Offering Innovation and Top Quality in Fire SystemsBy Jan Hogewoning | Thu, 09/10/2020 - 16:31
Q: What differentiates Koltek from its competitors?
A: We have a very strong commitment to our clients. We guide them through the entire process of designing their fire systems. They participate from the conceptual stage and during this process they gain the knowledge required to manage these systems and act appropriately to prevent and respond to fire incidents. We invest a great deal – up to 2 percent of our revenue – in training our staff.
We are active in both the public and private sectors. In the public sector, we are mainly in the energy area. In the private sector, our biggest presence is in the industrial sector, mainly aerospace, automotive, food and beverages, pharmaceutical and mining. Our clients normally have high fire protection standards. They see this as a strength because it guarantees operational continuity.
Q: What are the most in demand fire systems?
A: Automatic wet sprinkler systems are a normal request and they respond by heat detection per sprinkler, this means that only the sprinklers that reach the temperature set, are the sprinkles that deliver water. These have already been in existence for over a hundred years. There are very particular systems that protect the production process, storage areas, offices, and so on. The same goes for detectors, which need to be placed strategically. We have a detection system that uses an air intake sensor. This technology can basically be compared to smelling when something is burning. It works better than spot smoke detectors because it can take a significant time before smoke actually reaches a smoke detector. Smoke can be inhibited by an air conditioner, for example. Smell is more immediate. Our solutions integrate different technologies, adapted to the characteristics of the client’s environment. We always try to get the best equipment available in the market for each technology. Most of our providers are from the US, not just for equipment but also for the software to run it. We are located in the Monterrey area, so it is easy to import US products.
Q: How well-prepared are Mexican companies to face fires?
A: We work with many transnational companies. They already have practices that make fire protection a priority. They are often publicly traded and insured by international insurance companies. When they expand their operations, they seek to implement the same high standards at new locations.
In real estate, investors often contract a general administrator for a construction project who delivers all the different components, from hydro-sanitary and HVAC systems to fire systems. However, these players are not constructing a building for themselves and they do not know the final user. There is a tendency to reduce costs, which leads to fire systems that meet the minimum requirements established by law. The quality of installed material will be lower. There may be a good number of detectors in place, but not much more. This is not our way of working. We like to do things properly.
A third sector are family SMEs that often do not calculate fire protection into their business activities. If they are required by the authorities to install a system, they only comply with the minimum requirements. There are plenty of cases, however, where fires have ruined entire businesses. A fault in a hydro-sanitary and heating system may cost you one day of operation. If your fire system fails, lives can be lost and your business can be shut forever.
Q: What are the primary causes of fires?
A: Most incidents are a result of human error, mainly because of a lack of attention in the incipient phase of a fire incident. Moreover, employees do not receive adequate training. They run off before reaching for the extinguishers. A second element is that systems are not maintained properly. This is very important. There are companies that invest US$2 million in a state-of-the-art system but do not provide the proper maintenance. There have been incidents where a water pump system failed because the engine was not filled with fuel. In other cases, systems are not installed properly in the first place.
Koltek provides training packages to clients. In addition to onsite training, we also have a YouTube channel where we upload content for end users. We want to transmit knowledge to assure that companies raise their standards and also demand more from our competitors in the market.
Q: What certifications do clients have in fire protection?
A: We always inquire first about the requirements of the ‘Authority Having Jurisdiction’ (AHJ) under which a client operates, the international insurer or the internal politics of the company. We recommend a solution based on these requirements. Many of our clients work with international norms, mainly those of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). However, there are insurance companies, like FM Global, that require more strict fire protection standards.
Q: What new technology trends are emerging in fire protection systems?
A: Most innovations focus on the integration of fire solutions with Industry 4.0, primarily IoT and artificial intelligence. The use of control tablets with faster and broader data processing capacity is key to managing systems more effectively. I would like routine physical inspections of fire equipment to go digital. For example, Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) can be managed remotely. Digital surveillance could also manage pressure variations, or concentrations of smoke, gases and explosive substances. With artificial intelligence, we could use this collected data to predict future fire events. These concepts are now just emerging. However, I expect that we will have this type of integrated technology in less than five years. Another technology already being used for remote fire equipment inspection is virtual reality, which allows us to support clients in very remote locations, for example.
Q: Where do you see an opportunity to grow your services?
A: If SMEs would start recognizing the value of fire protection, they would be an impressive market for us. There is a lot missing there. The government needs to raise the minimum requirements regarding fire protection but this requires collaboration with companies.
In the area of hotels, there are many that do not have adequate protection. The same can be said about hospitals. Especially in tall structures, there are situations where a person would not survive a fire if they were on a higher floor. In vertical buildings overall, there is a great deal of opportunity for us.
Koltek designs, install and maintains high-tech fire protection systems. Its primary areas of activity are in the manufacturing sector