Engineering Safety: How AutoStore Protects Warehouse Inventory Against Fires
E-commerce is exploding at a time of strained global supply chains, making it more important than ever for warehouses to operate at maximum efficiency. Solutions like automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) are the answer for many owners looking to improve delivery times. But it's important to make your facility safe, before all else. Otherwise, your automation investment could fail.
AutoStore understands risk aversion is top priority for our customers. That's why we focus so heavily on fire safety. Through strategic design, meticulous testing, and continuing education, we've identified the best fire protection options for our system.
How does AutoStore ensure the safety of its products?
Fire safety is built into AutoStore products. Here's how:
- The Bins are stacked directly on top of each other and are solid-walled. While it is more likely a fire would begin outside the Grid, the AutoStore design limits the amount of air inside the system, resulting in a slow growth rate while forcing the fire to grow vertically. This is important because a fire that grows skyward will trigger ceiling-level sprinklers to suppress its development at an earlier stage.
- AutoStore Robots are constructed of metal and fire-retardant materials. Additionally, if a fire is detected, the Robots are programmed to immediately stop work and move to a designated holding area until a fire is extinguished and operations can resume.
- AutoStore fire tests proved that ceiling-level sprinklers are a good fire protection alternative. A big advantage are the the flues of the Grid that are designed to maximize water penetration to the lowest levels of the system, allow for rapid vertical heat release, and prevent a collapse of Bins in the event of a fire.
What third-party testing protocols does AutoStore use?
AutoStore ensures system safety through testing and certification by independent third parties. Keep in mind that electrical issues are a leading cause of fires within warehouses. That's why AutoStore adheres to the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)’s System for Conformity Assessment Schemes for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components (IECEE) guidelines.
Efficiency, Product Safety, ROI, Reliability, Flexibility
These are all important considerations when researching and investing in warehouse automation. In our Questions for Vendors, we walk through questions to ask warehouse automation solution vendors and why these matter.
How much fire safety testing has AutoStore conducted?
Since 2009, AutoStore has completed over 100 fire tests on small, intermediate, and large scales to determine the best strategy to protect the system in the event of a fire. Protection options such as foam, hypoxic air, control mode, and early suppression fast response (ESFR) sprinklers were tested to verify their effectiveness.
Through strategic design, meticulous testing, and continuing education, AutoStore has identified the best fire protection options valid for its system.
AutoStore works with firefighters to develop protection method
While sprinklers are indispensable, everyone knows firefighters actually put out the flames. The AutoStore system is dense and doesn't have aisles, making it difficult for firefighters to move around during an emergency. That's why we work directly with first responders on how to put out a fire within the system.
In October 2020, AutoStore collaborated with Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) to develop a safe and efficient method for disassembly of the Grid and removal of Bins using everyday equipment found on ladder trucks. The initial phases of the project included discussions with experts, and introduction to the AutoStore system, and development of a disassembly method.
Previous fire tests showed that the Grid and the top track are stable during disassembly, which is important for safety. Together with UL, we developed a method to obtain access through outer medium-density fiberboard (MDF) panels.
The method that was chosen after several attempts showed that the MDF approach reduced the risk of falling objects during disassembly, allowing fire crews to safely identify and eliminate the fire source of the fire. To verify the developed method, 19 firefighters from all across the United States were invited to participate in a fire test scenario.
Prior AutoStore fire tests proved that ceiling-level sprinklers suppress and control fire, but we wanted to thoroughly understand how to achieve final extinguishment. In early 2022, AutoStore started on a concept with a ceiling-level sprinkler at heights up to 30 feet (9.1 meters). We achieved full extinguishment for three different ignition locations according to sprinkler placement. In the test series, ignition was at floor level, with three partially filled cells adjacent to the ignition source.
Above the ignition source, three mock-up robots covered the three partially filled cells. The ignition was located between four, between two, and under one sprinkler(s). Final extinguishment was achieved for all three scenarios, resulting in no need for additional manual intervention. In all scenarios, there was limited damage to the system.
It's clear that the global supply chain crisis is here to stay while e-commerce remains hot. Owners have to innovate to keep their warehouses fast, agile, and productive. But speed should never come at the cost of safety.
If you're transitioning to an automated warehouse system, make sure you have a fire safety plan in place before startup. Test the equipment under all kinds of fire scenarios, and make sure both your employees and local first responders understand the best firefighting methods.