Why we support open protocol smoke control systems
Like any other aspect of building design, when you’re speccing a smoke control system you have choices. Choice of installer. Choice of product manufacture or range. Choice of budget level and system control.
A smoke control system is all about harmony. A successful system, a life-saving system, is one that works with each element in communication with a central governing computer. If a smoke detector is activated, it’ll signal the controls, which will start up fans, open or close the correct dampers and activate vents to allow fresh air in and smoke out. If the system fails at any point, the flow of smoke behaviour – so lovingly modelled in CFD before the system was installed – simply won’t go to plan and the risk to people in the building will increase dramatically.
This control system is governed by a pre-determined cause and effect protocol, made bespoke for each building. But the system itself can be designed in several different ways; again we have the issue of choice.
This article specifically looks at open protocol versus closed protocol – two very different ways of achieving the same goal.
Perhaps the simplest comparison to mainstream product ranges would be to compare open protocol to something like a Linux or even Windows PC setup, while closed protocol more obviously parallels the behaviour of Apple’s iOS-based platforms. Which is to say, the latter is a walled garden of curated technology, creating an aura of seamless integration, easy compatibility and ‘low maintenance’ which many consumers seem to enjoy, in spite of the significant financial premium it demands over a more loosely structured (open protocol) arrangement where prices are dictated naturally by the market and user freedom of choice is rife, but where guarantees of compatibility do call on a degree of user experience or understanding.
Of course, the more control you have over a smoke control system, the better. Proper fan control can save huge amounts of energy or reduce noise disruption, and full control over AOV window setups can give you the advantage of natural cooling ventilation without having to fork out for entire new systems. So the Brakel Airvent attitude has always been one of focusing on getting the most out of a smoke control system through intelligent use of the products specified for that system.
So let’s take a closer look at each perspective and explain why – as the UK’s leading provider of smoke control maintenance services – Brakel Airvent is firmly in the open protocol camp:
Any number of manufacturers’ products can link up to an open protocol control system – the developers of the core system deliberately opens up the code to be understood by other developers and manufacturers.
This creates freedom in the market and promotes competition, meaning pricing is often keener for systems based around open protocols. It also means freedom of choice in terms of system components and installers to ensure that your building’s unique needs are met, with the option to switch these up as needs demand. It makes upgrading components easy on a per-item basis and it lets systems be specified very precisely.
A closed protocol system can offer a guarantee of compatibility. The code for the controls is a closely-guarded secret and only ‘approved’ products will work. If you purchase this approved compatible equipment, it should work with the system sans hiccups.
That’s the clear advantage, and it must seem like an awfully attractive one. But once you select a closed protocol system, the cuffs are on. Want to upgrade a piece of kit? Want to get your hands on the latest tech? Might not be possible.
Maybe the manufacturer has a limit on the number or extent of upgrades available on some contractual basis. Maybe when they do upgrade the system they introduce epic trouble with backward compatibility, forcing you to replace perfectly functional pieces of equipment just to keep up with the software changes.
This approach leads to dependence on one supplier for everything from spares to upgrades, and that means a less competitive marketplace and less chance to make best-value choices.
The maintenance debate
You can tell from the headline (and the tone of the article so far) where we stand on this issue, but of course our area of real expertise is maintenance, and that’s where the issue of open versus closed protocol really comes into the light.
The cost of installing a system is only really the beginning. To keep it operating years into the future, maintenance and energy usage represent significant parts of the total cost of ownership.
With a closed protocol, you’re supposed to get your maintenance support, system upgrades, spares and product replacements from one sole supplier. A supplier with no obligation to look at their prices and no obligation to ensure you’re always at the cutting edge of safety and sustainability.
An open system welcomes new technology, new ideas and real innovation. It welcomes maintenance from anyone suitability qualified with e.g. the FIRAS accreditation to prove their worth. And it welcomes a cost-effective view of the future that means savings can be sought throughout the system’s lifetime.
NB Brakel Airvent is a multi-protocol maintenance specialist – we have the expertise, experience and equipment to ensure the safe ongoing maintenance of any system.