Industrial Fire Journal - Fire & Rescue - Hemming Group Ltd
Published:  13 September, 2017

Wireless connection capability that is being pioneered by Procter & Gamble and Grundfos could be present in all new NFPA fire pump installations in the next five years.

The idea to connect the fire pump to the cloud began with an internal competition to improve service level agreement delivery at pump manufacturer Grundfos’ headquarters in Denmark, in 2013.

With the help of US consultancy The Montembeault Group, who had previously carried out a pilot with a similar concept in Fresno, California, the idea was then further developed: “Through the third quarter of 2013 we carried out a lot of customer discovery. We basically went to a customer base that included fire pump distributors, sprinkler contractors, insurance companies and the NFPA, and we started asking questions such as: ‘If you could have any kind of information, what would you really like to have?’” explains technical and business consultant Karen Montembeault.

The audience, says Montembeault, was extremely receptive and even came up with additional information that should be included in the web-based Fireconnect app. “The offering has been driven by customer discovery. It wasn’t conceived by an engineering department but purely by the customer base,” adds Karen’s business partner Roger Montembeault.

One of the persons approached was Christina Francis of Procter & Gamble: “She’s global leader in fire for Procter & Gamble as well as an industry leader, and it happened that she was thinking along similar lines, to the extent that she wanted to encourage P&G to come up with something like it,” adds Karen Montembeault. Procter & Gamble has not only become a co-developer in the technology but, with the enthusiasm of Francis, has taken the vision beyond the fire pump, explains Sead Bajrovic, strategy consultant, digital transformation, at Grundfos. “Francis has taken it into incident command to help fire brigades, and even further towards the overall picture of fire protection, and what can be done with the data in the cloud.”

The extraction of the data from the cloud and its visual representation in a meaningful and useful format to end users has been a major challenge, admits Bajrovic. “While the data side is the interesting side and the value added part, it is getting the right data out of it in the right format and in a holistic view in the app that is the most challenging,” he remarks.

That part, however, has been overcome and the final package, says Roger Montembeault, is nearly ready to go: “But we are holding the horses back until we have everything internally right to our satisfaction and minor bug fixes taken care of.”

In addition to the challenges presented by the interface and app, security has also been a major issue for the project, perhaps unsurprising bearing in mind the conservative nature of the fire industry. Roger Montembeault, a member of NFPA 20’s technical committee, remarks that this is one of the main issues under consideration: “The committee is OK for the most part in sending data to the cloud, and bringing it down. However, they want it to be read-only; they do not want anyone to have the opportunity to remotely access those devices. The current NFPA fire pump standard allows the ability to remotely start a fire pump with a wired system, although it does not allow a system to be stopped remotely. So we’ve been careful not to do anything that would concern the committee.”

NFPA 20 was last revised in 2016 with the next revision due in 2019: “We are working right now on that standard to take the connectivity aspect and move it from the appendix, the information section, to the main body of the standard, where it becomes mandatory. If it doesn’t make it to the 2019 edition of the standard I’ll be quite surprised,” says Roger Montembeault. Bajrovic predicts that within five years all new NFPA-compliant fire pumps will have this capability, and Roger Montembeault believes other standards such as LPCB and VdS will follow.

For the remaining part of this year, Grundfos will be concentrating on finalising the solution with P&G, as well as sharing the concept with companies in other industries. “We are getting good feedback from oil and gas companies and some others industries. But our main focus now is to make this work with P&G, and scale that with them before making it available to the entire market,” says Bajrovic.

Bajrovic is keen to point out that although Grundfos is ahead of the development curve, he wants the industry to move forward together with this solution: “We want our technology to work with every other pump and we want to work the technology as a standardised platform for the whole industry, not just those parts owned by Grundfos.” Part of the ongoing challenge is convincing other organisations to partner with Grundfos to the extent that their specialist equipment can be integrated too: “It’s well beyond the pump, it’s about the complete fire protection and security of a facility. We welcome collaboration across the industry,” says Bajrovic.

Click here to read our coverage of the NFPA presentation by Christina Francis of Procter & Gamble.