Update to UL 864 defines product intros

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Thursday, December 1, 2005

Manufacturers put their focus on meeting the standard and are reducing their total offerings as the deadline nears
The introduction of new products to the fire/life safety market is being dictated these days by the myriad changes outlined in the ninth edition of UL 864, the testing standard for fire alarm control panels and accessories.
The ninth edition, issued in late 2003, was meant to impact all products manufactured after Oct. 1, 2005, but that deadline was extended until March 31, 2006, and is now expected to be carried over until Dec. 31, 2006, in large part because of the volume of products that need to be tested and approved by Underwriters Laboratories, the product safety certification organization.
"The industry as a whole looks to codes and standard changes as a tide," explained Jeff Hendrickson, director of marketing for Silent Knight. "We expect it to happen on a regular basis."
He said what's most important in cases such as this one is to have advanced warning and knowledge of what the details of the changes might be.
Looking at the original two-year deadline for compliance with the ninth edition, Hendrickson said, "I would say companies have adequate time to respond to code changes."
But with 181 new or revised changes to the standard, noted John Weaver, marketing director for Gamewell/FCI, the impact on existing control panels is huge.
Weaver said complying with the ninth edition " requires considerable redesign."
"From our standpoint," said Weaver, "we've had to redesign the electronic circuitry, which will make a lot of productsobsolete."
He said Gamewell/FCI chose to initiate a new platform rather than tweak existing products to make them fit the 864 ninth edition guidelines.
What has resulted, he said, is the creation of Gamewell's E3 Series, which stands for Expandable Emergency Evacuation.
The new product, said Weaver, is expandable so it fits both small and large applications and its modular construction increases the survivability of the system.The E3 Series is also in sync with ongoing changes to NFPA 72, which cover mass notification.
Keeping the original October deadline for meeting the ninth edition standard in mind, Weaver said Gamewell/FCI had its E3 product tested and approved in just 11 months.
It also wanted to meet the original deadline, he said, because the company had already informed customers it was discontinuing its 7200 alarm panel product.
As a result of the changes dictated by the ninth edition and the products created to comply with it, Weaver said Gamewell/FCI is reducing its fire products SKUs by half.
"The surviving products will have the attributes to do what the other product did," he said, "but will do it smarter."
At Notifier, director of marketing Peter Ebersold said the company is going through the same exercise as other manufacturers when it comes to complying with UL 864's ninth edition.
"We are making very good progress," said Ebersold, adding "essentially everything we make is affected by the ninth edition."
Like Weaver, Ebersold said some products will be retired, while others will be altered via redesign, modification or the addition of new features.
"The ninth edition gives us the opportunity to tighten up the product line," explained Ebersold.
This means more efficiency in manufacturing, he said, as well as less inventory for the distributor.
Ebersold said Notifier is in good shape to meet the March extension deadline, "but the December date would be better for UL," which is tied up in the testing and approval process of all the new and revised products.
"Complying with UL is the driver for this year and next year," he said.
Rick Falbo, national sales manager for Summit Systems, agreed that UL 864's ninth edition is taking up a lot of time in terms of submitting and then waiting for approval of products.
"We'd like to get products to market as soon as possible," he said, but acknowledged that all fire products must meet the requirements of this amendment.
Still, said Falbo, meeting code requirements isn't the only focus when it comes to design and innovation.
User needs have determined the direction of the fire products market, as in the case of networkable panels.
These weren't required by code, said Falbo, but are a requirement of users today.
Silent Knight's Hendrickson said the move to addressable panels from conventional ones was an important, customer-driven trend.
"The customer doesn't define the technology," he said, "but they bring forward a problem and want a responsible solution."
In the case of addressable panels, Hendrickson said, their serviceability and false alarm reduction capabilities were the keys to bringing those products to market.