Assisting Customers to Help Meet New Requirements for the Smoke Detector Industry
While smoke detectors are valuable in helping prevent deaths during fires, they need to be operating properly to save lives. According to a national study conducted by the United States National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), many fire-related deaths occurred in structures where a smoke detector had been disabled. One of the primary reasons given for why a detector was disabled was because it had been triggered by cooking smoke. That same study also showed that many more deaths occurred because smoke detectors did not respond well to a slow-burning polyurethane fire. As a result of these findings, the NFPA proposed recommendations for changes in the testing of smoke detectors to address these two issues.
In accordance with these recommendations, UL updated its smoke detector requirements to be more sensitive to polyurethane fires and less sensitive to cooking smoke, based on their “broiling hamburger test.” These new requirements are contained in UL 217: Standard for Smoke Alarms Edition 8 and UL 268: Smoke Detectors for Fire Alarm Systems Edition 7. At the time when these specifications were released, none of the smoke detectors that were available on the market were able to meet these new requirements. In 2016, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of the U.S. Department of Commerce published “A Study on the Performance of Current Smoke Alarms to the New Fire and Nuisance Tests Prescribed in ANSI/UL 217-2015,” describing the failure of leading products in the market to meet the new specification.
Smoke detector manufacturers will be required to have their new submissions meet the new certification standards after May 29, 2019 and to only manufacture their certified designs after May 29, 2020. The cutoff date for installing old detector inventories is January 2021. Virtually all smoke detectors on store shelves today, except for the few newly-certified detectors, will not meet installation regulation after January 2021. It is expected that smoke detectors that meet these new requirements will be stockpiled before the May 2020 date and sold until January 2021 as suppliers strive to meet the new specification. While some smoke detectors did achieve certification during 2018, many manufacturers are still scrambling to accomplish this by the fast-approaching deadline.
There’s an additional reason for this scramble. While the residential smoke detector deadlines were given in advance some years ago, the industrial smoke detector deadlines were not announced until autumn of 2017. Manufacturers were surprised to learn that the same deadlines would apply for industrial smoke detectors. This rush to meet the looming deadline has resulted in long wait times to gain access to UL testing facilities for new designs.
This problem does not just affect smoke detector manufacturers located in the United States. Companies all around the world supply smoke detectors to the American market and are also working hard to meet the new specification’s requirements. Municipalities located outside of the United States have made some changes to their own requirements based on the updates to the specification. To spare themselves the hassle of governing boards and agencies that oversee safety issues, many other municipalities simply state that they use the American specification. This means that many companies that do not provide smoke detectors to the United States are also affected by the change in the requirements.
Microchip is the only silicon supplier to have a support team dedicated to assisting its customers with their smoke detection designs. While we do not supply algorithms for the new specification, we are developing integrated solutions to enable our customers to implement the architectures to comply with the new requirements and to meet these aggressive deadlines. If you are working on a smoke detector application, please visit our Smoke Detector ICs page or contact your local Microchip Sales Office to find out how we can help you with your design.