Posts Tagged ‘Life Safety Doors’

In looking at the current Australian Standards, and having recently drafted an article on the history of fire door tags in Australia (to be possibly published in the Fire Protection Association of Australia publication “Fire Australia”), this question has been running over and over in my mind.

Some would say I need a life and I would tend to agree with you but never the less I intend to delve into this in a little greater detail.

If a tag is on the edge of a fire door, what does it mean to the average Joe public? Does it give them any assurance that the door is in fact a fire door? Would average Joe public know what the details on a tag mean or would they simply assume that it is a fire door regardless of what the tag stated?

My opinion and one which others may disagree with is that the tag on a fire door is not for average Joe public, it is for the Authorities and Service Companies who actually know what the details on the tag are supposed to mean, and what direction it provides in the ongoing maintenance and assessment of the particular fire door.

Without going into too much detail, the fire door tag provides the context, the picture of what kind of fire door it is, who made it, who tested it, what its performance level is etc.

If I walked up to the average person on the street and asked “what does AS1905.1 mean?” I am pretty sure I would receive a perplexed look and rightfully so. There is no reason why the average Joe needs to know this sort of information that is why there are professionals who provide the inspection and assessment of these assets, people who do know what these things are and more importantly what they mean and why they are so important.

Now if you agree with me so far then let’s take this a little further. The current Australian Standards require a metal tag of a certain size with certain information on it to be fitted to each fire door. The tag is generally fitted to the hinge side of the door approximately 1.5m from the finished floor level. Along comes the painter and 9 times out of 10 the tag is painted over negating any information provided as it is covered over and the tag installed was not made in accordance with the requirements of the Standard (i.e. embossed or recessed numbers and letters).

Tags also have the misfortune of falling off or being removed.

Painting a tag, tags falling off or tags being removed all have the same effect, it basically removes the information required to properly inspect, maintain and assess the fire door, the doors identity.

The question I asked myself some time ago was “Is there a better way to tag a fire door?” and the answer I came up with was a resounding yes. Technology has come a long way since the 1970’s when we saw tag requirements in an Australian Standard for fire doors (CA57.1-1972). Computers and technology in the 1970’s was vastly different to now. Where a computer may have taken up an entire floor of a building, now we can hold them in the palm of our hands. Things are just getting smaller and smaller and smarter and smarter.

One such advancement in technology has been the identification of things. We went from metal identification tags or simple labels to Bar Codes. This advancement enabled the beginning of the automation age with respect to data capture in which information could be attributed to an asset by reference to an identification method that could be read by a machine thus speeding up the process of data gathering and reporting.

While this provided some benefits, the fact that a visual line of sight was still required to enable reading of a barcode, many of the problems with metal tags still remained, namely requiring the visual identification of information to be read either by person or by machine. As with metal tags, bar codes could be rendered useless if painted over, scratched or dirty and could just as easily be removed or fall off.

The other down side to bar codes in asset identification is the ease in which they can be replicated. This ease of replication is not conducive to the identification of assets in which life safety is an issue. If an identification tag can be easily replicated then it fails on the basic level of integrity. For this reason it would not be reasonable to to replace the current method of tagging with bar codes as there is no improvement in relation to identification of the asset and no improvement in the ability to ensure life safety.

The technology I am currently heavily involved in the development of Radio Frequency Identification, in essence a bar code on steroids.

Unlike bar codes, RFID Tags do not require a line of sight i.e. you can paint right over the top of it or hide it within the asset and still be able to identify the asset by a unique identification number which is almost impossible to replicate.

The RFID tag is a tiny microchip with an integrated antenna which is read from, and written to via an RFID reader. The ability to not only read from but write to an RFID Tag gives an additional benefit which metal tags and bar codes could never provide, information about the asset at the asset.

Because we can have the tag out of sight or can paint over it, this allows the design of a housing which can be more secure and less susceptible to removal either on purpose or by accident. RFID tags are not bullet proof but they do provide a substantial number of benefits which metal tags or bar codes simply cannot match.

So in regards to improvements on the current tag specification in the Australian Standards, I see the following improvements;

  1. Can be painted over
  2. Through design can be almost impossibly to remove
  3. Can hold information about the asset at the asset
  4. Can be read from and written to

There is a down side however and that is that in order to read the RFID Tag you have to have a RFID reader and an application which allows you to obtain the details from the tag. This in essence restricts who can obtain the information, but if we consider who really needs to obtain the information then is this really an issue?

RFID Tag does cost more than a bar code or a metal tag, or at least they do at the moment, but if we look at the cost of replacing a door because the tag (i.e. a metal tag on the edge of the door as opposed to a RFID Tag fitted into the door in some manner) is missing then the initial cost of an RFID Tag vs a metal tag is quickly negated.

If my arguments at the start of this blog are correct, and a tag is really there for an authority or a service technician, then there is no real need for average Joe public to even know there is a tag there, simply because it really has no meaning for them.

