Five of the Best FACP Manufacturers
By Andrew Erickson
July 27, 2022
In our work as a manufacturer of fire-alarm monitoring systems, we obviously deal with many different FACP manufacturers. In fact, a large chunk of our engineering work is devoted to ensuring compatibility between our central System 3505 Prism LX server and the various fire panels that have been installed globally.
As a result of this, we have a strong familiarity with many of the most common FACP manufacturers. This list is not exhaustive, and it may miss some important industry players. Also, the commercial fire alarm systems I cover here are not the only thing these companies make. You'll find other fire protection systems, including detection systems and even simple smoke detectors, on offer. As I’ve mentioned, I’m still quite new at Digitize.
Even so, this list will be useful for you as you plan your purchase of the fire panels in your fire system. You’ll either monitor your panels with a recurring-fee service or with equipment you purchase once like our Prism LX server.
1) Carrier (formerly UTC / United Technologies Corporation)
For decades, "UTC" was among the most common names mentioned among industry professionals discussing FACP. Because old habits die hard, you’re still likely to hear it today – even though the official name has changed.
In April 2020, the independent Carrier was the result UTC’s spinning off of its "UTC Climate, Controls, & Security" subsidiary.
Whether by new name or old, you're bound to come across UTC/Carrier equipment out in the field.
As an indicator of their size, Carrier's website includes all 3 major product categories: residential, commercial, and industrial.
Residential is likely to be "far end" front-line equipment like smoke detectors and (increasingly) residential fire sprinklers.
Commercial buildings are where you're more likely to find Digitize systems in play. This includes office complexes, higher education (colleges and universities), hospitals and other medical facilities, large retail stores and malls, etc.
In a commercial context, fire systems clearly play their most important role in the event of a fire emergency. Don't forget, however, that commercial environments must be tailored to squeeze as much daily efficiency as possible. Carrier notes that their product lineup also helps you operate more efficiently on an everyday basis.
Lastly, Digitize also has a presence in industrial environments where UTC (now Carrier) is likely to be. This can include refining operations, oil rigs, cargo ships, and even fire monitoring for military - especially naval vessels.
2) Honeywell (esp. "Notifier" models)
Honeywell is another very large company with a wide product range. It’s fairly likely that the thermostat in your home is a made by Honeywell.
When it comes to FACP, Honeywell has several offerings:
- Notifier Inspire
- Conventional Releasing
As described by Honeywell themselves, there are several important benefits offered (the descriptions of each benefit are my own thoughts):
- Scalability: FACP solutions that are scalable might allow you to start with just a single panel. You can then gracefully add more later as you grow.
- Easy installation: As with almost any piece of telecom or monitoring gear, the installation expense is often equal to or higher than the purchase price of the system. It frequently makes sense to pay a little more if the ease of installation is there. As a manufacturer, we know that a poor user experience can lead to "just RMA it!" responses from your staff. That’s a waste of time for both of us. The install experience is important, indeed.
- Simple to use: Ease of use is similar to ease of installation, except even longer. If something is hard to install, at least that phase eventually ends. If something is difficult to use, that’s something you get to suffer through during the equipment’s entire lifetime.
- Capacity (up to 954 intelligent addressable devices on an expanded Notifier Inspire): When you run out of capacity, you end up forced into inelegant situations. I’ve seen people install two identical devices right next to each. This is purely a way to add extra capacity, and never something you’d do if you could avoid it. With devices that expand, whether by adding shelves or cards, you have options for future growth.
- Touchscreen: Traditional fire alarm control panels use simple lightboards to indicate failures within a zone. In today’s world, touchscreens are almost universal, making it possible to display much more granular information than was possible before. First responders can intuitively navigate within a few seconds to understand more about the situation before proceeding.
3) Johnson Controls
Johnson Controls self-describes their FACPs as "the heart of a robust and scalable fire and life-safety communications system." In particular, they focus on three key attributes:
- An FACP should be intelligent. This has multiple benefits. First, equipment that uses next-gen technology will tend to be more robust. New designs stamp out problems with older designs. Intelligent equipment can also be more cost effective, with legacy hardware replaced by more and more functions contained on chips and in software.
- An FACP should be flexible. Much like I discussed above, a product that is simple to install, simple to configure, and simple to expand gives you a superior experience. You’ve got plenty to do. Don’t make it harder by using inferior systems. That doesn’t do you or the people you serve any favors.
- An FACP should be intuitive. This includes some of the ease of use described above, but it also goes further. Something that is intuitive may also have multiple different interfaces. This allows you to program your fire panel in the way you find most natural. Maintenance operations are also accelerated by menus that simply make sense without extensive training requirements.
Hochiki has been building equipment for quite some time. As I write this, they’re celebrating their 50th year.
When it comes to fire alarms, Hochiki advertises both addressable and conventional fire alarm panel options.
Digging into their listed feature set a bit, we find several important concepts:
FACPs are available in a variety of loop counts. The more groups of sensors and other inputs you must monitor, the more loops you may need.
Loop current is also discussed. One model I reviewed listed 400mA. This may vary between installs, and the key is simply to match the amp output to the resistance/distance of your wire runs to ensure reliability.
Since addressable FACPs are the "smarter" variety (vs. conventional fire alarm systems), you’ll also find that the built-in management system includes programmable inputs and outputs. These have more than simple hard-coded logic. Programmable inputs give you flexibility when adding smoke detection, other fire detectors, security systems, and other auxiliary sensing. Programmable outputs can tie into fire extinguishing (use caution and consult an expert before using automation that can be dangerous), strobe lights, and any other type of fire safety response.
Similarly, panels can have programmable "function keys" that allow you to customize how the panel responds to specific button presses. This adds versatility, but make sure that you enforce standardization. Fire panels are inherently crisis-focused hardware. You can’t afford for firefighters and other first responders to be confused at a critical moment.
Hochiki also lists on their website specs a seemingly massive number of programmable if-then "cause and effect" entries per device. As with any monitoring box, these represent an important software layer that add flexibility without requiring you to understand a programming language.
Siemens has many different devices that you can use to build a fire detection and reporting system. I was instantly drawn to their "Cerberus" fire panels, simply due to the awesome name (look it up!).
The product brochure for this FACP line describes multiple models. Some are designed for smaller/simpler environments and are standalone. This makes things more intuitive for you when expansion and networking is not needed.
There are also panels that can be networked together for larger and more complex campuses.
There is also "Intelligent Voice Communication" that can deliver customized messages to a large group. This can be used for the routine announcements that we’ve all heard in airports and other venues. It can also include crisis announcements that we hope we never have to hear.
Vouching for their accuracy, Siemens also discusses their "No False Alarm Guarantee". This is apparently on the strength of having 26 profiles from which you can choose to target actual emergencies and eliminate false positives.
You can monitor all of your fire panels, regardless of manufacturers
There are plenty of fire alarm control panels out there. Most are good. I’ve mentioned some here, but there are many others.
Your job is to monitor all of your panels and other safety systems under one cohesive umbrella. You probably didn’t choose every FACP. You probably inherited many of them. That doesn’t change your job.You need to create a single, comprehensive fire alarm monitoring system. That’s what we help you do at Digitize.
All of our systems are devoted to either centralized fire alarm collection and display - or the bridging of legacy and modern and incompatible technologies to get everything into that central system.
Give me a call to get started now
We have a complex and scary-looking catalog of products, but don’t worry. All you need to do is call us and tell us what you’re trying to accomplish. We have the engineers to take it from there. We’ll design a perfect-fit system together.
To get started now, call Digitize engineers at 973-663-1011 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 16 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and...Read More