An Interface with Mr. Domingo Garcia, Director-International Sales, Spears® Manufacturing Company Licensor of “Supreme FlameGuard” CPVC Fire Sprinkler System
Mr. Garcia, can you tell us what led to the development of CPVC as a sprinkler piping material?
Over many years here in the United States, there were lots of deadly fires in hotels that could have been prevented if they had a proper working fire sprinkler system. As tougher building codes and fire safety laws began to be enacted here, we saw that there was a need for a reliable and cost-effective alternative to metal sprinkler systems. So, in 1984, the first CPVC fire sprinkler system was developed using our products.
Were there problems with metal sprinkler systems at the time?
Yes, they're difficult to install and known to have issues with microbiologically induced corrosion, called MIC. That on top of various installation issues made it necessary to develop an alternative.
Other than corrosion is it easier to install?
Absolutely, you can install a CPVC system in a fraction of the time it takes to install a metal system. It's much easier, lighter weight, you don't have to use expensive tools that are required with a metal system. A CPVC system can be installed with standard plastic pipe cutting, deburring and beveling tools and of course the proper solvent cement and thread sealant.
Is solvent cement the same as glue?
No, not at all. Glue is an adhesive used to bond two materials together. However solvent cement is a chemical mixture of solvent, resin and fillers. When the solvent cement is applied it softens and dissolves the top layer of the pipe and fitting. The female joint is conical in shape so that when the pieces with solvent cement are pushed together, the two pieces of pipe and fitting are chemically fused together and become one. As the solvents evaporate the joint has the same strength as the pipe or fitting alone.
Won't the solvent cement melt like glue in the event of a fire?
No. as I described previously, the solvents will evaporate leaving only the CPVC material and it becomes part of the pipe and fittings, basically making it one complete unit.
When you first introduced the system were people reluctant to use the plastic piping system for fear of it melting or releasing toxic fumes in the event of a fire?
When people first hear of a plastic system they may have an initial apprehension to using a different material. However, once they learn about the characteristics of CPVC and how it performs when exposed to an actual fire in addition to all the advantages of using a CPVC system, they quickly realize it is the best suited product for light hazard fire sprinkler systems.
What exactly in an average building is light hazard?
Well, light hazard has to do with the fuel or source of a fire. CPVC was developed for light hazard applications like what we saw in the previously mentioned deadly hotel fires. Examples of light hazard applications where CPVC may be used are office buildings, hotels, classrooms and residential structures. Basically, it is a lifesaving system to allow the occupants of a structure enough time to safely evacuate the facility. It actually puts out the fire as well. But, its primary purpose is to control the fire long enough to allow people to safely evacuate.
Many people believe that the purpose of a sprinkler system in a hotel or condominium is to put out the fire, but you're saying the main thing is to allow people to escape and save lives?
Correct, that is the primary reason for these light hazard fire sprinkler systems. The testing that was involved in the development is extensive and designed around allowing people enough time to evacuate the building.
Is a CPVC sprinkler system less expensive than a metal piping system?
The upfront costs of CPVC products might be slightly higher than a metal system but the overall cost of an installed CPVC fire sprinkler system is actually lower. That's attributed to the ease of installation and all the attributes of a CPVC system which makes it a more cost-effective system.
Does a CPVC system have a longer life span than a metal piping system?
Absolutely, the life span for a CPVC system is 50+ years which is much longer than any metal system. I don't think you'll find any metal system that will have anywhere near that life expectancy.
We noticed that the Spears® FlameGuard® system is UL approved. Why is UL important? Since it is a US code system, why should we in India care about a UL approved product?
It's very important because this is a life safety system. Having the products approved by an organization such as UL helps ensure the product is in fact suitable for use in fire sprinkler systems. UL testing is very extensive. Not all manufacturers' products may pass. UL testing includes tests for friction loss, crushing, impact, vibration, temperature cycling, fire exposure and hydrostatic tests. There is a long list of very extensive testing that they do.
Because of this extensive testing it can be expensive for the manufacturer. But, that helps provide the building owner, installer and occupants of a building a strong assurance that the CPVC products have been thoroughly tested and approved for that type of a system.
Is a UL test a one-time test or do they come back to audit a manufacturer to make sure they are still in compliance?
After the initial extensive testing of all the products, they do quarterly inspections of all our facilities where the products are being made. Then, we submit samples to verify all products remain consistent and retain the same hydrostatic performance characteristics.
So, UL certification is a lifetime requirement not a one-time test?
Yes, that is correct.
Why isn't your product made in sizes larger than 3”?
The FlameGuard® system size range is ¾” to 3” because the product was designed for light hazard applications. There really isn't any significant need for sizes larger than 3” in most of these installations. The only exception where you may have a need for larger than 3” for a light hazard application might be in a high-rise building. Typically, the risers or the main line supplying the water are larger, such as 6” or 8”. Even with a metal system, common practice is to reduce down to the smaller sizes that are used on each floor. With a CPVC system you would still do the reduction on each floor and simply transition to CPVC using a transition adapter such as a flange or grooved coupling adapter or maybe a reinforced threaded fitting.
Since CPVC was originated in the 1980's, would you say the market share for light hazard installations in the USA is now well over 50% CPVC?
Absolutely. CPVC has been so well accepted here in the USA. In the beginning it took some time for people to accept the change, to become more knowledgeable and comfortable with the CPVC. Once people learned about the capabilities, the ease of installation and the extensive approval process to get it UL listed, nearly everyone agrees that CPVC is a far superior fire sprinkler system.
Spears® Manufacturing fire sprinkler system product line, called FlameGuard®, includes UL listed pipe, fittings and cement. Do all manufacturers of UL listed CPVC piping systems make the pipe, the fittings and the cement?
No, that is where we are unique. We are the only manufacturer in the world that makes the entire system. We design and build our own molds. We extrude our pipe, injection mold our own fittings and produce our own solvent cement. We are the only manufacturer in the world that produces a complete system with pipe, fittings and the solvent cement.
Is there any reason to use metal piping on light hazard installations instead of CPVC?
Well, the simple answer is no, not really. For over 30 years in the US and numerous other countries it has been proven that CPVC is the best choice for a light hazard fire sprinkler system.
How one can source your products in India?
The Supreme Industries Limited is the only licensee for FlameGuard® CPVC system outside USA. They Manufacture pipes and fittings in India from Spears FlameGuard® compound.
Their pipes are UL listed and also approved by Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). We see India as a very potential market for this product.
“FlameGuard® is a registered trademark of Spears® Manufacturing Company. The Supreme Industries Ltd. is the exclusive FlameGuard® trademark licensee in the Republic of India”.