The critical thing is to have the right information available to the right people (i.e. authorities and the service technicians) so inspection and assessments can be properly undertaken to ensure life safety is not compromised.

There could be an argument that you cannot force people to implement technology as this is an additional cost but are we doing ourselves an injustice by not at least considering this technology as an alternative to the existing tagging methods. Do we have to have one or the other or can we have both?

Closed systems where data is only able to be obtained if you pay a particular company a ridiculous amount of money can be counteracted by being smarter in the design of our Standards. Instead of mandating a certain type and size of an identification method why can we not have a specification of what information the tagging method needs to provide, who it needs to provide it to and further if this does take the form of electronic recording of information, specify how this data is to appear so it can be available to anyone authorised to obtain the information.

There is no reason why life safety cannot be assisted through advancements in technology. If we have a tag that is difficult if not impossible to remove then we have the essential details available at the door which guide how that door should be inspected and assessed and we further mitigate the possibility of having to replace the door just because of a missing identification tag.

I came across a very interesting term, “disruptive technology”. The term disruptive technologies (later amended to “disruptive innovation”) was coined by Clayton M. Christensen and introduced in his 1995 article Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave (Bower, Joseph L. & Christensen, Clayton M. (1995). “Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave” Harvard Business Review, January–February 1995).

A simple example is the fax machine. Business used fax machines for years then along came email. Email was a disruptive technology as it nearly overnight, changed the way we communicate in the business environment. Who is to say that RFID technology is to metal tagging what email was to the fax machine?

Technology should not be put on the back burner because it is different to the current norms, it should be properly assessed and if found to provide additional benefits which enhance the current methods and improve life safety then I feel it is our obligation to outline the potential benefits that technology may be able to provide and seek acceptance of the technology as an alternative to the existing norms.

Not many of us ride a horse to work any more!

Fire Door

One of the main issues with fire doors is identifying what a door is when the only information you have available is the door itself, no records and no compliance tag. This problem exists for the manufacturer trying to counter a warranty claim, a service company wanting to undertake repairs, a building/facility owner needing to provide certification to an authority etc.

In relation to passive fire protection, such as fire doors, data is king. Knowing what a door is provides the essential information needed to certify and properly service and maintain the fire door throughout its life.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is a very flexible technology which in essence provides a truly unique identification to an individual item. Having a means to uniquely identify items then allows us the power to then follow this item throughout its usable life and beyond.

This means that not only can we follow an item but we can also maintain an accurate audit trail of the item and all things which have occurred to it during its life. These things could be original manufacturing details, warranty conditions, approvals, service visits, photos of modifications etc.

Through the utilization of a central data store we can associate any amount of information against the unique identification of an item and not only associate any amount of data against it but also recall the information as and when required.

The ability to combine RFID technology with central data stores is further expanded with the use of an internet based portal providing access to the central data store. This ability then gives rise to information being readily available around the world regardless of location through a standard internet browser or via a portable mobile device.

Examples of what we can achieve with RFID

The following are examples of the application of RFID technology for the fire door industry. This is only a short list of the possibilities of this technology for not only the fire door industry but any industry.

Proof of product
  • Identify an item with a RFID Tag containing a unique identifier
  • Through an internet portal upload documentation relating to each product type
  • Through a portable hand held device, scan the RFID Tag and enter the manufacturing details of the product
    • E.g. Type, size, colour, shape etc
  • Write data directly to the products RFID tag
  • At any time, scan the product RFID tag and retrieve the data relating to the product as referenced against the unique identifier
  • Allow authorities access to read data directly contained on the product RFID tag e.g. manufacturer, compliance details etc
Product Certification
  • Prior to installation scan the product RFID tag and obtain the details of the product and ensure they are correct for the intended installation
  • As details are held in the data store automate the generation of certificates and schedules relating to product evidence and compliance
Proof of Attendance
  • Using portable devices to record the undertaking of inspection activities, the inspection can be designed to only occur if a successful scan of the product RFID tag is undertaken which by default requires the technician to be in close proximity of the products RFID tag
  • If a product RFID tag is not scanned the system can allow the technician to proceed with the inspection but will send a status back to the central data store detailing that the product was not scanned to initiate the inspection activity
Remote data capture and data transfer
  • Individual product maintenance requirements can be provided for each individual product or type of product and held in the central data store
  • By scanning a products RFID tag the device software can communicate with the central data store and display the maintenance requirements for the specific product scanned
Monitoring activities
  • Establish routine inspection dates for a product and have the central data store advise when things should be done or when things are not done when due
  • Get alerts when warranties are due to expire so you an pro actively contact the client and see if they want ongoing service post warranty
Automated reporting and notifications
  • Let the central data store crunch the data so you don’t have to
  • Generate inspection reports based on data captured in the field
  • Generate door schedules based on data held in the data store
  • Automatically generate a report every time an event happens e.g. on warranty expiry send an automated email to the client advising them the warranty period is over and for any future issues contact company x, y or z

Is RFID an answer for the fire door industry? I believe it is.

