There is now a greater awareness about the inherent fire risks that port equipment could be susceptible to, according to fire suppression specialist Fogmaker, which has observed that stringent environmental regulations can lead to higher engine temperatures for longer periods.
With destructive fires capable of causing great damage in ports and industrial applications, saving lives and valuable goods is an immediate priority, especially as fire suppression systems are the only type of safety system recommended by the Port Equipment Manufacturers Association (PEMA) for all types of port equipment.
Lars Alrutz, sales manager at Fogmaker, told CM: “Reachstackers and forklifts in Europe are moving from Stage IV to Stage V engines, which introduce a diesel particulate filter. That increases the average temperature of the engine. The problem is increasing so the necessity for fire suppression systems is higher than ever.”
Fogmaker, which managed to save several mobile harbour cranes (MHCs) across the African continent last year, has a system based on water mist, which soaks the fire and takes out the heat, while an additive of foam creates a blanket over the diesel fumes.
This means it eliminates all sides of the fire triangle – oxygen, heat and fuel – which are necessary for a fire to occur.
When the temperature in the engine compartment rises above a certain level (the default setting is 170°C), a plastic tube pressurised by a detection bottle automatically bursts, opening the valve for the extinguishing agent, which emerges from patented nozzles.
Alrutz explained: “The water takes out the heat and expands into steam when heated, growing in volume and pushing out the oxygen. When the oxygen level drops below 15% the fire will stop.”
The system uses high pressure and thus has a long activation time of between 40 seconds and two minutes, minimising the risk of reignition, which can occur once oxygen levels rise after the activation. This is a particular risk for systems that have activation times of 10-20 seconds.
Utilising water mist rather than powder means that it is easy for operators to get rid of the agent by rinsing the engine, enabling them to be up and running again quickly, provided they can replace the components destroyed in the fire.
Fredrik Rönnqvist, area sales manager at Fogmaker, noted: “We design these systems individually per application. For mining and material handling, we use a high content of stainless-steel as this protects from corrosion from salt water.
“Instead of designing our system to be as inexpensive as possible, we design it to be as effective as possible and if the stainless-steel content makes it a little more expensive, so be it.”
Although there could be increased fire risks associated with Stage V engines, the potential increase in the electrification of port equipment and use of battery-powered vehicles will also require well-engineered fire detection and suppression techniques.
While diesel engines will be around for another 30 years in Rönnqvist’s personal opinion, fires affecting battery-powered vehicles may be more complicated to put out than diesel engines.
Battery fires can be more difficult to tackle because the oxygen comes from inside the battery and can only be cooled, rather than soaked. Fogmaker is working on a solution that utilises water mist to reduce the risk of these fires.
Alrutz added: “The likelihood of a battery-powered vehicle or a battery catching fire is quite low but the effects are really awful. There are battery monitoring systems which warn and shut down the battery when it becomes too hot.
“However, batteries can catch fire from an external source if there is another component on the vehicle which catches fire and that sets fire to the battery. You need a fire suppression system to avoid the risks with batteries catching fire.”
While the manufacturer claims that its system has one of the highest recovery rates in the industry, it is important to bear in mind that in certain situations such as an engine exploding, stopping a fire is close to impossible.
The company emphasises that customers should perform annual service checks on the system to ensure it performs as designed, while a more substantial check is completed every five years.
Customers can only install the system if they have been certified and trained by Fogmaker. For large ports and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), there is a “train the trainer” option so certain staff can educate the rest of the workforce on maintenance, installations and risk assessments.
Going forward, the company would like to see industry-wide standards on fire detection and suppression systems implemented.
Currently, the manufacturer is aligned with the SBF standard, developed by a group of Swedish insurance companies, which regulates certain parameters such as speed of detection and how much liquid is required per cubic m.
Rönnqvist explained: “It’s in the interest of the industry to find a global standard so that trucks can be freely swapped around. Some reachstackers and forklifts are used second hand in different parts of the world, where local standards on fire suppression systems do not even exist.”
Reflecting on the importance of reducing the harm caused by fires, he concluded: “One of the benefits of this job is we get to do something that benefits society. We are blessed to work in an industry where we can save lives.”