An evolving tale

An evolving tale

From the very first electric fire panels introduced in 1920 to the next generation of digital panels connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), fire safety has come a long way. In the process, technology continues to follow the safety needs of building operators and occupants, writes Kristof Vandenberghe, Product Manager Avenar Panel & Voice Evacuation Integration at Bosch Building Technologies.

The next generation of digital fire panels arrived this year, unlocking a new world of functionality for the future of smart cities and buildings. So it is just the right time to remember that the evolution of fire panels started 100 years ago with a simple wooden box through electrification to digitisation – and beyond.

Technological breakthrough in a wooden box

Despite its humble appearance – wood was more readily available than plastic – the first Bosch fire panel proved a game changer upon its release in 1920. As more and more people moved into urban centres, where they lived in close quarters, the need for faster fire emergency response on a broader scale intensified. For the first time, this electric fire panel provided the chance to centralise fire alarm information from several locations
in a manned station. This allowed firefighters to monitor more space, more closely, and respond more quickly to emergencies than ever before.

More call points for urban centres

As the 1950s arrived, urbanisation became the dominant way of life in the western world. High rises and apartment buildings increased the need for more fire alarm points at a higher density. In response, fire panel manufaturers expanded their capacity in a real quantum leap: one single fire panel now offered 15 detection lines and a maximum of 30 fire detectors for each line. This increase in capacity significantly raised the level of fire safety, together with the installation of private telephones connected to emergency hotlines.

Street alarm points and direct current technology

Emergency hotlines boosted fire safety in homes, but in the 1960s, not every household was equipped with a telephone. As a result, municipalities installed public fire alarm devices at regular intervals in the streets. The heavy steel case defied wind and rain, while the alarm button was housed behind a glass cover, to be broken in case of a fire. When triggered, the alarm would direct the nearest fire brigade to the location of the call station. Meanwhile, the possible size of installations secured on one fire panel continued to grow: The Bosch fire panel BZ 1012 from the late 1970s ran on direct current technology and provided 12 detection lines expandable to 24. It was an optimum solution for small and medium-sized premises and proved so sturdy and reliable, the last installed devices went out of service not long ago.

Pulse-related panel technology and multi-criteria detectors

The evolutionary path towards today’s smart solutions began in the 1980s and 1990s when innovation accelerated, product update cycles became shorter and panels as well as detectors became more intelligent. Fire panels improved at locating fire sources and displayed which of the detectors triggered an alarm. This was possible thanks to introducing pulse-related transmission technology. By what is called ‘drift compensation’, fire panels and fire detectors constantly exchange information maintaining a steady level of sensitivity and excluding disturbing effects from pollution and the environment. It allowed panels to become more distinctive while reducing false alarms. 

Alongside the evolution of panels, fire detectors became more accurate thanks to the introduction of multi-criteria detectors with optical, thermal and chemical components detecting fires by changes in light, temperature and gases. This next generation of detectors could also be custom-fitted towards specific applications by including only one of the three components, or two, or all three. 

Networked systems expand scalability and reliability 

As the 2000s arrived, cities and buildings continued to grow more complex when it comes to fire security. That’s why over the last two decades, analogue addressable fire alarm system infrastructure accommodated further progress by offering flexibility and efficiency on a new level. For building operators and system integrators, the scalability and modular architecture of networked fire alarm systems make it possible to meet the growing need for more situational awareness from an emergency and maintenance perspective. 

Thanks to the introduction of LSN technology (Local Security Network), addressable devices on the same network, like smoke detectors and call stations, could pinpoint their exact location in case of a fire. Next to situational intelligence, these systems also self-monitor the health of all devices, and alert operators in case of failures. Plus, the coverage area of IP-based networks has come a long way from 1920’s first wooden box: Today we can network up to 32 panels and 32,768 detection points efficiently in a single installation.

Integration boosts fire safety

Today, IP-based network architecture has become the status quo. This is mainly due to the capacity to secure large campuses and buildings in an organised format. Thereby, these networks help fulfill growing user demand for more integration and added functionality. One such integration over recent years was the connection between IP-based fire panels and voice alarm systems via the Smart Safety Link; a connection that allows for phased evacuation of buildings with up to 30% faster response times. 

At the same time, connectivity to the cloud enables operators to control and service fire alarm systems remotely from anywhere – another quantum leap over the hardwired control stations from 1920. In the future, the need for integrated fire safety solutions will only grow, and the next generation of digital fire panels is engineered to deliver. 

The evolution continues: expanding the modular concept of its predecessors, the new Avenar panel 8000 and Avenar panel 2000 from Bosch are built for tailor-made solutions in smart cities of the future. Serving today’s need among operators for access to real-time intelligence independent of location, this new generation provides access to all relevant information anywhere via the cloud while meeting the latest data security and fire safety guidelines. Based on an open platform approach, the new panel generation is ready to take the integration of the various building technologies to a completely new level, and implement new functionalities on the Internet of Things (IoT) as soon as developers make it available. 

For 2021, system operators can look forward to even more control on the go: the new Remote Interact mobile app will bring control over security systems to smartphones and new features will become available seamlessly via a simple firmware update as the evolution of fire safety continues. 

So 100 years after the introduction of the first electric panels, the future evolution of fire safety is literally out of the (wooden) box.