Computers brought online serve as fire-fighting tools
BURN NOTICE: FM Global senior research specialists Yi Wang, left, and Karl Meredith observe a controlled fire at the insurer’s Glocester test facility.
PBN PHOTO/BRIAN MCDONALD
By Alli-Michelle Conti
Products and commodities made from new and increasingly flammable materials present a major risk factor for property and casualty insurers such as FM Global. Yet leaders at the Johnston-based company were determined to develop innovative processes that protect their clients’ business operations from the risk of fire – either during the manufacturing process or while in storage.
“This is especially challenging when finished materials are stored in increasingly larger facilities or those that may not have been designed originally for today’s industrial production,” said Steven Zenofsky, assistant vice president and manager of public relations.
As an insurer with clients in 130 countries, FM Global typically employs large-scale fire tests at its one-of-a kind research campus in Rhode Island. In an attempt to replicate such fire-risk scenarios for all commercial and industrial facilities, it sometimes runs very costly tests, of upwards of $100,000 each. Researchers hope to answer such lingering questions like: How fast will a fire grow? And how can the business best be protected? How do factors such as flammable materials influence fire growth?
They knew a more effective fire-testing solution was needed. The scientific research initiative was led by Sergey Dorofeev, the company’s fire hazard and protection research area director.
Dorofeev and his team developed a ground breaking tool known as Computational Fluid Dynamics. It’s a computer model which numerically quantifies and measures fire dynamics and protection effectiveness by simulating large-scale fire tests. The work is done with intensive collaboration between academia and industry using open-source computing.
In practical terms, the CFD is used, for example, in conjunction with fire tests to design a new generation of in-rack sprinklers for difficult fire-risk scenarios in high-ceiling, high-storage industrial facilities.
“The modeling provides physical insights and guidance as to the outcome of proposed protection schemes and helps achieve an optimal protection design with fewer expensive, large-scale fire tests,” said Karl Meredith, senior research specialist.
Part of the innovative collaboration has taken place between FM Global and research partners at the University of Maryland and University of Edinburgh, both leading academic institutions in the fire science field.
The new fire modeling, along with its current fire testing, will reduce company time and expense. It will benefit clients by enabling scientists to design more effective tests by generalizing the results across a wide spectrum of variables. As a result, the company can also provide quicker response turnaround for risk service.
It’s this newly gained knowledge, learned from modeling research, that can potentially benefit the greater public as well, Zenofsky explained.
“Through these improvements, the entire fire research and engineering community benefits from the use of this new, scientifically based modeling tool that we have developed,” said Yi Wang, senior research specialist. •