Remote Peace of Mind

June 16, 2023

Fire suppression systems are increasingly taking advantage of the technological advances that allow for remote data collection and monitoring of the system. Any building or installation that has a fire suppression system can realize significant benefits from the ability to continuously monitor the health of the system. This capability is particularly crucial for sites that are unmanned or in remote or difficult-to-reach locations.

Human warehouse workers are increasingly being replaced by automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS). These systems use robots to pick inventory from high-density storage systems. Power substations, offshore liquid natural gas and oil rigs, telecom shelters, and stationary energy storage systems (ESS), which store energy from renewable sources like wind or solar in lithium-ion batteries, are all examples of sites that need fire suppression systems that can be remotely monitored in real time. A fire at any of these sites could result in a partial or total loss of property and endanger the lives of any on-site personnel. Case in point: in 2019, a warehouse using ASRS in Andover, England, suffered a fire that required the evacuation of neighboring properties and resulted in the total loss of the facility.

Properly maintaining all aspects of the fire suppression system is necessary to ensure that the system is capable of extinguishing a fire. In systems that rely on gaseous extinguishing agents, the cylinders storing these agents must contain the correct amount of agent. If there is too little agent, the system may not be able to extinguish a fire.

Fire suppression systems are typically inspected only twice per year. Faults might only be detected during these biannual inspections, jeopardizing the efficacy of the system. More than that, a fault that could eventually result in complete system failure, such as a leaking valve that slowly discharges the system, may not be detected between biannual inspections. This means that repairs may only be made because a fault was discovered during inspection or after a system failure. But with the appropriate sensors integrated into key components, even minor faults can be detected as they occur and corrected before the system is rendered inoperable.


TLX Fire & Security has been working to bring innovative solutions to market so that fire suppression systems can be easily monitored both on-site and remotely. These solutions can help improve system safety by reducing human error and alerting technicians to the need for maintenance between inspections and before system failure.

Most methods for determining the weight of the system’s extinguishing agent require technicians to either manually measure the level of the agent in the cylinders or weigh the cylinders. Manually measuring the level of the agent creates the potential for errors because the weight of the agent must be determined by making calculations using a conversion table. These calculations must account for ambient temperature because thermal expansion and contraction of the agent can affect the level reading. Weighing the cylinders often involves removing them from the system, which may result in system downtime. These cylinders are heavy, and this can create potential safety concerns for technicians.

TLX Fire & Security has taken advantage of advances in integrated sensing technology to overcome the limitations of both of these methods. They have developed a range of continuous weight monitoring solutions that can provide both on-site and remote monitoring of the agent in the system’s cylinders in real time. These solutions include the Liquid Level Sensor, the Suspended Weight-Monitoring System, and the Platform Weight-Monitoring System.

TLX’s Liquid Level Sensor replaces methods that rely on manual level measurements by automatically displaying the thermally compensated weight of the agent without the errors that can be caused by manual measurements. The Liquid Level Sensor is comprised of a sealed tube with a magnetic float mounted on the outside of the tube. This tube is installed in the cylinder before it is filled with the extinguishing agent. There is another magnetic float inside the tube that moves with the float outside the tube. These rise and fall together as the fluid level in the cylinder changes to provide an accurate measurement of the fluid level inside the cylinder. A sensor at the end of the tube at the top of the cylinder sends float position and temperature data to a microcontroller that can be preprogrammed with a conversion table for that specific cylinder and extinguishing agent configuration. The microcontroller then determines the weight of the extinguishing agent.

The weight can be displayed directly at the cylinder on a digital display or transmitted to the fire control panel through a hardwired or wireless connection. Data can also be accessed remotely or downloaded using a USB connection. Additionally, a simple GO/NO-GO status can be displayed with a green/red LED to indicate the status of the cylinder.

Weight Monitoring System

For systems that require the weighing of the cylinders, TLX offers two solutions that eliminate the cumbersome and potentially dangerous process of manually weighing each cylinder. Their Suspended Weight-Monitoring System and Platform Weight-Monitoring System monitor cylinder weight in real time and are accurate within 100 grams. If the weight falls below a designated threshold, an alarm can be sent directly to the fire control panel. Up to 20 weighing units can be connected in series and individually addressed to one central weight control panel, which can display individual cylinder weights and alarm conditions.

The Suspended Weight-Monitoring System has a maximum load capacity of 230 kg per weighing unit, and the Platform Weight-Monitoring System has a maximum load capacity of 500 kg per weighing unit. It also features mechanical lockouts on the weighing platform to prevent load cell damage during cylinder loading.

These weight monitoring solutions are currently configured for on-site monitoring, but since the data they collect and monitor can be sent to the fire control panel, technicians can monitor them remotely through any fire suppression system that allows remote access. If desired, TLX can configure these solutions for wireless connectivity, enhancing the remote monitoring of the fire suppression system.

Determining the weight of the extinguishing agent is not the only place that TLX Fire & Security has implemented integrated sensing. TLX has included integrated supervision into all of their electric actuators for fire suppression to meet regulatory standards for supervision. They produce a range of electric actuators to accommodate any system with operating pressures as high as 300 bar. TLX also produces a patented actuator specifically designed for hazardous locations.

Systems designed for hazardous locations have special design requirements and are typically configured in a way that includes multiple potential leak points. These systems might also require an added enclosure to prevent accidental ignition of any flammable substances in the atmosphere.

Explosion Proof Actuator with Supervision

Because of the complexities of these systems, TLX had received numerous inquiries about a possible solution that would satisfy hazardous location requirements. In response, they developed the patented Explosion Proof Actuator with Supervision, which is UL HazLoc, ATEX, and IECEx certified and meets NFPA requirements for supervision.

The Explosion Proof Actuator with Supervision is uniquely designed as a top-mounted linear actuator so that it does not act as a pressure vessel on the discharge valve, limiting the potential number of leak points. Specific design features and material grade selections allow the actuator to act as its own enclosure. This eliminates the need for additional components and simplifies the system. All potential flame paths are specifically designed to prevent flame egress in the event a spark were to ignite any gas found within the actuator. The actuator’s internal components can be configured during production to accommodate any system’s operating pressure up to 300 bar.

Continuous monitoring of any of TLX’s electric actuators is also possible using their Event Recorder. The Event Recorder provides a timestamped log of events to track system status and record maintenance. The Event Recorder can measure voltage, current, the position of the firing pin, and whether the actuator is fully installed on the discharge valve to ensure that the system is capable of firing. It can log when the actuator has been removed for maintenance, when the actuator has been fired, and X, Y, and Z shock axes. This can help determine if the actuator was manually or electrically activated or if an accidental discharge occurred due to an impact to the cylinder, perhaps from a forklift moving equipment through the facility. System fire and system test data can be logged for liability and insurance records. All of this data can be accessed either on-site through a wired connection or remotely through a wireless connection.

As the fire suppression industry moves further into the future, the need for sites to have fire suppression systems that can be continuously monitored on-site and remotely is becoming ever more important. Remote locations, sites that rely heavily on automation, and stationary ESS all need fire suppression systems that are fully operational. Taking advantage of technology that allows not only continuous monitoring but also helps reduce the risk of human error in assessing the data that is collected is vital for protecting both personnel and property.

This article was originally published by International Fire Buyer in June 2023