Keith Elves discusses Smoke safety system controls – open vs. closed protocol

Keith Elves discusses Smoke safety system controls - open vs. closed protocol

What’s the difference?

A closed protocol system is a proprietary system, where one company manufacturers all the component parts and locks their interaction in such a manner that only those trained/accredited in that particular system are able to fully operate or maintain it. A benefit here is that you are assured of a consistent service and quality of interaction between component parts.

In open protocol systems, equipment from more than one manufacturer may be used in the system and access to the inner workings of the control system is freely available. Such a system may be more easily operable on a ‘common sense’ level by those unfamiliar with a particular building’s system (e.g. a firefighter). By not tying themselves to one manufacturer, specifiers can retain control of cost.

Some closed protocol systems effectively tie the buyer into an ongoing service and maintenance contract which is impossible to break without risking compliance. Some commentators in the industry have suggested that this represent an ‘anti-competitive’ situation and therefore should be regulated; a viewpoint with which I’m inclined to agree.

Opening up

By choosing an open protocol system, specifiers put themselves in greater control. Being free to place maintenance agreements with anyone and source spare parts from anywhere is an attractive proposition. With open protocol, buyers effectively force the manufacturer to deliver a good product – and keep it up to date – as they are not tied into that specific product and so could replace it with another from a competitor supplier if they desired. It is also a possibility that closed protocol maintenance contracts could be considered a ‘captive market’ and so get placed at the bottom of the pile when it comes to quality service and speedy response times.

Meeting the standard

The change in the wording of tenders since 2006 (RRO) only goes to show an increased comprehension of the subject and a growing knowledge of what to specify for lowest risk and best compliance. It is inevitable that over time smoke control system specifiers will become more protocol-savvy as regulation takes force.

By Keith Elves

About the author
Elves Electrical FIET, Mechanical ACIBSE, Fire MIFE has over 27 years’ experience in the field of complex fire, electrical and mechanical installations, with a background in building control legislation and public authority approval having been Engineering Group Manager for Westminster District Surveyors for the past 25 years. He is currently working part time as a Fire Engineering Consultant at smoke control design/supply/install/service firm Airvent