How can ultrasound protect your vessel against water ingress?

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 testing 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. 

 Ultrasonic is proven to be the quickest, easiest and most efficient method of testing watertight & weather-tight seals of hatch-covers, doors, multiple cable transits area testing. 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 Ultrasonic 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.

Comply with ISO 14520: Check your Compartmentation

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. It offers some great content in a pinned packaging. Coltraco Limited, UK, offers following contents:

  • 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.

Mine fires and explosions : the most devastating industrial disasters.

Fires and explosions pose a constant threat to the safety of miners and to the productive capacity of mines. Mine fires and explosions traditionally have ranked among the most devastating industrial disasters. The prevention and control of fire and explosion in mines is fundamental. On a mine site, fire hazards may occur in and around process plants, underground conveyors, static and mobile plants, draglines, workshops, substations, monitored control rooms and switch rooms. All mines have highly expensive and mission critical equipment that typically operate day and night under extreme hostile conditions, in vast, remote and difficult to access environments, especially on underground equipment. In many cases non-gaseous and gaseous fire suppression systems are the preferred systems installed to protect the high value assets, safeguard operators and processes so as to guarantee business continuity. However, it can be argued that the competitive nature of the free market places great pressure on the fire industry to deliver systems which minimally comply with, rather than exceed, the regulations. Too often fire protection is seen as a cost - not a vital investment for business continuity. High value assets such as critical mining infrastructure, may have catastrophic results in the event of downtime or shutdown due to fire. The risk far exceeds the risk of choosing minimal compliance, instead of advanced real-time monitoring systems. The cost or damage to reputational integrity as a result of this downtime far exceeds the cost of integrating a real-time monitoring system.

Regulations for fire protection/p>

The Health and Safety Executive clearly outlines that in 213. Regulation 9 of the Coal and Other Mines (Fire and Rescue) Regulations 1956 there is a requirement of managers of coal mines to put in place arrangements to ensure that: 35 • All fire-fighting equipment is inspected by a competent person at intervals not exceeding 30 days; • Each fire extinguisher is discharged and refilled by a competent person, at intervals not exceeding those specified by the manufacturer or supplier. The Fire Protection Association Australia states that the entire area should be a completely enclosed structure of fire resistant construction. This is particularly important for mines with intended for use longer than 6 months. If such an arrangement is not possible, then the area should be protected throughout by an automatic fire suppression system. In coal mines it is critical to minimize any potential fire source. In many underground mines, mobile equipment is typically diesel-powered, and a large percentage of the fires involve the fuel used by these machines. These fire hazards are compounded by the presence of coal, coal dust and methane.

What is a gaseous suppression system?/p>

Gaseous fire suppression systems typically encompass extinguishing agent stored in pressurised cylinders that are connected to a network of discharge pipework and nozzles that deliver the extinguishing agent to an enclosure to be protected.

Among the commonly used gaseous fire suppression systems are Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Clean Agent systems which are both non-conducting fire extinguishants safe for use when dealing with delicate electrical and electronic equipment unlike water-based systems. Both CO2 and Clean Agent systems vaporise easily and do not leave a residue upon evaporation.

Clean Agents consist of two types which are halocarbons that are stored as liquefied gases and inert gases that are stored as non-liquefied gases. Halocarbon is a name given to compounds containing both carbon and at least one of the halogens (fluorine, chlorine, iodine or bromine). In the case of Halon 1301 and Halon 1211 which contain bromine, they possess strong ozone depletion potential that has been banned under the Montreal Protocol in 1989. Replacement halocarbons has since been developed using safer halogens such as fluorine and among the popular ones are NOVEC™ 1230 by 3M™ and FM-200™ by The Chemours Company. On the other hand, inert gases are clean agents that consist purely of inert gas such as Nitrogen, or a combination of gases in the case of Inergen which contains CO2, Nitrogen and Argon.

How Gaseous Systems combat the Fire Triangle

At the heart of clean agent extinguishing properties is the commonly used “Fire Triangle” that represents the three components required to start a fire which are oxygen, heat and fuel. When one or more of these components are missing, the fire will be extinguished. Halocarbon clean agents such as NOVEC™ 1230 and FM-200™ remove the heat component which effectively prevents the material from reaching its ignition temperature. CO2 and inert gases works differently by removing the oxygen component but equally as effective to extinguish a fire.

The clean agent systems function on a total flooding principle and are highly relied on due to their quick detection of a fire event, rapid suppression and extinguishment capabilities. Typical applications include chemical storage areas, clean rooms, communications facilities, robotics, emergency power facilities and in mining sites as well. Depending on the site, the installed clean agent systems are located in or around the fire risk areas such as control rooms, data centres, electrical switch rooms, and process control rooms.  All fire equipment and systems including gaseous fire suppression systems need to be regularly tested, serviced and maintained to help ensure that they will be ready to operate as intended at the event of a fire.

Why should we monitor them?/p>

Clean agent fire extinguishing systems of this type are governed by BS EN ISO 14520 Gaseous Fire Extinguishing Systems. They are designed to provide a supply of gaseous extinguishing medium for the extinction of fire. It is essential that gaseous extinguishing systems are carefully maintained to ensure instant readiness when required. Routine maintenance is liable to be overlooked or given insufficient attention by the owner of the system.  These are very highly pressurised systems often stored at pressures of 725 psi (50 bar) and above. In engineering terms, they are “dynamic” systems, not passive ones. Inspection preferably by a third party, should include an evaluation that the extinguishing system continues to provide adequate protection for the risk (protected zones, as well rooms built for room integrity, can change over time as they age or are modified).  There exist very few engineers in our industry who fully understand the design, installation, testing, maintenance and safety of gaseous firefighting systems in buildings, plants or other structures, and the characteristics of the various extinguishants and types of fire for which they are a suitable extinguishing medium.  The HSE states that, in mines, continuous monitoring and protection of machinery and equipment can significantly reduce the likelihood of a fire occurring by detecting abnormal operating conditions and generating a warning and/or stopping the machinery or equipment before it becomes a hazard. The same should therefore go for the gaseous systems.

Gaseous extinguishing systems are pressurised, and therefore exist in a dynamic state and can leak. As supported by the BS EN ISO 14520 regulation, if clean agent cylinders leak beyond 5% of contents or 10% of pressure they will not extinguish a fire event, as they will be below their design concentration.  As the “gold standard” of clean agent systems – BS EN ISO 14520 highlights the asset owner’s responsibility to check that the clean agents contents exist; that the protected space can be sealed; that the pipework used to discharge the clean agents are clear of particulates that can clog up the nozzles which reduces the amount of clean agent to the point where it cannot deal with the fire event.

Anecdotes of bad practice across all safety critical industries/p>

  • Low labour rate servicing crews being unskilled, unreliable and untrained
  • Disreputable companies randomly checking a few cylinders and placing “tested stickers” on the rest of the untested ones
  • 20% of marine CO2 cylinders installed have leaked or partially discharged during the course of their lifetime  

These anecdotes represent observations across multiple safety critical industries such as shipping  and could very highly be applied across the mining industry. These issues would risk the integrity of mining operations, because in the event of fire, there may be insufficient agent to extinguish it. For such safety critical operations, leaving fire safety systems unsupervised and unmonitored 364 days a year until their annual certification check is just too risky.

Industry trend to govern “the ungoverned space” /p>

Safety is becoming recognised as an area which must no longer be overlooked. The industry is beginning to opt for more regular inspections and even, continuous 365/24/7 monitoring. The ability to monitor autonomously, with remote diagnostics and remote relay which provide an alarm to the Fire Safety Officer or Facilities Manager, provides confidence in the integrity of the system. Minimising the risk of fire in the long run can improve business continuity. It also saves downtime and saves the potential costly pay-out which fire damage entails. Carl Hunter, having coined the term “the ungoverned space” as CEO of Coltraco Ultrasonics is proud to be at the forefront of the industry trend towards increased safety.

What methods are available now?

Ultrasonic technology holds the key. Coltraco Ultrasonics have developed a system capable of constant monitoring fire extinguishing cylinders with their Permalevel™ Multiplex. Currently, protecting similarly high value and critical infrastructure, such as electricity sub-stations, power generating stations and data centres, Permalevel™ Multiplex will provide the asset owner with complete 24/7 visibility of their system’s contents. This Safesite® solution enables mining sites to go above and beyond minimal regulatory compliance to develop their own best practice safety management system that may lead to better protection of asset and human life, as well as show their insurers their commitment to safety.

What is ultrasound?/p>

Ultrasound is merely sound beyond our audible range. Dolphins and whales can communicate at sea over long ranges as sound travels more efficiently through liquids than air. We use this principle to identify that difference in a cylinder containing liquefied agent. Consider ones ears as ”the receiver” and ones mouth as the “transmitter”. Sound will arrive at ones ears at different times. The reason though that we hear a unitary sound is that our brain processes it to one. This is what we do by processing the returning ultrasound. In the air bats navigate by airborne ultrasound. We can do the same for contents and room integrity monitoring in the fire industry.

By utilising a sensor which acts as a transceiver, an ultrasonic 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. Similarly, leaks can be effectively detected through an ultrasound generator placed in an enclosure and an ultrasound receiver outside of the enclosure to measure the amount of ultrasound that leaks from the seals and cracks which has the potential to affect the ability for a clean agent to extinguish fires due to the retention time it needs upon discharge to function at its best. Taking these collected data and transmitting them wirelessly over TCP/IP, true remote monitoring of your fire suppression systems is possible anywhere around the world. 

Is bad engineering being rewarded?

Despite the technological advances in monitoring systems, the industry still approaches the installation of a dynamic and pressurised fixed gaseous extinguishing system as if it needs no integration into a Building Management System (BMS)/Safety Management System (SMS), except alerting on actuation. Nor does it think it needs constant monitoring, lest it reveals the underlying engineering risk of them. Can this be because good engineering is left unrewarded in fire safety matters? Or might it be that the fire industry is more concerned to negate customer awareness of its need lest it reveals that pressurised systems do discharge and leak? These are needless concerns. All good engineering demands the monitoring of dynamic structures and a highly pressurised cylinder is a dynamic structure. It is designed to protect a critical infrastructure or asset. Without constant monitoring a risk is generated in the very environment for which it is designed to reduce risk. The risk is not only to the asset, but to the people who work in the asset and their ability to enable business continuity in the high value asset under risk.

CASE STUDY: ultrasonic technology offers quick, safe & reliable solutions/p>

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 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 Coltraco Ultrasonics’ Portagauge® 3 thickness gauge for testing normal structure and stainless steel.

How to inspect liquefied gaseous systems with ease and speed/p>

Utilising ultrasound technology, Coltraco Ultrasonics have been manufacturing a range of ultrasonic portable liquid level indicators known as the Portalevel®. The Portalevel® MAX is the latest generation of the Portalevel® line and is designed to provide enhanced speed, operation and performance, especially for high intensity testing requirements and works brilliantly for testing cylinder contents of fixed fire extinguishing systems like CO2, NOVEC™ 1230, FM-200™ and other clean agents. The device has UL, RINA and ABS Type Approval, building further on their history of over 27 years manufacturing this equipment and showcasing the commitment to the marine and shipping industry. The Coltraco Safesite™ technology suite includes Portalevel ® MAX; a “world leading handheld ultrasonic liquid level indicator for testing most common extinguishing agents”; the Portasteele™ Calculator tablet based app converting the liquid level into agent weight/mass with ease, simplicity and ability to log the results; and the Permalevel ® Multiplex for 24/7, 365 autonomous, continuous monitoring of fire suppression systems, with remote relay, remote diagnostics and alarm capability to alert in case of agent leak/discharge.

