Electronic Sprinkler Systems and Why Warehouse Fire Protection Should be Top of Mind

E-commerce has dramatically changed the way warehouses operate in recent years. As shoppers increasingly turn to the Internet, modern warehousing and logistics have been pressured to keep pace with the rapidly evolving expectations of consumers. With two-day, overnight or even same-day delivery becoming the new norm, companies must adapt to meet customer expectations. This new paradigm makes proper fire protection paramount to keep business moving.  At the same time, a shift toward different packaging materials can create increased challenges that may not be recognized immediately.

The plastic content in products we consume today continues to grow along with increased plastic content in the packaging materials used to transport and store these products. This presents a challenge in that existing warehouses may not have been designed with these commodities in mind. Plastic products have a high heat release rate and at the same time, they do not readily absorb water. This can present major challenges in the event of a fire incident.

Keeping a fire protection system up to code can often be an afterthought as companies evolve their existing facilities or make plans to build new ones. This oversight can result in unexpected costs down the road or, in the event of a fire, the potential for extensive property loss and a more significant interruption to business operations. When fire sprinkler systems are upgraded proactively, it can come at a high cost, as many times both the sprinklers and system piping require replacement.  Furthermore, expensive fire pumps and tanks may be needed to supply more water to protect the increased fire risk posed by plastic commodities.

When upgrading a facility, an electronically activated fire sprinkler system could prove to be more cost-effective than a traditional sprinkler system. It is also more efficient in fighting a fire, helping to minimize potential damage and property loss. In a traditional sprinkler system, sprinklers are heat-activated so that each sprinkler head operates independently at a fixed temperature. When water discharges from the first activated sprinkler, it can cool the surrounding area and potentially affect the temperature sensing of adjacent sprinklers (called sprinkler skipping). This means sprinklers near the fire may take longer to activate or may not activate at all, which can ultimately result in less water being applied to the fire during the early stages of development.

Electronically activated sprinkler systems are designed to avoid sprinkler skipping and react more efficiently to a fire. Heat sensors detect the rate of temperature rise, allowing for faster detection of the fire source. Once a fire is validated by multiple sensors, the system activates an array of sprinklers simultaneously to “surround and drown” the fire. Effective fire suppression is achieved by maximizing the amount of water applied onto burning materials and pre-wetting adjacent unburned fuels to prevent lateral fire spread.

As it exists today, a fire protection system utilizing electronic sprinkler technology is ideally suited for retrofit applications. It is also suited for scenarios where water is constrained but protection is needed for storing the more complex exposed expanded group-A plastics (which require more water per square foot than other commodity classes it is replacing).

As facilities are upgraded and new ones are built to store products that present higher fire risk, traditional sprinkler solutions will require a greater amount of water to suppress a fire. This will require expensive fire pumps and tanks to support this demand. In retrofit scenarios, a piping infrastructure upgrade may be required to support the system’s higher water demand. Another downside is the restrictive constraints that existing solutions necessitate such as vertical barriers which limit flow of goods within a facility. The electronically activated sprinkler system is designed for easier upgrades as the sprinklers use the same thread size compatible with piping infrastructure found in older warehouses.


From a total cost of ownership standpoint, existing solutions may not only be higher in cost but may also limit operational flexibility. An electronically activated sprinkler system provides enhanced fire protection to support your business needs and future proof your facility for the needs of tomorrow.


Gaurav Malik, Johnson Controls, global product manager


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