Fire suppression market hot

Competition is creating some new business opportunities, according to a research analyst
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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas—The fire suppression products industry in the Americas is growing, but as it does, fire sprinklers—which constitute the majority of the market—are facing competition from other technologies, according to a new report from IMS Research.

The total market, which includes portable fire extinguishers, is about $888 million now but is expected to exceed $1 billion by 2016, Adi Pavlovic, report author and analyst, told Security Systems News.

“Sprinklers are the majority of the market and they’re pretty much tied to construction,” he told SSN. “As construction recovers, sprinkler heads will follow.”

The report notes that while construction “remains sluggish,” other suppression technologies such as water mist and gaseous systems are competing with sprinklers, targeting some of the same end users.

In particular, water mist—a relatively new technology that started in the shipbuilding industry—is being promoted for other applications such as hospitals, Pavlovic said. That creates new opportunities for dealers and installers, he said.

“It’s a new product to sell and its highly marketable,” Pavlovic said.

England-based IMS, recently acquired by Colorado-based IHS, which does market research and consultancy, has its U.S. headquarters here. IMS issued a news release in October on its new report on the fire suppression market.

Gaseous suppression is used for niche industries like oil and gas and manufacturing, Pavlovic said. “When there’s a very flammable environment, gaseous protection does a better job of putting it out, especially when protecting high-value machinery,” he said. Its drawback is that it’s not suitable for places where there are a lot of people because of toxicity concerns, he said.

Water mist systems are similar to sprinklers but have high-pressure nozzles so the water droplets are smaller. “The basic idea of that is that you can put out the same fire using less water,” Pavlovic said.

“They started with ships because if a fire happens on a ship you can’t have too much water released or otherwise the boat will sink,” he said.

The mist also evaporates more quickly than larger water droplets do, Pavlovic said, “which lessens the amount of oxygen in the room so there’s less fuel for the fire.”

However, he said, “we forecast the shipbuilding industry to slow down in 2013 significantly, so it’s really important for water mist to make its way into land applications.”

One drawback to a water mist system is that it’s more complex than a sprinkler system and thus more expensive, Pavlovic said.

But now, he said, water mist “is competing with both [sprinklers and gaseous]. It can protect more high-valuable assets like gaseous without the threat of endangering the people working there. So, a hospital is a perfect example. You have very expensive machinery, but you have a lot of people in there as well, so you can imagine it could fit the need there.”

He said water mist also works in special industry applications “where the machinery would be OK if it got wet and there’s a lot of people there.”

Efforts to bring water mist ashore have been ongoing for several years, ever since UTC Fire & Security acquired Marioff, a Finland-based provider of high-efficiency water mist suppression systems.

Water mist remains rare in the residential market because of the expense, Pavlovic said.

His report also said strict fire regulations in the United States are driving the market there. “Newly constructed commercial buildings will require a portable extinguisher, and many others are required or will choose to install sprinkler, water mist or gaseous suppression systems. These tough regulations, combined with a rebounding construction market, are expected to keep the U.S. as one of the largest purchasers of fire suppression equipment worldwide,” the news release said.