How to constantly monitor liquefied gaseous extinguishing systems 24/7 /p>

Permalevel® Multiplex is the first system worldwide that is capable of monitoring the liquid level 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. Modern fire suppression systems have transformed industry safety across all sectors. However, the development of their servicing and monitoring equipment has remained stagnant, with many very advanced systems relying totally on annual inspections, or on unreliable mechanical pressure gauges. These methods leave the status of fire suppression systems completely vulnerable between annual checks. 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 that it is required for use 24/7 remote access to system status – enables the operator to monitor each cylinder point in real time. The ability to retrofit into existing systems which eliminates downtime as the system does not have to be disconnected/deactivated provides ease and simplicity to be installed across hundreds of cylinders present in a particular site.

How to test Room Integrity /p>

Where Portalevel® and Pemalevel® deals with the clean agent contents, Coltraco Ultrasonics has also designed and manufactured a device to monitor the enclosure integrity at which the clean agent discharges into. Prior to the installation of a clean agent extinguishing system, fire installers are required to determine the enclosure’s “hold time” in order to comply with regulations such as BS EN ISO 14520 and to ensure the enclosure is able to contain the released clean agent for a sufficient period of time in order to extinguish fires. This relies on the identification of leak sites within an enclosure and subsequently sealing them to improve the “hold time” when necessary. Coltraco Ultrasonics manufactures the Portascanner™ 520 which comprises of an ultrasound generator and ultrasound receiver whereby the ultrasound generator is left in an enclosure and the receiver is used to scan the enclosure seals to identify leak sites. This allows effective identification of leak sites and overall contribute to an increased reliability of a clean agent fire suppression system. A semi-permanent option is also available to monitor leak sites continuously, typically in old, grade listed buildings whereby protection from fire is of absolute importance.

Conclusion: Safesite® fire safety solutions

Coltraco Ultrasonics is a company that demonstrates their commitment to developing and supporting safety systems and test equipment with their customer and the end application in mind, founded on science and pursuit of mathematical justification such as their practice to precisely cite accuracy i.e. they achieve +/-1.5mm level of contents accuracy and identify leak sites as small as 0.06mm +/-0.02mm. This is a key contribution the company makes to the industry over their competitors, backed up by 30 years’ experience, operating in 108 countries and life-time customer care.

Could you afford the financial and reputational damage of a tanker fire?

Fires on board tankers can be devastating, to crew, vessel and cargo. Fire safety standards on board cannot afford to slip. Sailing alone and at sea throughout the year, and without the ability to call upon the emergency services as a land-based asset might. Although the value of the marine assets that fire systems protect is increasing rapidly, the competitiveness of the free market places great pressure on cost cutting. Often, cheap systems only minimally comply with the regulations and, in fact, there are very few qualified engineers who may be considered experts on the subject matter.

The International Maritime Risk Rating Agency (IMRRA) has ranked fire safety as the leading tanker deficiency seen by Port State Control for the first six months of the year. In March 2017 there were 152 cases of fire reported. The IMMRA placed 12.5% of tankers it assessed in January 2017 into the higher risk category – a six month high.

Serious cases of tanker fires and risks have been reported in the past year. In September 2016 a Pemex oil tanker had a serious fire in the Gulf of Mexico, on which it was carrying 80,000 barrels of diesel, 71,000 of gasoline and 16,000 barrels of desulfurized gasoline. In March 2017 there was an explosion on a Chinese Tanker, in which 3 crew members went missing and serious damage to the vessel was caused. Even as recently as July fire safety is still being neglected, with the crew of the tanker MT IBA reporting empty fire extinguishers (despite transporting crude oil) and leaking life boat’s hydraulic system with no means of testing.

So why is fire safety still being ignored?

The UK P&I Club have suggested that extended periods of time on board a ship without a fire incident can lead to complacency and therefore a failure of prioritizing prevention methods and fire incident practices. It is impossible to prepare for all eventualities on a vessel, and it is often easier to influence the prompt detection of fires and their effective extinguishment, and these factors therefore play a key role in minimising fire damage aboard vessels.

The Ungoverned Space is the area where either the regulations or the protecting systems of the tankers are not effectively providing consistent and reliable safety. This life-threatening issue must be dealt with, with specific regard to loss of contents in fixed fire extinguishing systems and need for improvements to room integrity testing. Even in 2017, gaseous fixed fire extinguishing systems are often overlooked, and are misunderstood at all levels: owners, managers, chief engineers and crew.

Look after your installations or pay the price of fire

Tankers extinguishing installations are its essential defence against the risk of fire at sea. The main factor that needs to be understood is that they must be able to actuate, or release their gas, in the event of a fire. Gaseous extinguishing systems are highly pressurised, the risk of leaking and discharging is accepted as part of their use, 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”

Adding to this, the details of their leakage within the regulations which is troubling. ISO 14520-1 clearly states that:

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

Given that the gaseous systems are designed specifically to the individual need of the tanker then a 5% loss of agent may mean that they would not fully extinguish the fire. Manual weighing is not only laborious, but also dangerous to the crew conducting the servicing.

Innovative Solutions

  • Portalevel® MAX Marine is designed primarily for the vessels’ crew to inspect large fire suppression systems of up to 600 cylinders.
  • 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 30 seconds using Portalevel® with one person, instead of the traditional 15 minutes, with two people laboriously weighing.

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.  Furthermore, the Portasteele® can convert an expected agent weight back to the required liquid level allowing users to anticipate where the level should be. The Portasteele has widely been recognised by awards, as a finalist in the Safety at Sea Awards 2017 and the Tanker & Trade Awards 2016.

Addressing fire at sea is critical, especially when all owners and managers are seeking to reduce risk, cut costs and surge on safety. Owners and managers, to servicing companies and insurers - use Coltraco Ultrasonics.

 

Using ultrasound to enhance offshore safety

Bad industry practice is unacceptable when fire risk may have catastrophic results due to risk to life, downtime in operation due to platform safety and repair work and incalculable reputational damage

Fully operative fire systems on an offshore platform is paramount and demanded by ISO 14520 and PFEER codes. Ultrasound should be harnessed by innovators in the safety of offshore platforms 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 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.

When these fire systems are properly maintained, the cost associated with fire damage is likely to reduce dramatically as it is know fire damages on these hazardous offshore environments are generally catastrophic to lives, asset, environment and company reputation.

The introduction of a package to cover watertight doors, compartments, pipework, rotating machinery, pumps, sprinkler systems and gaseous extinguishing installations. The package is based on integrity, from design, through to life-time support, and is accurate, reliable and easy to use for any operations & QHSE staff. The use of ultrasound technology to protect safety critical assets is new. There are currently no technical papers which discuss ultrasound as a method to holistically service safety management systems.

Regulations Demand Crew Test Their Extinguishing Installations

At sea, fire poses one the of biggest threat to ships: according to Lloyds List, almost 10% of all total losses at sea for the last ten years have been caused by fire. Unlike shore-based workers, crew can’t pick up the phone and wait for a firefighting crew to arrive. Ultimately, ships are their own fire brigade. And as vessels become larger and more sophisticated, a greater financial interest is tied up into one ship, meaning that the risks are magnified if the vessel gets into difficulties.

According to the International Maritime Organisation, Safety of Life at Sea, Fire Safety Systems (IMO SOLAS FSS) Code; there is a 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, such as an external marine servicing company.

Yet, 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 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.

Despite this, the risk of leaking and discharging is accepted as part of their use and this is shown in the IMO SOLAS FFS regulations that demand their upkeep.

The regulations also state that “means shall be provided for the crew to safely check the quantity of the fire extinguishing medium in the container”. 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 could do their work without allowing for time pressures, then marine safety would improve.

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 future of watertight integrity testing is with continuous monitoring.

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 .

The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) have recently investigated the cause of the 2015 El Faro disaster. 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.

To prevent sinking, regulations outline the requirements to ensure watertight integrity checks are done before the vessel sets sail. There is currently no emphasis on periodic watertight integrity checks other than to ensure watertight doors are closed. There are also reasons to believe that this requirement can too be exceeded by implementing the continuous monitoring of watertight compartments such as hatch covers for cargo holds and watertight doors for passenger spaces. This is now made possible by implementing robust ultrasonic transmitters and receivers both inside and outside the monitored compartment respectively. As soon as apertures start to form in the seals of these structures, the ultrasonic signal escapes the compartments and is received by the ultrasonic receiver on the other end. Above a certain threshold, this escaped signal represents the size of the leak that has developed.

Using a portable ultrasonic watertight integrity tester, Coltraco Ultrasonics’ Portascanner® functions on similar principles, detecting the smallest leak size 0.06 mm in diameter which is the most mathematically accurate in the world +/-0.02mm. As an example of how a leak will compromise the stability of a vessel, a leak diameter of one mm under just one metres depth of water below sea level will correspond to a leak of 12,500 millilitres per hour. This means up to 911 cans of soft drinks worth of water in a day. This highlights the importance of watertight integrity.

Fire is the second leading cause of accidents 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® 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.”

Focused on continued advancement of safety technology, 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. With guaranteed systems operations, adaptability for purpose, 24/7 remote access to the systems status, an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and remote real-time monitoring, the Permalevel® offers the efficiency that is needed in a wind turbine.

For regular inspection, the Portalevel® MAX is a handheld ultrasonic liquid level indicator, which 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. Portalevel® MAX builds on Coltraco Ultrasonics’ 30 years’ experience in designing, manufacturing and supporting ultrasonic liquid level indicating equipment, in 108 Countries and numerous market sectors and environments. The development program was born out of the desire to further improve on Coltraco’s existing 8 designs and taking on board feedback and opinions of our customers.

Coltraco Ultrasonics provide smart Firetest® solutions which 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®.

Room Integrity and Compartmentation

Room Integrity is often an overlooked aspect of a clean agent installation whereby it is required that the concentration of the clean agent meets the sufficient “Hold Time” when discharged in a room in order to properly extinguish fires. Achieving this “Hold Time” is largely dependent on the overall leakage in the room otherwise referred to as the “Equivalent Leakage Area” or ELA in the industry. The most common and widely accepted way of determining whether the enclosure achieves the sufficient “Hold Time” for the agent is by carrying a Door Fan Test (DFT). This involves pressurising and depressurising the enclosure to check if it achieves the pass rate and if the enclosure fails the test, the presence of leaks are the common contributors to this failure. The industry introduces various methods to identify these leaks which are then patched up before the DFT is being conducted again. What is an often-neglected fact is that as a buildings age or their internal use is changed, leak sites will begin to develop. If the gas cannot be held in the confined space on discharge during a fire event, the probability of its suppression diminishes in proportion to the size of the leak sites. Clean agents are designed to operate in limited spaces where there is a need for speed of suppression given the asset risk and where the space is occupied by people. They must be easily maintained in-situ, non-flammable and non-toxic. They must comply with ISO 14520 and NFPA 2001 standards demanding fast discharge in 10 seconds and fire extinguishing within 30 seconds, delivering confidence to the operator that it delivers “best fire safety practise”.

