramatically and the Bar graph will reduce all the way to the left. It is this change in display readings, which identifies the difference between Air (above Level) and Liquid (below Level) in a cylinder.
  • Through moving the sensor up in smaller steps, one can accurately pinpoint the exact liquid level indicator’s location.

To find out more about Portalevel Max 8th Generation, download PDF

Importance of Fire Safety in Wind Turbines

With the size of turbines increasing, the wind industry needs to learn about the importance of fire safety in wind turbines. Fire is the second leading cause of accidents in wind turbines after blade failure. As our reliance grows on wind turbines, keeping them fully operational and at reduced levels of risk becoming more important, and as a result, so does safety management.  10-30% of all loss-of-power-generation incidents in wind power plants are due to fire. Fires in wind turbines not only lead to a loss of business continuity and a negative impact on the company’s reputation but also, most importantly, are a critical safety issue.

With predictions of much taller and more powerful turbines and thus fewer per project, ensuring that the they are in working order is essential, because the larger and fewer the turbines, the more costly they will be to operators in the event of fire damage. Due to the height and location of wind turbines, classic firefighting methods come up against their limits and therefore fire extinguishing systems that use gases such as carbon dioxide, inert gases or clean agents such as FM 200 fire suppression system® and Novec™1230, which are especially appropriate for dealing with fires in electrical systems because they extinguish the fire quickly whilst not damaging the electrical systems or the compartment in which they are being discharged. 

However, it is important to note that such fire extinguishing systems require maintenance to ensure they are fully operational and ready in event of a fire. ISO 14520-1:2015(E) assumes that these systems accidentally discharge and leak. 6.2.4.2 Contents indication: “Means shall be provided to indicate that each container is correctly charged.” Followed by “9.2.1.3 The storage container contents shall be checked at least every six months as follows. a) Liquefied gases: for halocarbon agents, if a container shows a loss of agent in quantity of more than 5 % or a loss of pressure (adjusted for temperature) of more than 10 %, it shall be refilled or replaced.”

How the Internet of Things aids the Aluminium Industry

When aluminium is burned, it creates a very intense fire. The industry directly creates more than 155,000 jobs and is adding more yearly. With growing numbers of employees in the aluminium industry, their safety and well being has long been a commitment. There is a need for comprehensive fire safety measures, specifically the fixed fire extinguishing systems in aluminium production and fabrication, in casthouses, foundries, recycling and reclamation plants.

The Permalevel® MULTIPLEX which is designed for permanent contents verification. The continuous monitoring system  utilises ultrasound technology to detect the level of contents non-invasively and transmits the level information from the wired sensors to the main unit which is then processed and reported to the building’s BMS or local control panel wirelessly through TCP/IP. This is to  ensure  that fire  suppression  systems  are  always   stored at their designed concentration and that no accidental discharge has occurred, which could affect the effectiveness of the overall fire protection system in the event of a fire. The neglect of continuous monitoring - of the fundamental protection provided by the gaseous extinguishing systems - is to the peril of the lives of occupants of the premises and at the risk of  causing financial and reputational loss to the facility comprising the critical infrastructure.

The  system developed  utilises the Internet of Things (IoT) to achieve its full potential of visualising the monitored contents worldwide. IoT enables a worldwide transmission of data starting from sensor to sensor to the microprocessors and to the facilities manager or maintenance team. Instead of waiting for annual checks,  owners and building managers can now identify any changes to their installed fire suppression system contents in real time and dispatch their servicing or maintenance team as soon as notification is received about a change happening to the installed system. This is now entirely possible through the reliance on recent IoT developments.

Sensitive, Accurate and Reliable – Portascanner® WATERTIGHT

Ultrasonic testing is a dramatically more sensitive, accurate and reliable method for testing cargo ultrasonic hatch covers, bulkheads and doors for watertight integrity on all vessels. A multi-directional ultrasound emitter is placed in a hold. The opening being tested is then sealed and the receiver switched on ready to receive any leakage of ultrasound via a set of headphones. An increased reading of ultrasound signal signifies an issue with the integrity of the door/hatch. Further, and closer inspection will allow identification of any specific leakage sight along with the severity. This test will take approximately 10 minutes and requires only one operator. 

Ultrasonics is proven to be the quickest, easiest and most efficient method of testing watertight & weather-tight seals of hatch-covers, doors, Multiple cable transit areas testing device. The Portascanner® WATERTIGHT is the most accurate model of its kind – proven to 0.06mm (+/-0.02mm). This is designed primarily to enhance the ease and accuracy with which critical watertight, airtight or weather tight seals can be inspected for leak sites or areas of reduced compression in the seal. The ultrasound generator emits a modulated signal of a specific frequency of ultrasound (in most cases 40,000Hz). The receiver then picks up the signal and converts it into a result indicating watertight integrity. The easy to use Portascanner® WATERTIGHT allows crew member to check for failing seals whilst at sea which allows for prompt maintenance.  