RFID technology is a way we can finally and comprehensively address identification issues in relation to fire doors and further provide added benefits to all stake holders who are involved with the manufacture, supply, installation, services and certification of fire doors by providing a comprehensive product history from manufacture to disposal.

Through the use of RFID technology we can build further integrity into the industry and protect the safety of people in buildings and facilities and also minimise the risk of premature product replacement.


If you found this article useful or otherwise please provide comments or suggestions so I can improve on future posts.

One of the biggest mistakes I have seen in the fire door industry is people unknowingly installing a fire door upside down, back to front or both upside down and back to front.

It’s just a door isn’t it? Does it really matter which way it is installed?

Well, for those of you out there who work on, or install fire doors, here’s a little tip.

“You can install a fire door upside down and back to front, so make sure you know what you are doing when working with fire doors”.

Here is a picture to help me explain.

The internal core of a fire door does not necessarily have the strength to hold fixings such as screws. For this reason, metal reinforcing plates are installed which wrap around the internal core and provide a way for fixings to hold in the door. Fixings such as screws fix through the metal reinforcing plates which hold the hardware to the door (i.e. the door closer, the hinges and the lock).

As you can see, the closer plate is located on the top left where the door closer would be installed. Now think if we turn the door upside down where would the metal reinforcing plate be, the metal plate needed to ensure a firm fixing of the closer to the fire door?

Along the same lines, imagine we put the hinges on the right of the the door instead of the left. Same thing, the hinge screws would be fixing into a internal core which most probably could not hold them.

A simple check when installing a fire door is to look for marks identifying the “TOP HINGE” (usually stamped or written on the hinge side of the door). If we know where the top hinge is then we know which way the door needs to be hung.

Another way manufacturers use to identify the top hinge is to drill a small hole approximately 5mm-8mm diameter into the top edge strip on the side of the hinge plates.

If you don’t find any markings indicating the top hinge and you cannot locate the hole identifying the top hinge you have one more trick you can use to identify where the top hinge side of the door may be. The plates are metal and what can we use to identify metal? A magnet. The facing on the core is only 3mm to 4mm thick so if you have a relatively strong magnet and slide it across the face of the door you will feel when the magnet comes across the metal plates. By scanning the door face with a magnet, and knowing what the door looks like behind the facing, you will in most cases me able to identify where all the plates are installed (i.e. closer plate, lock plate and hinge plates) and which way the door needs to be hung.

A Little Problem I Have Seen

If you come across a door and see the door closer coming away from the door, two things could have occurred. Firstly the door make be installed incorrectly so there is no plate there for the closer to fix to so over time it works it’s way loose (big problem probably requiring the replacement of the door) or the second thing could be that over time the screw fixings have just worn away and no longer hold in the metal plate.

If this is the problem (usually identified by trying to tighten the screw with the screw just turning without tightening) think about it.

If we put a longer screw in (a quick fix I have seen more times than I can care to remember) will it make a difference? Probably not. The original hole the screw was in has most probably worn over time and is now wider so a longer screw will not solve the issue. Initially it may hold in the core of the door but it to will come loose. As the hole in the plate is most probably wider, you will need to replace the screw with a bigger gauge screw (i.e. a thicker screw, not a longer screw). Using a screw with a bigger gauge allows the new screw to bite into the metal plate again and give a firm and strong fixing for the closer.

So we have decided to put a new screw in, what screw do we use?

A common issue I see is the use of the wrong type of screw. Now you know the screw is fixing into metal not timber we need to use a metal thread screw, not a timber thread screw.

Metal Thread Screw

Timber Thread Screw

As you can see in these pictures, there is a big difference between a screw for timber and a screw for metal.

If we consider that the facing on the door is only 3mm to 4mm thick and the metal plate is only in general 0.6mm to 0.9mm thick, any screw which does not have a thread for the first 5mm will not engage in the metal plate and is useless for this application.

You will also note that the metal thread screw has far more rotations of the thread which in effect means that it will bite into a much thinner material (e.g. the metal plate as opposed to a block of timber).

If you have these screws in your work place or at home just have a look at the way the screw is constructed, the spacing between the threads and the fact that you know what is inside a fire door and you will see how useless a timber thread screw is when it comes to fire doors.

In summary, a fire door is there to one day possibly save your life or the life of someone you know by allowing them to get safely out of a burning building. If you don’t understand what a fire door is and how it is constructed we may inadvertently undertake repairs on them which are not capable of working. If a closer is not fixed properly to the door and there is a fire the risk is that door may not close. The last thing people are thinking about in a raging fire is closing the door behind them.

The little things like the type of screw we use seem so insignificant but can have a devastating outcome. I hope you understand a little more now than you did before you started reading this entry and as always if you don’t agree with something I have written by all means let me know.

Have a great day and thanks for dropping by.

If you found this article useful or otherwise please provide comments or suggestions so I can improve on future posts.