Despite DFT being a reliable method to determine the “hold time”, methods to locate the leak sites themselves are inaccurate such as the use of smoke pencils or draught testing using the back of a hand. The limitations of the DFT often lie in the fact that the leakage areas are only identified during installation of the clean agent system and make no acknowledgement to the fact that additional leak sites may develop throughout the lifetime of a building.

In the event of fire, a pencil sized hole between compartments size 6m x 6m x 3m would take just 4 minutes before a person would not be able to see their hand due to smoke. If this compartment was a fire escape, there could be a severe threat to life if people cannot escape. Thus it is clear to see why the maintenance of the integrity of the compartments is essential to genuinely aid the safety to human life. As building age or their internal use is changed leak sites develop and the threat to people becomes high Coltraco Ultrasonics have provided a smart solution for quick and easy assurance of compartmentation and leak detection. The proprietary device known as the Portascanner® 520 ultrasonic leak detector uses ultrasonic technology to not only pinpoint precise leak locations, but to determine their leak apertures as small as 0.06mm with a tolerance of +/-0.02mm, and is by far the most mathematically proven accurate device for this function.

ONE COMPANY’s MISSION TO RESOLVE “THE UNGOVERNED SPACE” IN SHIPPING

There are 55,000 ships in the world carrying 95% of all commodities and goods. 25% of these are Tankers, Chemical Carriers & Product Tankers. 40% of these are Bulk Carriers and General Cargo ships. These have a need for vessel integrity and vessel fire safety.

Currently it is well known that the shipping industry has taken a big hit in certain areas. The amount of “urgent” supply requests that increase during one of shipping’s cyclical down-turns is because it is during these times when owners risk vessel detention by not placing safety critical equipment on-board. There are two key aspects to investigate in more detail because they are oft overlooked: the ungoverned spaces of fire safety and watertight integrity. These two areas will be examined through the regulations and technologies used to solve these issues. Looking at the UK as leaders in the shipping industry worldwide with a case study focus on a British designer and manufacturer who is sailing through the tough times.

FIRE SAFETY IS MORE THAN ANOTHER TICKBOX

Engine room fires are often reported but there are many more instances where problems with the fire system may not reach the public eye. In a ship’s fire extinguishing system, there may be 600 x 45kg/100lb cylinders of CO2. The CO2 is a highly effective liquefied gaseous extinguishant designed to displace oxygen and suppress a fire. But they are under high pressure, often more than 50 Bar, and they can leak or accidentally discharge. Common knowledge suggests 20% of marine CO2 cylinders leak. If personnel are around when they discharge fatalities can occur. To inspects cylinder contents, the system is turned off, the cylinders dismantled, weighed and re-installed by certified personnel, which the crew are not. 30 years ago, marine servicing companies used radioactive-sourced level indicators, but these were damaging to health and subject to IATA transportation, licensing and storage requirements. The first handheld liquid level indicator to use ultrasonic technology provided a quick, accurate and safe means for anyone trained - from a marine servicing company, to chief engineer or crew member - to test the cylinder contents. This Portalevel® was designed and manufactured by Coltraco Ultrasonics who have since developed the technology to the 8th generation Portalevel® MAX Marine which can test all common clean agents.

LEAKING HATCHCOVERS? DOORS & MCTs MUST NOT BE FORGOTTEN.

A second key problem area for vessels is the watertight integrity: for example, 33% of cargo claims are due to leaking hatch-covers. Not only hatch-covers suffer seal integrity issues, but also the multiple cable transit areas, cable penetrations between bulkheads or watertight compartment doors. Historically the industry has used high pressure water hoses or chalk compression testing to test the seals. These methods are messy, inaccurate, time-consuming and the environmental implications of water run-off is costly. They can also only be conducted when the ship is in port or when the cargo holds are empty. Portascanner™ Watertight was designed by Coltraco Ultrasonics to meet the need for a clean, simple, highly accurate means to achieve watertight integrity in port, with or without cargo in the hold. It is handheld, intuitive to use, with audible and visual displays showing the most mathematically accurate results of its type worldwide.

DYNAMIC STATES

Shipping professionals understand that any marine structure “turns and bends” as it sails, that its extent is affected by its sea, weather and its load states and that as a structure ages its integrity changes and worsens. Today it is possible to continuously monitoring the state of hatch-covers whilst at sea thanks to Coltraco who are developing the first fixed and semi-fixed watertight integrity monitoring systems with remote diagnostics and alarm relay. Just as the vessel is in a dynamic state, so too a pressurised fire extinguishing gas is effected by temperature and that its cylinder holding structure and its associated pipework corrodes over time. Regular and frequent inspections, above and beyond the regulatory inspections can aide condition monitoring and preventative maintenance. Over 20% of the world’s commercial ships, over 20 leading Navies and many oil and gas platforms and rigs recognise these issues and use Portalevel™ MAX Marine and/or Portascanner™ Watertight as part of their safety management systems. It is the responsibility of the Master to ensure that the vessel is watertight and the fire systems in working order, but it is the responsibility of the Owner or Operator to ensure that the Master can achieve this.

REGULATION COMPLIANCE & BEYOND

These two safety solutions are at the heart of the crew’s ability to comply with regulations. The IMO regulates for the safe operations of ships. The Flag States enforce these. The Classification Societies & PSC inspect these, but it is for the Ship Owners & operators to implement this. Suppliers provide the solutions. Enabling ship owners and operators to access marine technologies to deliver a safely-operated ship and prevent its detention by Port State Control (PSC) Inspection Agencies for non-compliance, is the Safeship® mission from Coltraco Ultrasonics.

For example, IMO SOLAS FSS Ch.5 2.1.1.3: every ship “must have the means for the crew to check the contents of the CO2 system”. The crew are not qualified to turn off and dismantle a CO2 system to weigh the cylinders so Portalevel™ MAX Marine solves the issue because they can check each cylinder in 30 seconds without disturbing it.

SMART SAFESHIP SOLUTIONS

“Constant monitoring”. “Autonomous shipping”. “Unmanned vessels”. These are the terms of the moment, and for good reason. Data and safety are priceless, so new solutions are being implemented to secure these. In the ungoverned spaces of fire safety and watertight integrity, there will soon be innovative new systems providing continuous monitoring and remote diagnostics. At the vanguard of this, Coltraco have just launched the world’s first instrument to enable ships to monitor the compartment door “open/closed” access status when they enter the ship’s CO2 room. This is known as Portascanner™ 14520 and is a dual-function unit that can also permanently monitor the “Protected Space” of the ship’s compartment to ensure that it will “hold” the CO2 or NOVEC™1230, should it be discharged into it. Coltraco are dedicated to developing semi-fixed systems with the Portascanner™ Watertight Compartment Door and Portascanner™ Multiple Cable Transit Area next year, so that shipping companies can test these structures at sea over varying load and weather states enabling them to calculate leak site aperture.

HOW COLTRACO IMPLEMENT THEIR SAFESHIP® MISSION TO RESOLVE THE UNGOVERNED SPACE

Certain leading British OEMs commit to marketing and business development via exhibitions, speaking at conferences, writing articles, preparing interviews with trade press and a few even have technical papers published by the likes of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects among other. At a more in depth level, exists the opportunity to engage with industry associations, councils and committees which can, if the arguments are captivating for their value and truth, lead to government and regulation level communications. The dizzying heights of the IMO and All Party Parliamentary Groups are gained, not through commercially-led influence, but through care for the customer, for the vessel and the crew.

It is also through leading by example of providing the scientific and mathematical principles behind the concepts. Coltraco works with leading universities such as Durham University who awarded their CEO an Honorary Doctorate for his contribution to Physics and student development. Coltraco is a unique example of a British OEM who strives to engage all the elements described above to achieve its Safeship® mission.

Whilst aiming to be a sustainable and profitable company, at the leading technological edge of its core capabilities, Coltraco’s CEO see a day “when we will break-out of ultrasound and acoustic resonance and supplement these in technologies from radar, light and magnetism. I would like to see us become the “Research & Development hub” or “R&D house of choice” for Ship Owners and Vessel Operators.

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

Ultrasonic Thickness Gauge by Coltraco

The Portagauge® 4 is an ultrasonic thickness gauge from Coltraco. Offering unparalleled accuracy, using triple echo technology, which allows operators to inspect the underlying metal thickness, independent of any surface coatings such as paint. For applications where true metal readings and a higher degree of accuracy are required, the PortagaugeÒ 4 is the ideal solution. With a variety of sensor options available and underwater variants, this range of portable ultrasonic thickness gauge of units can easily be adapted to a variety of different roles and requirements.

  • Lifetime Support
  • Designed for Corrosion testing
  • Three years warranty
  • Ignored paint layer
  • 50 hours battery life
  • Ultrasonic technology
  • 225MHz probe included as standard
  • Accurate to 0.1mm off the true liquid level

Specifications of Portagauge 4Ò

  • It measures the true metal thickness, excluding coating and paint thickness.
  • Ideal for most common thickness gauging applications onboard ships by marine superintendents
  • This device is applicable for bridges, pilings storage tanks, lighting columns, ship hulls, bulk heads, pipe work, steel/stainless steel, cast iron, aluminum, copper, brass, zinc, quartz, glass, PVC, poleythyience, grey cast iron amongst others.
  • Automatic Measurement Verification System (AMVS) ensures only true measurements are displayed by checking a minimum of three echoes each time the ultrasound pulses through the metal Intelligent.
  • Probe Recognition (IPR), which automatically adjusts settings in the gauge at the same time as transmitting recognition data large colour.
  • LCD Display giving user information. Single crystal soft faced probe protected by a membrane.
  • Easy calibration with menu driven buttons echo strength indicator.
  • No zeroing required as all sensors use a single crystal which means that no specific alignment is required when measuring on curved or rounded surfaces.
  • User friendly with soft- molded rubber surround which is also comfortable to hold and provides extra protection.

For further information, download PDF

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 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.

Portamarine® Benefits

The Portamarine has been specifically designed to meet the needs of the shipping industry and has proven a capable and reliable unit over many years. In use with many thousand Vessel and Marine service stations worldwide, it is specifically designed for safely, quickly and accurately inspecting marine CO2 fire suppression systems. It allows vessel owners to comply with IMO SOLAS requirements which specify the need to have the means onboard to allow crew to safely inspect the fire systems. The Portamarine® has been specifically designed for testing multi-banked CO2 Cylinder Fire Suppression System Cylinders, stored in 2, 3 or 4 rows deep, to make the process as quick as possible to complete. It can also operate on the vast majority of other fire system agents including FM200™, NOVEC 1230™, Halon (for Defence applications) and all other clean agent systems.

Coltraco Limited has produced this liquid level indicator specifically to meet the corresponding needs of Marine Industry.The equipment is fully Classification Society Approved, accurate to +/-1.5mm and proves a significantly safer and quicker solution when compared to weighing as a means of identifying cylinder content.

Optional Extras with Portamarine – Ultrasonic Level Indicator

Ancillary Parts

These are offers and accessories available with this ultrasonic level indicator upon demand. Give it a look!