 Coltraco Ultrasonics focus on benefitting the crew; designing innovative ultrasonic solutions which the crew will be happy to use by being easy to operate, quick, accurate and a better method to traditional techniques. Thus increasing the likelihood of tests being regularly conducted, in line with regulations and even going above and beyond for more frequent testing. By so doing, the crew will be creating a safer ship.

What are gaseous extinguishing systems and why do they leak?

Gaseous extinguishing systems protect urgently important infrastructure against special hazards, fundamental for the safeguarding of critical facilities. However, gaseous extinguishing systems leak because they are active and dynamic systems and this threatens the consistent and reliable safety that they should offer to the space that they protect.

In fact, in the regulation ISO 14520, which is the “gold standard” of fire suppression systems, it is clearly stated that gaseous systems leak and need to be periodically checked to counter this issue:

9.2.1.3  - “if a container shows a loss of agent in quantity of more than 5 % or a loss of pressure of more than 10 %, it shall be refilled or replaced.”

Given that gaseous systems are designed specifically for a protected space or room e.g. one aluminium foundry factory floor, a 5% loss of extinguishing agent may mean that the system would not fully extinguish the fire.

Technology now exists to improve the reliability of fire suppression systems that affects the safety of all who occupies the building it protects in an event of fire.

To  ensure  that fire  suppression  systems  are  always   full and that no accidental discharge or leakage has occurred, Coltraco Ultrasonics have developed an ultrasonic liquid level indicator, the Portalevel ® MAX and  the constant monitoring system the Permalevel ® MULTIPLEX. By testing and monitoring fire extinguishing systems for leaking, facilities managers and factory owners are able to exceed  standards and ensure that the gaseous extinguishing systems are able to extinguish in the event of the fire.

The easy to use Portalevel® MAX uses ultrasonic technology to pinpoint the liquid level of suppressant agent in the cylinders of the extinguishing system which makes testing is quicker and easier. Liquid level identification takes just 30 seconds, needing only one person. Combined with the Portalevel® MAX, the Portasteele® CALULATOR is an advanced calculator application, that converts the liquid level height of C02, NOVEC™ 1230 and FM-200® liquefied gaseous extinguishant agent readings taken on an ultrasonic non-destructive liquid level indicator device into the agent weight/mass.  Furthermore, the Portasteele® CALCULATOR can convert an expected agent weight back to the required liquid level indicator allowing users to anticipate where the level should be.

Industrial Applications of Ultrasonic Liquid Level Indicator

IBCs in pharmacy:

Background: 

From a British pharmaceutical company, one of the largest in the world: We received a request from one of their pharmaceutical manufacturing plants in Ireland, the plant produces active ingredients that are used in drugs used to treat cancer, Parkinsons and Depression.

Application: 

We received a request to deliver a means to non-invasively monitor the contents within IBC’s (Intermediate Bulk Container). The ammonia is used to breakdown manufacturing by-products before they are then safely incinerated. An ammonia/water mix is delivered onto the site in IBC’s (Intermediate Bulk Containers). This current method of monitoring the contents within these IBC’s involved physical dipstick-measurements on the tank to monitor usage and replacement. This methodology stemmed from a lack of confidence in the internal IBC monitoring system. However, the fumes given off by the ammonia creates a health risk for engineers. Opening the top valve also creates risk of contamination to the ammonia. They therefore require a non-invasive method.

Solution: 

A Coltraco Engineer visited the site to conduct technology suitability trials. We surveyed several of the IBCs (intermediate bulk containers) some were partially full and some were fully empty - after adjustments we determined general range for a full and empty state across 7 of the IBC’s.
Trial indicated real potential for us to deliver a solution for this application. Our present technology indicates that we have the capabilities to deliver a lasting solution to this challenge. So ultrasonic liquid level indicator is a perfect choice for this purpose.

Implementation: 

Once we had proven that our current technology was suitable for the intended application, it was requested that the solution should be:

  • Non-Invasive and ultrasonic
  • Application Specific Calibration – 0=LIQUID 100+=AIR (unparalleled ease of use)
  • Intrinsically safe
  • Robust enough for daily use

Over the next 4 weeks we:

Developed a turnkey solution offering unparalleled accuracy, ease of use and clarity of indication on an Intrinsically Safe Platform specifically designed for an application in which a non-invasive solution didn’t previously exist. The Unit requires no input from the operator apart from the application of the sensor to the vessel wall. It is the easiest to use, and most accurate liquid level indicator in the world in spite of being intrinsically safe.

