Improving passive fire protection systems

MMI Engineering

April 1, 2017

UK-based technical consultancy MMI Engineering discusses issues around passive fire protection integrity, and the launch of a new industry network – PFPNet.

Weather erosion of lightweight concrete passive fire protection. Photos from MMI Engineeering.

Passive fire protection (PFP) materials are designed to mitigate the effects of fire on safety critical systems, reducing the likelihood of escalation.

Examples include PFP coatings, materials and systems; combined fire and thermal insulation systems; insulated and non-insulated fire and blast barriers; penetration seals; and enclosure systems.

But, there was a view that something needed to be done to improve the way that PFP systems are used around the world.

One such misunderstanding encountered by MMI involved a gas platform’s main structural steelwork, which at the time was being protected by deluge pipework (active fire protection).

Such a system could be specified and used to protect against a hydrocarbon pool fire threat on an oil platform. However, deluge has been shown to be an ineffective mitigation measure when protecting items against jet fires, which are a major threat to gas platforms. A correctly specified PFP system would have mitigated the effects of jet fire, rather than rely on a method that had unknowingly compromised both safety and loss prevention.

Occurrences are commonly encountered by MMI’s engineers, who are often commissioned to advise on the use of new systems, or repair and remediate older failing systems and materials.

While conferences cover some technical aspects, and manufacturers are developing new systems, there is still confusion and misunderstanding amongst the end users, which is leading to costly and sometimes dangerous mistakes being made on a regular basis.

Fire seal penetration insulation failure.

MMI Engineering has seen at first hand the results of the misuse and misunderstanding of PFP systems and is trying to address this issue. MMI is behind the launch of PFPNet (The Hydrocarbon Passive Fire Protection Network), which has seen broad support from operators, contractors and product and system manufacturers, confirming our view that something needed to be done to improve the way that PFP systems are used around the world.

PFPNet is an independent, subscription-funded body which will focus on educating, training, researching key topics and clarifying points of confusion for those that work with fireproofing materials and systems, thereby improving the quality of PFP applications in hydrocarbon industries.

To ensure that the group works purely in the interests of its members, its activities will be managed through an independent steering committee led by John Dunk, former director of Fire and Insulation products at International Paint. Headed by Dunk, the interim steering committee is made up of individuals from Kaefer, CB&I, BP, UK HSE, The University of Edinburgh, and MMI.

A one-day meeting was held last year in Manchester, UK, which introduced the group to over 70 attendees with diverse hydrocarbon PFP-related backgrounds.

The UK meeting attendees identified themes and topics they felt needed addressing to raise standards. Primarily noted was the absence of fireproofing qualifications, guidance documents, and accreditation scheme, and the real need for external bodies and standards organizations to be on board with addressing such issues. This output led to a scope of work for 2017, which has been documented within a membership proposal that is now with industry.

A similar meeting in Houston was also held. MMI’s Dr. Simon Thurlbeck and Graham Boaler introduced PFPNet to several operators, engineering, procurement contractors, manufacturers, fabricators and consultants. Over 50 representatives from companies including Shell, Bechtel, Dow, UL, NACE, Marathon Oil, BP, Jotun Paints, Carboline, PPG, Sherwin-Williams and Promat attended and heard about the key findings from the initial launch in the UK.

PFPNet now has 14 members (Advanced Insulation, Exova, Hempel, UK HSE, Jotun Paints, Perenco, Promat, Sherwin-Williams, Trelleborg, Woodside, Shell, Technip, Alfred Miller Contracting and Esterline), with more expected.

“As a comparatively new entrant to the fire protection market it is essential that we develop our working procedures in accordance with what are the very best practices within the industry,” says Simon Daly, Group Oil & Gas Segment Manager at Hempel. “PFPNet will ensure that our advice is based on current thinking through tailored research programs into highlighted industry issues. This will in turn allow us to keep our own knowledge as current as possible.”

In the long-term, PFPNet’s goal is to reduce the errors and costly mistakes that occur with misused PFP systems. Working together with users and suppliers globally, the group’s aim is for this collective influence to change the way PFP is specified and applied across the hydrocarbon industry.

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