Additional Sensors

  • Wet Sensors – For rugged applications such as poor conditioned or rusty cylinders
  • Dry Sensor – For Standard Applications

Multi-Banked Extension Rod

  • Standard Rod – 28mm wide, normal build. Ideal for vast majority of applications.
  • Slim line rod – only 14mm wide and lightweight, ideal for where cylinders are tightly packed.

Portatherm™

Infrared thermometer providing quick indication of ambient temperatures

Gas Monitors

We also provide a wide range of Portable Gas Monitors when required.

After Sales Support

By purchasing the Portamarine® from Coltraco you can be assured of our full support to ensure you become a confident and competent user. If ever you require additional support or would like a Telephone Teach-In from one of our Technical Team please call +44 1761 241 601 or email support

Total Support with Portacare®

3 or 5 Year Total Maintenance Program to completely cap the cost of ownership and guaranty maximum availability. Back up units provided in the event of unit breakages with beyond Warranty levels of support.

For further information, download PDF

Fire & Explosion: A constant threat to miners

Fires and explosions pose a constant threat to the safety of miners and to the productive capacity of mines. Mine fires and explosions traditionally have ranked among the most devastating industrial disasters. The prevention and control of fire and explosion in mines is fundamental. On a mine site, fire hazards may occur in and around process plants, underground conveyors, static and mobile plants, draglines, workshops, substations, monitored control rooms and switch rooms. All mines have highly expensive and mission critical equipment that typically operate day and night under extreme hostile conditions, in vast, remote and difficult to access environments, especially on underground equipment. In many cases non-gaseous and gaseous fire suppression systems are the preferred systems installed to protect the high value assets, safeguard operators and processes so as to guarantee business continuity. However, it can be argued that the competitive nature of the free market places great pressure on the fire industry to deliver systems which minimally comply with, rather than exceed, the regulations. Too often fire protection is seen as a cost - not a vital investment for business continuity. High value assets such as critical mining infrastructure, may have catastrophic results in the event of downtime or shutdown due to fire. The risk far exceeds the risk of choosing minimal compliance, instead of advanced real-time monitoring systems. The cost or damage to reputational integrity as a result of this downtime far exceeds the cost of integrating a real-time monitoring system.

CASE STUDY: ultrasonic technology offers quick, safe & reliable solutions

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 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 Coltraco Ultrasonics’ Portagauge® 3 thickness gauge for testing normal structure and stainless steel.

How to inspect liquefied gaseous systems with ease and speed

Utilising ultrasound technology, Coltraco Ultrasonics have been manufacturing a range of ultrasonic portable liquid level indicators known as the Portalevel®. The Portalevel® MAX is the latest generation of the Portalevel® line and is designed to provide enhanced speed, operation and performance, especially for high intensity testing requirements and works brilliantly for testing cylinder contents of fixed fire extinguishing systems like CO2, NOVEC™ 1230, FM-200™ and other clean agents. The device has UL, RINA and ABS Type Approval, building further on their history of over 27 years manufacturing this equipment and showcasing the commitment to the marine and shipping industry. The Coltraco Safesite™ technology suite includes Portalevel ® MAX; a “world leading handheld ultrasonic liquid level indicator for testing most common extinguishing agents”; the Portasteele™ Calculator tablet based app converting the liquid level into agent weight/mass with ease, simplicity and ability to log the results; and the Permalevel ® Multiplex for 24/7, 365 autonomous, continuous monitoring of fire suppression systems, with remote relay, remote diagnostics and alarm capability to alert in case of agent leak/discharge.

How to constantly monitor liquefied gaseous extinguishing systems 24/7

Permalevel® Multiplex is the first system worldwide that is capable of monitoring the liquid level 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. Modern fire suppression systems have transformed industry safety across all sectors. However, the development of their servicing and monitoring equipment has remained stagnant, with many very advanced systems relying totally on annual inspections, or on unreliable mechanical pressure gauges. These methods leave the status of fire suppression systems completely vulnerable between annual checks. 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 that it is required for use 24/7 remote access to system status – enables the operator to monitor each cylinder point in real time. The ability to retrofit into existing systems which eliminates downtime as the system does not have to be disconnected/deactivated provides ease and simplicity to be installed across hundreds of cylinders present in a particular site.

How to test Room Integrity

Where Portalevel® and Pemalevel® deals with the clean agent contents, Coltraco Ultrasonics has also designed and manufactured a device to monitor the enclosure integrity at which the clean agent discharges into. Prior to the installation of a clean agent extinguishing system, fire installers are required to determine the enclosure’s “hold time” in order to comply with regulations such as BS EN ISO 14520 and to ensure the enclosure is able to contain the released clean agent for a sufficient period of time in order to extinguish fires. This relies on the identification of leak sites within an enclosure and subsequently sealing them to improve the “hold time” when necessary. Coltraco Ultrasonics manufactures the Portascanner™ 520 which comprises of an ultrasound generator and ultrasound receiver whereby the ultrasound generator is left in an enclosure and the receiver is used to scan the enclosure seals to identify leak sites. This allows effective identification of leak sites and overall contribute to an increased reliability of a clean agent fire suppression system. A semi-permanent option is also available to monitor leak sites continuously, typically in old, grade listed buildings whereby protection from fire is of absolute importance.

Conclusion: Safesite® fire safety solutions Coltraco Ultrasonics is a company that demonstrates their commitment to developing and supporting safety systems and test equipment with their customer and the end application in mind, founded on science and pursuit of mathematical justification such as their practice to precisely cite accuracy i.e. they achieve +/-1.5mm level of contents accuracy and identify leak sites as small as 0.06mm +/-0.02mm. This is a key contribution the company makes to the industry over their competitors, backed up by 30 years’ experience, operating in 108 countries and life-time customer care.

How can smart technology allow you to reach the Safeship

The crew have a responsibility to implement the regulations via regular testing, which enabled through smart ultrasonic technology and IoT, should be done continuously to avoid negligence and unnecessary risk. Misunderstanding exists across parts of shipping industry regarding the application of a part of the 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. The reason IMO requires crew to test for contents in-between these is that the “ship sails alone” and “there is no such thing as a small fire at sea”; it must act as its own emergency fire service, differing to a land based asset. In order to create a Safeship® the crew must be in full understanding of the status their safety systems at all times and not just at the times of the inspections – achieved by continuous monitoring.

Gaseous extinguishing systems must be able to actuate, or release their gas, in the event of a fire. Given that the gaseous systems are designed specifically to the individual need of the vessel, and it is known that they leak, then a 5% loss of agent may mean that they would not fully extinguish the fire. These are pressurised systems, so the point of monthly checking for contents is to identify loss of contents through leakage or accidental discharge before they fall below their capacity to extinguish (technically described as: delivering their design concentration). Only having the annual inspection by accredited marine servicing companies is not enough – the crew must take responsibility for its own fire protection and inspecting the gaseous extinguishing systems. But what if there is leakage in between these monthly checks?  With fewer, even lower-skilled crew and a greater dependence on autonomous machinery, the dependence on fire systems being checked from shore, let alone on the ship in person, will only become greater. Manual weighing is not only laborious, but also dangerous to the crew conducting the servicing. New technology allows ship owners and crews to help them both the spirit and letter of the regulation and thus know that their vessel is protected in the event of a fire.

Smart technology provides the crew and ship owners with ease of inspection and understanding their extinguishing systems. However, the crew will not be able to refill the gaseous extinguishing system, and instead must rely on notifying the marine servicing company when they arrive at a port, despite the fact that they may only be at the port for a very short amount of time. Due to time pressures, the risk of not being able to find a contractor in time to fill the cylinders in the event of leakage is one that could jeopardise the safety of the entire ship when it is time to set sail. Furthermore, 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. Continuously monitoring the cylinders with ultrasonic sensors that utilises IoT can avoid this, because the network contribution. Using IoT enables the advance notification of the crew and shore based services whilst at sea. Therefore, preparations to address the issues can be made prior to docking to ensure the issues are resolved given the minimum time they have. By having the ability to understand the contents’ level of their gaseous extinguishing systems whilst at sea, the crew are also able to comply and exceed the IMO SOLAS FSS and ISO 14520 regulations, whilst ensuring the Safeship®.

How do you measure liquid level with the Portalevel® MAX?

The Portalevel® MAX has been specifically designed to be as easy, simple and definitive for a user to operate as possible. Simple touch buttons now operate the controls and a new digital screen provides clear and definitive results to the user. The 7 steps below outline the simple testing process. Further technical support for this ultrasonic leak detector is available to all users for the lifetime of the equipment if required.

How to operate Portalevel Max by Coltraco?

  • 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 location.

Portalevel Max 8th Generation
This liquid level indicator is designed primarily to meet your measuring requirements of liquid levels enclosed in cylinders. See the brochure here: via PDF

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 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.

Permalevel® MULTIPLEX – 24/7 365 days monitoring fixed fire extinguishing systems

The Permalevel® Multiplex is the only continuous monitor of fixed fire extinguishing systems. The applications span across the fire, nuclear, electricity and gas and oil production, data storage, telecommunications centers and defence sectors.

Permalevel® is an advanced constant ultrasonic liquid level indicator. It is the easiest and simplest way to assure the appropriate level of liquid within the verified containers.

Features of Permalevel Multiplex

This system is a constant  ultrasonic liquid level indicator. Check them out!

Multiple Alarm Options:
A Master Alarm output. The multiplex has an RS232/485 output allowing communication with a central monitoring system or PC.

Status of Each Channel Shown by LEDs:

The set of green and red LED lights indicate the status of each cylinder.

Text/ Email Alerts:

Provide an instantaneous and convenient form of data communication.

Uninterruptable Power Supply:

Backup system provides power in the event of mains power failure.

Data-logging Ability:

The software keeps logs of the system activity, errors and alarm trigger on a monthly basis.

Strong Magnets:

Hold the sensors in place with additional space for adhesive or a strap to ensure sensors are not accidentally removed.

Sensors:

Each monitoring point has its own dedicated sensor, which is connected to the cylinder it is monitoring.

Remote Real-Time Monitoring Screen:

Displays information about the current status of the cylinders, and when last contact was made.

Compatible with Multiple Cylinder Types:

Each channel can be individually tuned therefore each cylinder can be different from the last in size, weight, pressure and agent type.

For further question or to place an order, contact Coltraco.

What are the Distress® and db levels of the Portamonitor®?

Coltraco’s Portamonitor® is a sophisticated AE device that combines Distress® and db levels that provides a real-time evaluation to give the user accurate knowledge of any defects that may be present in any kind of bearing, for example; roller and ball types. Sound generated by friction and impacts caused by poor lubrication or bearing damage propagates as a stress wave, detectable by the Portamonitor®.

Signal is processed at sensor level allowing quick and effective diagnostics. The Portamonitor® can be used for pre-service (proof) testing as well as in-service (re-qualification) testing and condition monitoring. 

What are Distress® and db level?

Together Distress® and db level help diagnose defects at sensor level by providing simple alert indications relating to phenomena occurring at the defect location. Generally speaking, Distress® provides an instant indication of the health of the bearings. It measures the transient activity, such as impacts, friction and surface deformation caused by micro-pitting and fractures.