Result: 

The deliver of the solution allows the operators of the plant to safely, quickly and accurately monitor the contents within the ammonia vessels, which are integral to the operation of the plant as a whole. The Unit will also reduce the amount of partially empty ammonia cylinders returned before emptying, saving the organisation money over time.

To know more about ultrasonic level indicator, please visit www.coltraco.com

Case Studies: Ultrasonics in the Mining Industry

The importance of ultrasonic technology to the mining industry has been demonstrated by its use thus far. NRG Energy have been using the Portalevel Max since 2015 at the Morgan Town Generation Plant in Morgantown, Charles County in Maryland, US. The Morgan Town Plant is a coal powered power station based in Maryland. NRG own the USA’s largest and more diverse power generation competitive portfolio. NRG are dedicated to smart and reliable energy sourcing, and emission reductions although coal is a significant part of the electricity generation. The Portalevel Max is an example of the technologically advanced techniques that the company are implementing to lead the way in safe and sustainable coal sourcing.   After witnessing fire service experts undertaking ultrasonic liquid level indicator indication in just minutes, they were keen to change from their previous method of weighing. As a safety critical asset, the Morgan Town Plant saw the necessity in investing into their fire safety. This was the same as at the Vales Point Power Station at Delta, Australia.  The power station is at the southern end of lake Macquarie. This power station was built in the 1960’s as a four-unit station, but now operates two 660 MW generating units. The Power Station is owned and operated by Power International, with the capacity of around 1,320 megawatts, providing 24 hours electricity. In 2013 they bought a Portaguage for testing normal structure and stainless steel.

Test your extinguishing installations

Misunderstanding exists across parts of Shipping regarding the application of a part of the International Maritime Organization, Safety of Life at Sea, Fire Safety Systems (IMO SOLAS FSS) Code; the need for crew to test the contents of their CO2, FM-200® & NOVEC™ 1230 Gaseous Extinguishing Systems in between the periodic inspection, maintenance and certification intervals. These periodic inspections are conducted annually or biennially, and only by an Accredited Service Agent i.e. an external Marine Servicing Company. As stated above, the reason the IMO requires crew to test for contents in-between these is that the “ship sails alone”; it must act as its own emergency fire service

A ship’s gaseous extinguishing system typically comprises between 200 and 600 cylinders each containing 45KG of CO2 under high 720 psi/ 49 bar pressure. (Other suppressant clean agents such as FM-200® and Novec 1230 gas suppression system are becoming more widely used.) One of the highest probabilities of discharge occurs during their maintenance. Some marine service companies estimate that 20% of a ship’s CO2 cylinders have discharged or partially leaked their contents at some point in their lifetime. Taking CO2 systems through as an example, although random checks may be suitable in some sectors, it is worth remembering that because the normal design concentration of CO2 of 34-72 v/v % is above the nearly immediate acute lethality level, these systems have an extremely narrow safety margin. As these systems work through oxygen dilution rather than the chemical disruption of the catalytic combustion chain (which is the case with other clean agents), insufficient oxygen levels during an accidental discharge may allow a situation to spiral out of hand. Yet although this poses high levels of risk to the service companies and the crew, because gaseous extinguishing systems are highly pressurized, the risk of leaking and discharging is accepted as part of their use and this is shown in the regulations that demand their upkeep e.g. IMO SOLAS FSS Ch5. 2.1.1.3:

“Means shall be provided for the crew to safely check the quantity of the fire extinguishing medium in the container”

Often this is misunderstood, this code specifically states that the crew must test their extinguishing installations in between the periodic inspection, maintenance and certification. Only having the annual inspection by accredited marine servicing companies is not enough – the crew must take responsibility for its own fire protection.  However, what must be noted is that the crew are often not trained or certified to shut-down, dismantle, weigh and re-install the gaseous cylinders – the traditional method.

Using an ultrasonic liquid level indicator is the only way that the crew can safely test their CO2 without disturbing them. If marine companies implemented the IMO SOLAS FSS codes by testing safely and quickly (just 30-60 seconds per cylinder) by using liquid level indicators and marine servicing companies were able to do their work without allowing for time pressures, then marine safety would be far safer.

Bad industry practice is unacceptable when fire risk may have catastrophic results due to risk to life, downtime in operation due to ship safety and repair work and incalculable reputational damage. The crew, cargo and vessel must be protected when at sea because it is it’s own fire brigade without accessibility to typical emergency services. This is a call to respond to regulations with a rigorous attitude, to go above and beyond, to provide security of life and infrastructure

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