A fire in a critical control facility can put an entire sector of a mill out of commission. In an interrelated complex like the Savannah, Ga. Union Camp Corporation pulp and paper mill, such downtime could result in significant loss. Constructed in 1935, this is now the largest facility of its kind in the world. However, with more than sixty years of operation, it ’s not surprising the fire alarm system needed an upgrade.

The original fire alarm system was a network of manual pull stations. As designers upgraded and expanded the system over the years, it exceeded its useful capacity, and the system lost c entralization. Until recently, hundreds of devices, subsystems, local alarms, and conventional-zoned smoke detectors helped to secure the mill—many unable to monitor from any one central location.

To permit centralized monitoring of all subsystems, designers implemented extensive fiber-optic upgrades to Savannah’s telephone and data communications system. The mill’s management integrated a fire alarm infrastructure with these new cables. As time and budget permitted, they replaced local systems with loops and addressable devices for a completely intelligent peer-to-peer network.

With the old system, breaks in cables were difficult to find and could incapacitate much of the system. However, with the peer-to-peer network, the mill can distribute control to adjacent panels with no production loss and relocate the head-end-operating console at any one of the control nodes, offering flexibility for changes or critical operation.

Central monitoring requires fewer technicians than other systems. For example, inspectors checked each dry pipe sprinkler valve every day—now once a week is sufficient. Also, the mill can now perform many inspections electronically and automatically, from the central console.