The overall measurement is the summation of abnormal signals generated by defective bearings. Elastic waves that are produced as a result of cracks, fractures or debris produce different frequencies. Algorithms inside the Portamonitor® sort this data for comparison against acceptable limits categorised by a number.

The display on the Portamonitor® will show a numeric value indicating the level of distress, for instance: 5-10 indicates the system in “OK”. Between the value of 10-15 indicates the system is “SUSPECT”, and requires further monitoring, whereas >15 indicates a “POOR” system and requires attention. To help with this understanding, the following chart shows simulated example results and a description of what can be immediately determined:

Looking at this data an operator can determine that gearbox No. 1 and 5 need further investigation, with 5 being the priority since gearbox 1 is SUSPECT, but gearbox 5 is POOR. It may be the case that lubricating a bearing may show a decrease in the Distress® value to an acceptable level thus avoiding a shut-down period. This can be determined at this point.

In use alongside Distress®, db level indicators are used which show the overall bearing noise. This is dependent on rotating speed and will increase as rotating speeds increases, but will also increase during the degradation of bearings, or if inadequate lubrication is present. Decibel indicators work on a logarithmic scale, which basically translates very large or very small numbers into a more intuitive form, usually between 0 – 100. Sharp increases in db level indicate imminent failure. Also, db trends can be monitored to establish the overall condition of bearings. Again, to show this we look at some example data to the right.

The trend of db level with time is particularly useful for indicating the rate of deterioration. As can be seen on this chart. This increase in db level over time indicates a serious problem prevailing. Most of the complicated post-processing has been completed within the device making it very easy to understand. Both of these parameters are included simultaneously on the Portamonitor® providing a time and cost effective all-around simple to use device suitable for the monitoring of bearing degradation in all industries. 

Portalevel® Max Nippon: Produced for Japan

Through exploring the Japanese Fire Protection market in detail in our country partners, several unique requirements were identified to properly serve the local customer base. As a result of this, a specially adapted unit was created, allowing customers to take advantage of the 8th Generation Technology, in the form optimized for specific tailored local requirements. Thicker, more power absorbing Japanese made a cylinders demanded a specially tailored calibration capability and increased power output. This offers customers the usability of the Portalevel Max technology even on the more challenging applications. It is considered to be the 7th Generation of Portable Ultrasonic Liquid Level Indicator named to be Portalevel Max Nippon.

Features Provided By Coltraco

You can avail mentioned below features along with lowest ultrasonic level indicator price. Coltraco has an impressive record of facilitating customers with reliable, efficient and high quality services. So, give a look to some of the features it offers with Portalevel Max Nippon!

  • Three years warranty
  • Lifetime Support
  • Specially designed for Japanese Market
  • Fast Operation
  • Service a cylinder in under30 seconds
  • Not radioactive
  • Ultrasonic clean technology
  • Class Approved
  • Accurate to 1.5mm
  • Measures multibank rows 2-4 deep

You can browse through other Portalevel Product Range as well.

Capable and Reliable: Portamarine®

The Portamarine has been specifically designed to meet the needs of the shipping industry and has proven a capable and reliable unit over many years. In use with many thousand Vessel and Marine service stations worldwide, it is specifically designed for safely, quickly and accurately inspecting marine CO2 fire suppression systems. It allows vessel owners to comply with IMO SOLAS requirements which specify the need to have the means onboard to allow crew to safely inspect the fire systems. The Portamarine® has been specifically designed for testing multi-banked CO2 Cylinder Fire Suppression System Cylinders, stored in 2, 3 or 4 rows deep, to make the process as quick as possible to complete. It can also operate on the vast majority of other fire system agents including FM200™, NOVEC 1230™, Halon (for Defence applications) and all other clean agent systems.

Coltraco Ultrasonics has produced this liquid level indicator specifically to meet the corresponding needs of Marine Industry. The equipment is fully Classification Society Approved, accurate to +/-1.5mm and proves a significantly safer and quicker solution when compared to weighing as a means of identifying cylinder content.

Optional Extras with Portamarine® – Ultrasonic Level Indicator

Additional Sensors

  • Wet Sensors – For rugged applications such as poor conditioned or rusty cylinders
  • Dry Sensor – For Standard Applications

Portatherm™

  • Infrared thermometer providing quick indication of ambient temperatures

Ancillary Parts

Multi-Banked Extension Rod

  • Standard Rod – 28mm wide, normal build. Ideal for vast majority of applications.
  • Slim line rod – only 14mm wide and lightweight, ideal for where cylinders are tightly packed.

Gas Monitors

We also provide a wide range of Portable Gas Monitors when required.

After Sales Support

By purchasing the Portamarine® from Coltraco you can be assured of our full support to ensure you become a confident and competent user. If ever you require additional support or would like a Telephone Teach-In from one of our Technical Team please call +44 1761 241 601 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For further information, download PDF

Test corrosion the smart way: true metal readings

The Portagauge®ultrasonic thickness gauge of units can easily be adapted to a variety of different roles and requirements.

  • Lifetime Support
  • Designed for Corrosion testing
  • Three years warranty
  • Ignored paint layer
  • 50 hours battery life
  • Ultrasonic technology
  • 225MHz probe included as standard
  • Accurate to 0.1mm off the true liquid level

Specifications of Portagauge 4®

  • It measures the true metal thickness, excluding coating and paint thickness.
  • Ideal for most common thickness gauging applications onboard ships by marine superintendents
  • This device is applicable for bridges, pilings storage tanks, lighting columns, ship hulls, bulk heads, pipe work, steel/stainless steel, cast iron, aluminum, copper, brass, zinc, quartz, glass, PVC, poleythyience, grey cast iron amongst others.
  • Automatic Measurement Verification System (AMVS) ensures only true measurements are displayed by checking a minimum of three echoes each time the ultrasound pulses through the metal Intelligent.
  • Probe Recognition (IPR), which automatically adjusts settings in the gauge at the same time as transmitting recognition data large colour.
  • LCD Display giving user information. Single crystal soft faced probe protected by a membrane.
  • Easy calibration with menu driven buttons echo strength indicator.
  • No zeroing required as all sensors use a single crystal which means that no specific alignment is required when measuring on curved or rounded surfaces.
  • User friendly with soft- molded rubber surround which is also comfortable to hold and provides extra protection.

For further information, download PDF

Continuous Monitoring is Essential

Continuous monitoring is no longer an option; it is essential for the protection against special hazards in critical infrastructure. Clean agents are designed to operate in limited spaces where there is a need for speed of suppression given the asset risk and where the space is occupied by people. They deliver the infrastructural resilience our advanced society requires. The assumptions in the installation, commissioning and maintenance of gaseous extinguishing systems is that they are highly pressurised but risk leaking and discharging. ISO 14520 specifically guides our industry as to these risks; In 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. 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. Therefore, at a standards level it is known that gaseous systems can become ineffective through accidental discharge and leakage and thus they do not serve to protect the critical infrastructure in such a case. To know the contents, you need to monitor it, and checking it every 6 months is not monitoring it.

 Should we not just constantly monitor all of them and be in full compliance to the regulations and the risks that are so clearly described in our own core standards? If it is known and accepted that these are dynamic systems that are prone to leaking, but they are expected to deliver resilience and protection, then why are they left unattended for 6 months of the year? We would not do the same to an alarm system without monitoring it 24/7, so why are we not monitoring gaseous extinguishing systems? Let us apply 21st century science to a 100 year old issue and be done with it. A dynamic system needs monitoring. 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 loss to the facility comprising the critical infrastructure. To ensure that dynamic gaseous systems are protecting critical infrastructure in a safe and diligent manner, 6 monthly monitoring and maintenance is no longer enough. There is a call for continuous monitoring and this is something that cannot wait any more.

Protect your facilities with the Permalevel® MULTIPLEX

To create the Safesite®, more faciliites are moving to increasing sensor remote monitoring 24/7, 365. Fire alarms are largely linked up but there is a gap in the fire extinguishing systems which actually suppress the fire event. Now is the time to introduce smart technology. Permalevel® MULTIPLEX is designed for just this reason to protect facilities and their personnel. 

Using smart ultrasonic technology, Permalevel® MULTIPLEX continuously monitors fixed fire extinguishing systems for leaking agents, 24/7, 365 days a year. With guaranteed systems operations, adaptability for purpose, 24/7 remote access to the systems status, an interruptible power supply and remote real-time monitoring, Permalevel® MULTIPLEX offers the efficiency that is now a requirement for encompassing protection.

Implement an holistic approach: check compartmentation

Coupled with the danger of leaking agents, room integrity is often an overlooked aspect of a suppression system installation. Room integrity requires that in the event of a fire, the released fire extinguishant must meets the sufficient “Hold Time”, in order to properly extinguish fires. Buildings age and their internal use changes and because of this,  leak sites develop.  The likelihood of the gaseous system effectively extinguishing the fire gets lower and lower as the protected area becomes larger than the size that the extinguishing system was designed for.

Coltraco Ultrasonics have provided a smart solution for quick and easy assurance of compartmentation and leak detection. The Portascanner® 520 ultrasonic leak detector uses ultrasonic technology to not only pinpoint precise leak locations, but to determine their leak size as small as 0.06mm with a tolerance of +/-0.02mm, and is proven the most mathematically accurate device for this function.

Solution?

With the continuing developments in smart ultrasonic technology, comprehensive fire safety measures are available to plant owners and facilities managers that are easy to use, affordable and an essential addition to any fire safety management system.

Comply with the IMO SOLAS FSS Code: Portalevel® MAX Marine

Misunderstanding exists across parts of Shipping regarding the application of a part of the 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. The reason 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.

IMO SOLAS FSS Code Chapter 5 Fixed gas fire extinguishing systems :,

2.1.1.3 Means shall be provided for the crew to safely check the quantity of the fire extinguishing medium in the containers. It shall not be necessary to move the containers completely from their fixing positions for this purpose.

ISO 14520-1 : 2015 Gaseous Extinguishing Systems   and some key extracts from it follow for your general interest :

The assumptions in these are that gaseous extinguishing/suppression systems must be checked for 5% loss of contents against the risk of leakage or accidental discharge. The regulations that underpin the pursuit of them support their leak identification every 6 months.

To ensure mitigation of the risks posed by unsuccessful discharge of marine fire extinguishing systems, a cheap and effective solution is to apply the IMO SOLAS FSS code by using innovative technology to ensure that the crew can test the contents of each CO2 cylinder in less than 30 seconds as part of routine maintenance. 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 partially empty or empty. Portalevel® MAX Marine is an  8th generation hand-held ultrasonic liquid level indicator from Coltraco Ultrasonics with ABS Type Approval. This core product centres the Engine Room Firecheck package. Many people are still unaware of this method for testing the fixed fire extinguishing systems on-board vessels and instead rely on the traditional method of weighing or neglect to test the contents of ships CO2 systems until the annual certification check by shore-based contractors

The Portalevel® MAX in 7 Simple Steps

The 7 steps below outline the simple testing process for the Portalevel® MAX. Further technical support is available to all users for the lifetime of the equipment if required.

  • 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 location.

To know more about Portalevel Max 8th Generation, download PDF

Don't be passive about active fire protection

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. 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 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.

