is the Managing Director of Trade Fabrication Systems
That said, products must be installed accurately and in line with the tested conditions to ensure regulatory compliance. With this in mind, Howard Morris, Managing Director at Trade Fabrication Systems, discusses the role offsite processing has to play in building greater levels of protection in the supply chain.
Fire protection is a driving force behind the architectural agenda. Developing buildings that are aesthetically focused combined with integral fire protection is a key priority for specifiers.
More so than ever, the performance criteria of building systems are being intrinsically assessed and scrutinised across the sector for safety to ensure the complete system installed will perform as expected in the event of a fire.
As architects carefully balance compliance criteria and design demands, particularly in areas where there is a higher than average risk of fire, Building Regulations are governing the use of performance-rated, flame-retardant (FR) timber building products to satisfy fire protection requirements.
Testing timber specification
While timber is favoured in construction due to its durability and versatility, as a combustible material it does pose the risk of burning if exposed to fire. Specifiers who are looking to embrace the use of timber within a build, whilst continuing to deliver required fire protection, can benefit from embracing FR-enhanced substrates. Becoming increasingly popular, FR-treated timber products can support specifiers to seamlessly achieve compliance when fulfilling fire protection strategies.
When looking to install an FR solution, test evidence is imperative to ensuring the product will be fit for application. Best practice is to request detailed test evidence and data to ensure the solution specified meets Building Regulation criteria.
The simplest and most effective way to identify a substrate’s reaction to fire is to review its Euroclass rating. The Euroclass system is the common standard for measuring the fire performance of building materials, whilst organic substrates like wood cannot be enhanced to a Class A rating (non-combustible), FR treatment can enable substrates to achieve a rating of Class B or C2.
Balancing the benefits
There are two main FR treatments for timber panels that are commonly used to achieve Euroclass B compliance in construction, pressurised techniques or coating the timber substrate in FR paint. These methods, however, are not without their challenges.
Pressure treatment, albeit able to instil confidence of compliance to Euroclass B standards, is a time-consuming process that can also impact the quality and structural integrity of the completed board.
The coating process, which is a far more cost-effective method, retains the product’s strength but compliance is entirely dependent on the coating being applied to the exact replication of the retained pass data in the testing process. As FR coatings are usually applied on site, risks emerge if the coating has been applied inconsistently, resulting in the performance of the board being compromised.
The case for offsite
To assist in mitigating these risks, offsite processing offers specifiers an alternative solution to onsite coating. Removing the need to pressure treat, and ergo impact the integrity of the timber panels, offsite partners can take the entire process off site, removing any risks associated with potentially inconsistent application.
Advances in offsite processing capabilities and timber technologies have resulted in the development of a streamlined process for FR coating solutions that seamlessly achieve Euroclass B fire rating. By using the exact substrate and layers of coating used to achieve the performance rating when tested, offsite processing mirrors this process on a large scale, suitable for mainstream manufacture.
Factory applying the FR coating to the substrate off site ensures that the product has been applied consistently and correctly across the panel. Operating under ISO 9001:2015 industry best practice factory standards, the coating is applied in a clean, quality-driven environment to satisfy compliance requirements and give specifiers a solution they have confidence in.
Additionally, offsite processors will ensure that the product and coating are suitable for use, avoiding any possible quality issues on site. Working to test evidence and only actioning the process on substrates that have achieved the Euroclass B rating, specifiers can be confident that the product will perform and comply with regulations.
This process also has the potential to save overall time and add value to the entire architectural programme. The offsite application removes the need for contractors to be positioned on site to fulfil the FR coating requirement – saving time and reducing the risk associated with application error on site.
Fire protection is a fundamental priority in architectural design, and specifiers need to have an explicit understanding of the building’s performance in that regard. Where FR timber panels have been specified, taking the process off site has the potential to save valuable time and foster confidence that the substrate will perform under the necessary conditions to Euroclass B. The only way to ensure these requirements are met is to replicate the exact specification achieved when testing was completed, and offsite processing can assure Euroclass B compliance whilst simultaneously adding value and specifier surety of performance.