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Engineered for success

18 April 2017

Mark Sennett sits down with C-TEC’s managing director Andrew Foster who explains how manufacturers of fire detection systems are having to change their approach in the UK.

C-TEC is one of the largest remaining independent manufacturers of fire alarm components in the UK but for those not familiar with the company can you tell us more about your business?

For the past few years C-TEC has been moving towards manufacturing all elements of a fire alarm system and not just the control and indicating equipment. In many European countries they have full system approvals and an increasing number of clients are now looking for fully approved systems. The UK is pretty unique in that you can put a sounder from Company A, a detector from Company B, a break glass point from Company C and a control panel from Company D together as an installer and expect them to work. In the vast majority of cases these systems do work but there are certain situations where they don’t, especially in relation to things like analogue addressable systems, where technically the communications are more complicated. The manufacturer of the protocol issues various different documents and requirements which the panel manufacturer has to interpret. When something doesn’t work, it’s usually the panel manufacturer that gets the blame as the panel is deemed to be the most intelligent and controlling part of the system. 

I have a certain amount of empathy with foreign systems manufacturers who put together an entire system and say if anything’s wrong with the system it’s our fault. The UK market is moving towards this model of a single company system and that has been evident with recent acquisitions and mergers so that manufacturers could have a single system offering. 

The Construction Products Regulations (CPR) actually dictates that the installer is the system provider not the manufacturer. They are responsible for the compatibility of all the products in the system and if they’re not compatible it’s their fault. A lot of people don’t realise this.

As you mentioned, C-TEC is probably the largest independent provider of fire alarm components in the UK and soon we will be manufacturing all elements of a fire alarm system. Indeed, we are on target to fulfill this ambition by the end of 2017. The consequence of this is that we are spending an enormous amount of money on certifications, up to £1million in this year alone in test fees. The results are now starting to emerge, for instance we already have conventional fire detectors and addressable Visual Alarm Devices (VADs) that are certified to EN54. As we start to introduce full analogue addressable systems we will become even more successful. That strategy and long-term attitude is because C-TEC is an engineering-based business run and owned by an engineer whose vision extends beyond next year’s budget. Because I’ve been in the industry a long time I can see what’s happening and this gives us a vision that some other organisations don’t seem to have. 

In your opinion, what sets C-TEC apart from its competitors?

We don’t undersell our products in the marketplace and we’ve been around for a considerable amount of time in a conservative industry. Our unique selling points are that we have enough stock to fulfill orders quickly, we are competitively priced, our products are good, tough, durable and made in Britain, we are an independent manufacturer and when you shake our hand to do business with us it means something. We will always go out of our way to look after our customers. We supply equipment into 70 countries and as our systems come to market there will be opportunities to enter new territories.

You’ve invested a lot of money into research and investment, can you tell us more about how you’ve invested in this area and what have been the results?

In the past 24 months, we’ve released a range of high-performing EN54-23 certified visual alarm devices and invested in an applied physics department. I think we are probably the only fire alarm company that designs and manufactures its own lenses totally in-house.

We’re currently working on a very advanced hybrid digital power supply that will measure battery life automatically and tell you when there’s a need to change the batteries instead of every four years, except where required by standards. 

There’s also been a big investment in people and a mechanical investment in purchasing rapid prototype machines. This has been an unbelievable facilitator for us as it enables us to start a machine running overnight and the next morning we’ve got a physical prototype to look at. We’ve also been very focused on bringing our CAST system to market, which we believe is the world's most-advanced distributed intelligence fire alarm system.

What is the next big project in your product pipeline?

As I was just touching on, without doubt the launch of our new CAST addressable fire system. This will be a game-changer for us. The key features of the system is that it will allow us to go up to 2,000 devices per loop (but we’ve restricted it to 256), we can get 100% more power out of the loop than most existing systems, an infinite number of device type codes meaning it’s not restricted by protocol to the device type, very easy to extract power from the loop, it’s not a half-duplex system but a three-quarters-duplex system in that our devices can respond to messages requested by the fire panel and can interpret and act on that information. 

C-TEC also offers CPD-accredited seminars can you tell us more about these?

We train and educate customers and potential customers on what they need to know in relation to our systems as either installers or designers. We teach them what their responsibilities are as they often don’t realise what they are getting into. 

C-TEC now offers free CPD-accredited seminars across the UK and is holding 10 this year. The demand for these is so high we may need to put on additional courses. They are aimed at not only installers but also consultants and risk assessors. Each session offers 5 CPD hours for delegates. You can find out the dates of these sessions at our website (www.c-tec.com)

Our company mantra ‘You’re safe with C-TEC’ is our way of reassuring customers that our products are compliant with all relevant standards and that they are safe dealing with us. We have a reputation going back years that we supply equipment that’s up to a standard and down to a price but that doesn’t mean to say the product isn’t sophisticated. It’s a damn sight harder to manufacture a product up to a standard and down to a price than it is to come out with a compliant product and enter it in to the market at twice the cost. 

Andrew Foster is managing director of C-TEC and Mark Sennett is editor of Fire and Security Matters magazine