However to exemplify the integral nature of continuous monitoring; incidents in nuclear power plants around the world have continued to demonstrate the vulnerability of safety systems to fire and its effects. The potential danger from an accident at a nuclear power plant is exposure to radiation to the people in the vicinity of the plume from the cloud and particles deposited on the ground, inhalation of radioactive materials and ingestion of radioactive materials. The International Atomic Energy Authority state clearly in the Fire Safety in the Operation of Nuclear Power Plants standards that the effects of a single failure in fire safety systems, such a system not performing its required function, can be detrimental. With fires at nuclear power plants still occurring, such as the technical issue which led to a blast at the 2017 power plant at Flamanville, deemed “very serious” by industry experts, the call for advanced technology is of most importance.

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.

Are annual checks of gaseous suppression systems enough?

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.

Fire is the second leading cause of accidents in wind turbines after blade failure1.

Most wind farms are in remote locations, and wind turbines are designed with the mechanical portion – where most fires start - nearly 300ft off the ground at the top in the nacelle. There is simply no practical way to respond to a fire in these units, meaning that when one occurs, the typical action is simply to wait for it to burn out.

With the average overall cost of a wind turbine fire being around $4.5m2, and given that $112.5bn was ploughed into wind power globally in 20163, turbine owners – and authorities - are increasingly seeing the prudence of investing in fire suppression.

Since 2011 there have been 36 large wind turbine fire incidents reported in the mainstream media, although the actual number is much higher, with many smaller, less visible fires going unreported. Most recently, in Wyoming in the US last September, a wind turbine blaze caused a wild fire that burned out nearly 1,600 acres.

There are three main causes of wind turbine fires: mechanical failure, electrical malfunction and lightning strikes. These pose a uniquely high risk due to both the turbines’ exposed locations and their height; turbines are now being built in excess of 450ft.

Even a small fire can accelerate quickly in a nacelle that comprises highly flammable resin fibreglass. Internal insulation, which can become contaminated by oil deposits, further adds to the fuel load.

Redesigning the turbines to reduce the fuel load inside the nacelle is one step to reduce fire risk. In addition, any maintenance and repair activities that involve ‘hot work’ inside the nacelle could be avoided. It has also been suggested that condition monitoring systems should be implemented and maintenance checks completed regularly.

As a final step, automatic fire detection and suppression systems can be incorporated to further protect the nacelle, which presents a unique challenge: dust, vibration and temperature fluctuations can all interfere with reliable operation.

There are several types of fire detection available. Smoke detection or air sampling systems can be successful at detecting the early stages of a fire, but may be rendered ineffective by air flows and environment. Alternatively, traditional linear heat detection systems and fusible link detection systems aren’t affected by air and dust but are potentially electrically conductive. Significantly, all these systems will fail if the external power or battery backup fails. 

Then there are the fire suppression agents. Compressed air foam systems and water mist are potentially corrosive and can be ineffective on energized electrical components.

Carbon dioxide systems aren’t ideal because, due to the CO2 displacing the oxygen in the event of a discharge, the fire suppression system has to be ‘locked out’ any time personnel are present in the nacelle. In a working at height situation this is a major safety concern.

The weight of these technologies and the space required to store them can also pose a problem in the cramped environment within the nacelle.

The most common solution today overcomes the above drawbacks by providing component-level automatic systems that offer both fire detection and suppression in a single package. Designed to detect a small fire in or around a critical component, they dramatically improve the response time and reliability while reducing the size of the system required.

These systems use clean agent fire suppression technology involving a non-conductive gas, which leaves no residue following a discharge, requires no clean up, and in small volumes doesn’t present a hazard to personnel.

The presence of an automatic fire detection and suppression system like Firetrace offers 24/7 reliability and unsupervised protection to quickly address a growing fire and limit its damage.

And yet, despite the availability of affordable fire suppression methods, thousands of wind turbines are still being installed without adequate fire protection, and entirely preventable wind turbine fires continue to occur.

There has, however, been increasing momentum over the past few years for legislation requiring fire suppression on new wind farms. A growing list of authorities in Germany, and a number of both local and state governments in the US, are acknowledging that fire suppression is a judicious step to safeguard assets in the event of a fire in a wind turbine. A piece of unique regulation in Canada has taken it a step further, enabling local authorities to insist that fire suppression is retrofitted to existing sites.

This is a welcome trend. Designing in fixed fire suppression, which can contain the blaze within the micro-environment of the nacelle, is a logical move to help prevent large-scale fires.

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.”

Section 10.5.3.2.2. of the NFPA 850 states that the Maintenance and inspection of total flooding gaseous agent systems and interlocked equipment are critical. All systems at some time may be called upon to operate in an emergency situation and may help in saving life and property. It is for this reason that knowledge must be had that the system can operate to its full potential.

ARE ANNUAL CHECKS SUFFICIENT IN RISKY ENVIRONMENTS?

What if the suppression systems installed in the turbines to protect life and infrastructure do not release on actuation? Gaseous extinguishing/suppression systems are installed to protect against special hazards in critical infrastructure as their key objective. They deliver the infrastructural resilience that wind turbines require. If it is a known fact that there is a long response time to wind turbine fires, then it is unacceptable that the dynamic suppression systems are left unattended 364 days a year.

A CALL FOR CONSTANT MONITORING OF WIND TURBINES

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.

Coupled to this is a complete 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.  Room integrity tests are imperative for the determination of both the hold time and the peak pressure needed for successful fire suppression.

The level of leakage is carefully monitored in order to ensure the correct agent concentration is achieved; room integrity must be ‘tight’ enough to ensure sufficient retention time according to NFPA Standards or ISO 14520, yet remain ‘loose’ enough to prevent enclosure damage at discharge.  The presence of undesired and unregulated leak sites reduces room integrity and will hence dramatically impact the hold time and peak pressure, placing room contents and potentially wall structures at risk.

It is accepted that in wind turbines vibration can loosen connections while dirt, dust, and temperature extremes are known to cause unwarranted discharge. Additionally, openings in the turbine housing significantly inhibit achieving the designated agent concentration. Devising a solution to overcome these challenges can add significantly to the weight in the turbine.

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®.

Fire on Board Ferries

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 Organisation, 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.

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

Why the industry is failing to comply with ISO 14520

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 because the fire couldn’t be contained?
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. Given that the gaseous systems are designed specifically to the individual need of that room, building e.t.c, then a leak sites in the room could meant that the comparted area couldn’t withhold the fire.

The likelihood of the gaseous system effectively extinguishing the fire gets lower and lower as the protected area becomes larger than the size that the extinguishing system was designed for. This is not a game of chance. The lives of people depend upon it. Enough is enough. The technology exists right now to support Door Fan Testing in providing a holistic and thorough integrity test of critical infrastructure.

Key Facts

  • Compartmentation = fire stopping e.g. walls and floors
  • Every 7 seconds, a fire breaks out, worldwide
  • 700 fatalities caused by fire in the UK
  • £7bn is the cost of fire to the UK economy according to GovUK: every day £3.4m in costs by business disruption caused by fire - £1.3bn p.a.
  • 44% of all insurance claims are caused by fire
  • SOURCE: Aviva Insurance, 2012

Regulatory Requirements un-Ravelled

APPROVED DOCUMENT B (ADB)

The regulations demand that compartmentation is upheld for the safety of the individuals, who entrust their lives into its integrity. Approved document B, Fire Safety, Volume 2, Buildings other than dwelling house states that: 8.0 Every compartment wall should form a complete barrier to fire between the compartments they separate. 8.35 – any stairway or other shaft passing directly from one compartment to another should be enclosed in a protected shaft so as to delay or prevent the spread of fire between compartments. However, despite regulations best effort to promote the implementation of compartmentation and room integrity, the last review of the Building Regulations Approved Document B was made in 2006 (12 years ago) and its next review was not due to be completed until 2022 (which would then be a gap of 17 years), meaning that the attention that is deserved is often disregarded.

  • ADB B3-4 “the building shall be designed… so that the unseen spread of fire and smoke… is inhibited”
  • Appendix B Breaching fire separation “to ensure effective protection again fire, walls and floors providing fire separation must form a complete barrier, with an equivalent level of fire resistance provided to any openings such as doors, ventilation ducts, pipe passages or refuge chutes.”

ISO14520-1:2015(E)

We will lead with some extracts from the regulations which is why this paper argues that the industry is sometimes minimally compliant or even non-compliant due to a lack of understanding of fire systems and their connection to compartmentation. This paper calls for a more holistic approach to fire safety. The author suggests the need for a resident mathematician to assist the industry.

  • 9.2.1.3 The storage container contents shall be checked at least every six months. 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.
  • 9.2.4.1 At least every 12 months it shall be determined whether boundary penetration or other changes to the protected enclosure have occurred that could affect leakage and extinguishant performance. If this cannot be visually determined, it shall be positively established by repeating the test for enclosure integrity in accordance with Annex E.
  • 9.2.4.2 Where the integrity test reveals increased leakage that would result in an inability to retain the extinguishant for the required period, remedial action shall be carried out.
  • A.3.2 Engineered systems: need information and calculations on the amount of extinguishant;
  • Annex F - b) Every 6 months: Perform the following checks and inspections: 5) for liquefied gases, check weigh or use a liquid level indicator to verify correct content of containers; replace or refill any showing a loss of more than 5 %;
  • Annex F 6.2.4.2 Means shall be provided to indicate that each container is correctly charged.

The assumptions in these are that gaseous extinguishing/suppression systems do leak. The regulations that underpin the pursuit of them explore their leak identification every 6 months. Gaseous extinguishing/suppression systems however are installed to protect special hazards in critical infrastructure as their key objective. 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.

To understand how fire resistant a compartment is, an inspection of the overall condition of the existing fire compartments is needed, as well as an assessment of the condition and effectiveness of the sealing of wall/soffit interfaces and an inspection of existing fire seals applied to service penetrations through fire compartment lines. Issues in the quality of compartmentation walls can come from maintenance, minor works and refurbishments. Contractors carrying out such tasks can occasionally destroy the compartmentation integrity of the wall, floor or ceilings if they were unaware that the area is a comparted space (as shown in the below image). Therefore, following maintenance it is “good practice” to ensure the fire resistance of walls, floors and ceilings and to safeguard again if necessary.

Meeting minimum fire standards is not enough

Technology must solve industry problems. Not only to become a successful business in terms of profitability but in terms of sustainability and genuinely offering service to the industry in order to reduce risk, improve safety and hopefully have a small part in saving lives. We have provided a smart solution to quick and easy assurance of compartmentation using ultrasound to detect signal leaking through any apertures within the barriers.

Ultrasonic room integrity testers provide interpretation of the fire resistance of the desired locations, labelling them either airtight or giving an indication of the overall leakage of the room. The advantages of being able to accurately detect the exact leak locations and size are self-evident when considered alongside the resistance to collapse and transfer of excessive heat. In a case where there is too much leakage in a room, the ultrasonic room integrity tester is an unrivalled ideal for the rapid and accurate  identification of these sites so that they can be sealed. It is lightweight, fast and easy to use, allowing leak site detection to increase its operational efficiency and speed to a degree that has never been seen thus far in the Fire Industry.

The technology exists right now to solve this problem.  

In 2018 with the continuing developments in technology there is an expectation that safety should be all encompassing. We cannot let this expectation continue to be a fantasy.

BOX OUT –  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.

Why use ultrasound to test for watertightness?

Proper definitions of watertightness are crucial for proper maintenance of seals.

Watertightness and airtightness could be defined mathematically, using this formula for approximating the flow rate Q through an aperture:

Q=A√2gh
Q = the flow rate of fluid through the aperture (where the term ‘fluid’ here is taken to mean an ideal liquid or gas)
A = is the area of the leak aperture
g = the acceleration due to gravity acting on the fluid, and
h = the head of fluid.

This equation (which contains simplifications) is used to demonstrate how since no two meeting surfaces in a seal can ever truly be perfectly aligned, a leak aperture will always exist which will allow leaking of some rate under a head of water. Watertightness is hence defined as a maximum water leakage allowance per minute.

High pressure watertight doors are designed for pressures in excess of 100' (30.5m) (this is equivalent to to a pressure of 299 kPa/ or 3 bar). Typical applications include protection for ship power plants, high-pressure chambers, hydro-electric plants and diving/decompression chambers which are often found on oil platforms and support vessels. In these sensitive areas a small 1m2 watertight door is often expected to be able to resist the weight of 30 tonnes of water without buckling or allowing the protected compartment to flood, and as such the requirement for frequent and accurate preventative maintenance on these seals cannot be overstated.

Ultrasonic Testing of seals

Ultrasonic Technology is being rapidly adopted as a safe, easy and accurate method of identifying seal leak sites and has been quickly adopted by the Royal Navy to quickly identify any incorrectly installed MCT's. UT equipment has now been in service for 3 years aboard HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, and has also recently been adopted this year by the Indian Navy, and Indian Coast Guard.

Different models of equipment vary, but in general UT equipment consists of two main units; a generator and a receiver. The generator produces an ultrasonic modulated tone, usually at a round 40kHz which is positioned on one side of the seal. The receiver is then used by the operator from the far side of the closed seal. If at any point the seal is imperfect, the ultrasonic signal will be able to pass though the seal through the leak, which can then be detected by the receiver. Some models of ultrasonic watertight integrity tester are capable of detecting leak apertures as small as 0.06±0.02mm in size. UT testing seals can provide the sensitivity to detect the smallest leaks, and can give two different types of readout scale: linear and decibel. The linear scale provides an intuitive measurement of the leak size, whereas the decibel scale allows for comparison of standards set by international classification societies. Use of UT is far more efficient that the methods described above, taking less time, requiring no clean up and is used 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. Moreover, the accuracy of this method is unrivalled, and leak sites can be identified and specifically located quickly for the operator. Furthermore, ultrasonic indicators use safe and green technology; it that does not violate any environmental codes, which also means there are no IATA transportation restrictions

Swedish Club Report: Watertight Integrity

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 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.

This has been recognised recently by marine insurers. The Swedish Club has released a report warning bulk carrier operators to pay attention to water damage. The 2018 Swedish Club report, Wet Damage on Bulk Carriers, which has been prepared in cooperation with DNV GL, and MacGregor, identifies heavy weather and leaking hatch covers as the most common and the most costly type of wet damage claim. With the average cost for a wet damage cargo claim being almost $110,000, this is alarming.

According to the report, wrongly applied and poorly maintained cargo hatch covers 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.

As stressed in the report, proper weathertightness is a key factor in keeping cargo dry. To ensure that the hatch covers are weathertight the sealing system needs to be in a good condition. 

This is demanded by the 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.” The importance of continually maintaining seal integrity must take a more prominent position in ship maintenance scheduling.

How have seals 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 ms-1 This test should help identify any leakage from the hatch joints, although the exact location of the leakage sight cannot be pinpointed. Various drawback come with this test, 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.

The accuracy of results is open to human error. The application of the chalk must be very accurate in order to avoid misdiagnosis. A false application of chalk could be construed as a compression issue.

In fact, the limitations of using chalk and water hose testing have been demonstrated in case studies from the Swedish P&I Club’s Recent Report:

CASE STUDY 1: 

Before loading with grain the cargo hatch covers had passed a water hose test. Once the vessel was fully loaded the cargo hatch covers were then sealed with tape. The cargo was mostly damaged underneath the cross-joints. During the voyage the vessel encountered heavy weather at Beaufort scale 10 with large waves and a swell which covered the hatch covers in water.  A visual inspection of the cargo hatch covers, rubber gaskets, securing devices, valves, ventilators and drainage channels found them to be in order. During the voyage the tape by the cross-joints between the forward and aft hatch panels of two holds had peeled off. A chalk test was carried out and this did not show any imprints on the rubber gaskets. At the discharge port it was found that part of the top layer of the cargo in a number of the cargo holds was damaged by seawater. Further investigation revealed that there was no contact between the compression bars and rubber gaskets on the cross-joint panels. In addition, an ultrasonic test identified that the cross-joints between the forward and aft hatch cover were also leaking. 

CASE STUDY 2:
A vessel had loaded wire coils. After loading was complete the crew taped across the transverse beams of all the cargo holds.  The vessel sailed through heavy weather that lasted for about two days. During this time the vessel was pitching and rolling heavily. The cargo hatch covers were covered in water.  When discharging at the destination port it was found that the steel coils in the top tiers were corroded. The coils below the centre line and folding seams were the most affected.  The surveyor tested the water integrity of the cargo hatch covers with an ultrasonic device which detected significant defects to the sealing arrangements. 

  • The surveyor found the following defects: 
  • The gaskets were in poor condition 
  • The non-return valves were clogged and the ball inside was not moving
    The transverse packing on the hatch covers was leaking
  • There were some cracked corners and leaking
  • The ventilation covers were leaking

How can ultrasound change this?

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. 

Ultrasonics is proven to be the quickest, easiest and most efficient method of testing watertight & weather-tight seals of hatch-covers, doors, multiple cable transits. 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.

The Fleetsafe® Package

Gaseous extinguishing systems are highly pressurised, the risk of leaking and discharging is accepted as part of their use, 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.

Coltraco Ultrasonics focus on benefitting the crew; designing innovative ultrasonic solutions which promote safety culture, which the crew will be happy to use by being easy to operate, quick, accurate and a better method to traditional techniques.

The Portalevel® MAX Marine is designed primarily for the vessels’ crew to themselves inspect large fire suppression systems of up to 600 cylinders. 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 30 seconds using Portalevel® with one person, instead of the traditional 15 minutes, with two people laboriously weighing.

This can be in-between the statutory annual maintenance and certification intervals provided by shore-based contractors. 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.

Coltraco Ultrasonics implemented the Safeship® concept, to promote protecting critical infrastructure at sea. 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.

As a result, Coltraco designed the FLEETSAFE: a package of innovative safety tools to combat the above and comply with regulations

  • An ultrasonic watertight integrity tester
  • An ultrasonic thickness gauge
  • A bearing indicator
  • An ultrasonic liquid level indicator
  • A calculator which converts liquid level readings to weight.

With this package the hatch-covers, doors, MCTs, compartments, pipework, hulls, bulkheads, rotating machinery, pumps, sprinkler systems and gaseous extinguishing installations are protected. The package is based on integrity, from design, through to life-time support, and is accurate, reliable and easy to use for any crew members.

Reduce risk to life with the Firetest® package

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® 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.”

Focused on continued advancement of safety technology, 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. With guaranteed systems operations, adaptability for purpose, 24/7 remote access to the systems status, an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and remote real-time monitoring, the Permalevel® offers the efficiency that is needed in a wind turbine.

For regular inspection, the Portalevel® MAX is a handheld ultrasonic liquid level indicator, which 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. Portalevel® MAX builds on Coltraco Ultrasonics’ 30 years’ experience in designing, manufacturing and supporting ultrasonic liquid level indicating equipment, in 108 Countries and numerous market sectors and environments. The development program was born out of the desire to further improve on Coltraco’s existing 8 designs and taking on board feedback and opinions of our customers.

Coltraco Ultrasonics provide smart Firetest® solutions which 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®

Standardisation in the Shipping Industry

Standardisation is required in the shipping industry to allow for confidence in technology by operators. Common standards ensures consistency, which promotes safety and efficiency. Standardisation is key to streamline processes and in the exchange of data – when utilised this will allow the shipping industry to embrace the huge potential that digitalisation has to offer the shipping industry.

Shipping needs to adopt an approach such as the aerospace industry, which is affected by international cooperation and strongly controlled by national and international regulations and standards in order to ensure safety, reliability, and cost-efficiency. In the aerospace industry, the Federal Aviation Administration and European Aviation Safety Agency generate the regulations and the airlines and member state national civil aviation authorities, such as the UK Civil Aviation Authority and Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul services implement them. A failure to certify that they have been implemented will result in an aircraft not being certified to fly.

In shipping the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) generates many of the regulations and its member flag states, such as the UK’s Maritime and Coastgaurd Agency, are expected to implement them. Indeed, they are subject to interpretation by them. The single most useful thing that the UK could do for shipping globally is to lead at the IMO so that its regulations are implemented through standardisation.

Case Study:

Speaking in from the expertise of Coltraco Ultrasonics (in the monitoring of gaseous extinguishing systems), below is an example of how standardisation will allow the shipping industry to become safer and ensure the implementation of regulations.

The regulations that currently govern gaseous extinguishing systems are the IMO SOLAS Fire Safety Systems (FSS) Code and the BS EN ISO 14520 standards. These require that the liquefied gaseous cylinders be checked for an agent loss of more than 5%, at which point they should be refilled or replaced.

Standardisation means that the crew have a responsibility to implement the regulations via regular testing, which enabled through smart ultrasonic technology and Internet of Things (IoT) IoT, should be done continuously to avoid negligence and unnecessary risk.

Smart technology provides the crew and ship owners with ease of inspection and understanding their extinguishing systems. However, the crew will not be able to refill the gaseous extinguishing system, and instead must rely on notifying the marine servicing company when they arrive at a port, despite the fact that they may only be at the port for a very short amount of time. Due to time pressures, the risk of not being able to find a contractor in time to fill the cylinders in the event of leakage is one that could jeopardise the safety of the entire ship when it is time to set sail.

Continuously monitoring the cylinders with ultrasonic sensors that utilises IoT can avoid this, because the network contribution. Using IoT enables the advance notification of the crew and shore based services whilst at sea. Therefore, preparations to address the issues can be made prior to docking to ensure the issues are resolved given the minimum time they have.

Although the implementation of the IMO SOLAS FSS and ISO 14520 codes with continuous monitoring and IoT could drive up costs of purchasing and installation, the long-term savings and benefits far outweighs the initial cost.

But for this to work seamlessly, there must be a standardisation so that the data that is received by shore-based operators from the vessel, is understood and actioned upon as per the IMO regulations. As shown by a new paper from DNV GL standardisation can enable the effective collection, storage, exchange, analysis and use of data, while contributing to improved data quality and sensor reliability in the maritime industry.

Fires Happen: it’s Time to Act.

At sea, fire pose one the of biggest threat to ships: according to Lloyds List, almost 10% of all total losses at sea for the last ten years have been caused by fire. Sailing alone and at sea throughout the year, and without the ability to call upon the emergency services as a land-based asset might. As vessels become larger and more sophisticated, a greater financial interest is tied up into one ship, meaning that the risks are magnified if the vessel would get into difficulties e.g. a fire.

“Ships are their own fire brigade”

Misunderstanding exists across parts of Shipping regarding the application of a part of the International Maritime Organisation, 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

What are the risks?

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 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.

“CO2 bottles leak”

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 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.

A Call for Crew to Inspect Fire System Cylinder Contents

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.

Protect your Turbines Against the Risk of Fire

As electricity generation becomes more reliant on renewable energy, wind power is becoming increasing important in the energy mix. 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. There are over 340,000 wind turbines around the world. Yet there are thousands of turbines without any fire system installed.

With predictions of much taller and more powerful turbines of 13-15MW to be implemented by the middle of the next decade, 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.

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.

Coltraco Ultrasonics provide smart Firetest® solutions which 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®.

Focused on continued advancement of safety technology, 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. With guaranteed systems operations, adaptability for purpose, 24/7 remote access to the systems status, an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and remote real-time monitoring, the Permalevel® offers the efficiency that is needed in a wind turbine.

For regular inspection, the Portalevel® MAX is a handheld ultrasonic liquid level indicator, which 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. Portalevel® MAX builds on Coltraco Ultrasonics’ 30 years’ experience in designing, manufacturing and supporting ultrasonic liquid level indicating equipment, in 108 Countries and numerous market sectors and environments. The development program was born out of the desire to further improve on Coltraco’s existing 8 designs and taking on board feedback and opinions of our customers.

The Ungoverned Space of Marine Fire Safety

1. Introduction

Over the last few decades cargo has generally been increasingly transported in containers rather than as open bulk cargo, thus mistakenly leading shipping companies to disregard the importance of fire protection systems, instead focusing on transporting greater quantities facilitated by the container system. However, this outlook is dangerous and misplaced. The risk of fire is significant with growing incidences of fire events exposed in the trade press, posing a risk both to expensive cargo and to human life on-board the ships. With a movement towards autonomous shipping systems and smart-ships, the importance of remotely monitored fire-fighting systems could grow exponentially, providing the opportunity to monitor vessels from an external location. Technological developments and companies such as Coltraco Ultrasonics, are working towards this end goal. The current on-board fire-fighting facilities remain inadequate in the face of the capacity of such large vessels. Fire therefore remains an ever-present risk on the high seas.

2. Economic risks

Traditionally, the maritime industry treats fire protection systems as a necessary expenditure, rather than a means to safeguard valuable crew and cargo and maintain business continuity of the vessel. Owners focus on systems delivered at the most competitive rates rather than seeing fire protection as an investment. The definition of a free market is an idealised form of a market economy in which buyers and sellers are allowed to transact freely based on a mutual agreement on price without state intervention in the form of taxes, subsidies or regulation. The competitiveness of the free market places great pressure on cost cutting: to deliver systems which often only minimally comply with regulations, and deliver asset protection at the most economical budget. With the value of assets, vessels and importance of business continuity growing, insurers are asked to underwrite almost incalculably high risk.  Unquestionably, the first priority of fire safety systems is to protect human life. Having said that, the economic benefits of a truly integrated, continuous, ultrasonic monitoring system in the future would be significant. Cargo damage remains an important negative result of on-ship fires, with 2 of the top 5 most expensive cargo claims on container ships in the last 10 years being fire-related according to the Swedish P&I Club Claims Analysis (2016). Fire protection measures should hence be understood as a worthwhile business investment. Yet we accept minimally compliant fire systems. Given both the crew lives and cargo are at stake, it seems unfathomable that regulations do not mandate fire systems should be permanently monitored rather than certified typically just once a year, if that, particularly since it is a regulatory obligation and or recommendation to ensure that crew can check these themselves.

3. What is the “ungoverned space”?

Who would build a ship or offshore platform and install a power generating or auxiliary machinery without installing emergency power systems or monitoring their condition states? Who today would consider installing an alarm system without monitoring its overall status, not only its actuation, and integrating the whole system into the ship safety management system, with central monitoring being an essential part of it? These are basic engineering principles: building in redundancy and constantly monitoring critical systems. 

Traditionally, the industry cares little about this ungoverned space, with too few qualified engineers considered subject matter experts. Yet when it comes to marine fire maintenance, never mind continuous monitoring, of gaseous fire extinguishing systems, there is a lack of knowledge amongst the majority of the industry, regarding the potential risks. Awareness should exist about the huge expenses incurred by fire, both in terms of costs upfront from the damage and long-term due to reputation and unknown losses or damage to seafarers, vessel integrity, and cost of downtime and recovery. Above all is the risk to human life presented by fire. Poor maintenance of suppression systems risk accidental fatalities due to lack of training about the lethal properties of CO2 (the predominant suppressant agent used on vessels, because it is the cheapest whilst being highly effective): when released it reduces oxygen levels to extinguish fire. Limited appreciation of the need for room integrity testing of protected spaces leads to minimal regulation compliance which could mean a failure of the fire system suppressing a fire because the room is unable to hold the discharged gas due to leaks of the space into which it actuates. 

4. Fire Extinguishing Systems

Gaseous extinguishing/suppression systems are installed to protect against special hazards in critical infrastructure at sea. They deliver the infrastructure resilience our advanced maritime society requires. If the hazard is special and the vessel is critical, then this is the case for the constant monitoring of the fire systems that aim to deliver their protection. There is a lack of knowledge of the characteristics of the various extinguishants and the types of fire for which they are suitable. For too many years the industry has been left to too few brilliant experts to determine safe outcome.

Two broad categories of ship and offshore extinguishing systems exist: sprinkler systems and pressurised gaseous systems. While the former can suffer leakage, the latter can cause catastrophic effect due to their pressures. These large gas cylinders are pressurised liquefied gases or non-liquefied gases that are pressurised on actuation. CO2 is permanently under 720 psi or 49 bar of pressure i.e. nearly 50 times atmospheric pressure (by comparison a cup of water at sea level exists at 1 bar or 14.5 psi). Its’ state changes under increased temperatures to one that is neither a liquid nor a gas. Gases under pressure are often effectively considered by the industry as single and passive cylinder columns of solid material from the perspective of their monitoring following installation. Whereas being under pressure and constantly changing under temperature they should be considered as active and dynamic systems requiring constant monitoring. These are not passive systems therefore; they are dynamic ones, and all dynamic systems under pressure need constant monitoring to ensure their effectiveness and longevity. An engineered marine fire system typically lasts 20 years, longer than some vessels! 

4.1. Traditional Cylinder Testing Methods 

Typical methods for on-ship regular cylinder inspection primarily consists of trained professionals weighing the chosen cylinder, to assess if there has been weight loss due to gas leakage. However, although this method is widely used, it ultimately holds risk as an unsafe practice in reality, requiring constant handling of tanks in a delicate, high-pressure state. Whilst weighing is the most commonly cited method, it may be practical in the light of new and improved technology to add ultrasound as a recommended method.

4.1.1. Poor Maintenance Practice

Marine servicing companies bid to service a ships CO2 system; this can comprise 200-600 x 45KG CO2 cylinders per ship. They can discharge accidentally. One of the highest probabilities of discharge occurs during their maintenance. Some service companies estimate that at one time 20% of a ships CO2 cylinders have discharged or partially leaked their contents and there are over 55,000 commercial vessels at sea at any time. On average, each cylinder will take 40 minutes to dismantle, weigh, record and re-install. Too many times therefore, even good servicing companies may not have the physical time to perform the inspection required, because the vessel may only provide them a few hours. But alongside them there are other companies who are said to randomly check some cylinders and then place “tested stickers” on the rest. Because the normal design concentration of CO2 of 34-72 v/v % is above the nearly immediate acute lethality level an extremely narrow safety margin exists for these systems. Its mechanism of fire suppression is through oxygen dilution to 8-15%, rather than the chemical disruption of the catalytic combustion chain as with other clean agents.

4.1.2. Anecdotal experiences

  • Safety pins being retained in position in the cylinder valves after installation.
  • Marine CO2 systems with 20% of the CO2 cylinders installed on commercial shipping being empty or partially filled.
  • Over-filled and under-filled cylinders.
  • Pipework and cylinders freshly painted but with severe internal corrosion.
  • 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.
  • There exists a lack of understanding of the organic compounds of some liquid extinguishants and their corrosive effect on the cylinder in the event of condensate ingress.
  • Shipping companies not implementing the FSS code of the IMO SOLAS regulations.
  • We have been regularly asked how to operate portable Portalevel™ liquid level indicators on dry powder extinguishers.
  • WIKA Instrument discovered 25% of pressure gauges failed in an audit of 250 plants.

The problems cannot be denied. The International Maritime Risk Rating Agency (2016) have declared fire safety to be the most common deficiency on tankers in October 2016, with 126 incidents. 

Bad industry practice is unacceptable

A ships fixed extinguishing system protects the machinery spaces. They allow an engine room fire to be responded to, with minimal risk to the vessels crew. However, the fixed extinguishing system has to be used properly and for this, maintenance is essential. Too often CO2 has been discharged without securing openings to the fire area first. The CO2 will leak through them aided by the thermal currents from the fire. The recent Gard publication states that, “Emergency response to engine room fires can be .. more efficient if the crew is properly trained in the safe use of the ships fire extinguishing system.. For the typical engine room fire involving flammable liquids it is important to introduce the required quantities of CO2 quickly to limit the escalation of the fire…The extinguishing capabilities of gas can be compromised if the integrity and tightness of the boundaries of the protected space are not sound … by excessive leakage of gas through open or improperly closed doors, vents or ventilation ducts.” If the seals to any of these are not sound, closing them will not entirely deal with this problem. The crew have to ensure that the CO2 contents exist, that the protected space can be sealed and that the pipework used to discharge the CO2 are clear of particulates that can clog up the nozzles and reduce the required design concentration of CO2 (or any clean agent such as NOVEC™ 1230 ) to the point where it cannot deal with the fire event.

Industry professionals have told us anecdotes of finding fire suppression system cylinders empty or only partially full, due to mismanagement and a lack of due diligence in complying with the regulations stated above. Additionally, there are anecdotes of wilful misdemeanours conducted by unprofessional fire servicing companies who failed to properly check cylinders. The contents of a cylinder have to be present for release in the event of the fire and therefore the Portalevel® MAX Marine offers innovative technology which cylinder weighing cannot. 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.

Due to the quicker and easier method of servicing a cylinder with this device, and results which can be easily repeated for reliability and accuracy, Portalevel® MAX Marine allows vessels to be in full compliance with the FSS code in-between the annual certification intervals, because the crew will be happy to conduct contents checking themselves at sea. IMO SOLAS FSS Chapter 5 point 2.1.1.3. states: "means shall be provided for the crew to safely check the quantity of the fire extinguishing medium in the containers".

Request a Quotation

Online Submission

Click Here

Call: +44 207 629 8475

Our customer support line is open during UK
business hours
Mon-Friday, 9.00am - 5.00pm GMT

Email: sales@coltraco.co.uk

Enquire via email and a dedicated
member of the sales team will deal
with your request personally.

Cookies make it easier for us to provide you with our services. With the usage of our services you permit us to use cookies.
Ok