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Straight from the top

13 March 2018

FSM managing editor Mark Sennett sits down with Patol sales director Kelvin Miller who explains how his firm are leading the way In protecting hazardous premises such a power plants.

Can you tell us a little bit about your career with Patol and your professional background?

I have been working in the fire and gas detection industry for 40 years, ever since finishing an electronics apprenticeship at a government establishment. My first few years were spent offshore as a gas detection commissioning engineer, and in later years in project management.

I first joined Patol back in 1987 as a sales engineer and was able to use my previous experience and knowledge from within the industrial fire sector to gain the trust of specifying engineers within the power generation, offshore and rail industries.

I left Patol as sales manager in 1994 and enjoyed another 18 years of sales related roles within the fire industry, including extensive experience in senior sales and business development positions in aspirating smoke detection (ASD), before returning to Patol six years ago as sales director.

Patol had changed its business model during my absence, moving away from turnkey projects to concentrate on product supply to the fire trade, but with a strong emphasis on engineering support. This is a model which continues today.

 What are Patol’s most memorable successes over the last decade?

As part of our export drive, Patol made the decision to employ the first direct sales employee in India with the appointment of a head of sales for India some 10 years ago. Up until then we had been selling our Linear Heat Detection Cable (LHDC) and Infrared (IR) Conveyor Heat Sensors into India through a single company, but this change increased our sales into the expanding power generation and Industrial markets ten-fold. 

Subsequently, we have further extended our team in India to reflect its importance to us as a market. As part of our development strategy, we appointed an additional employee with particular expertise in the field of power generation. He brought significant experience, having worked for 33 years for the National Thermal Power Corporation – the organisation that operates under the Indian Government’s Ministry of Power and which is responsible for the generation of electricity and allied activities.

Almost three years ago we became the Securiton authorised UK distributor for Aspirating Smoke Detection (ASD) products. This has been a departure from Patol only selling its own products and, in that short period, it has already gained momentum within the UK market, providing ASD systems for numerous projects, including recent applications which include Northumberland Prison and Gressingham Duck Freezers and Warehouses.

 What is your vision for the future of the business?

Patol will continue to cement our position as a leading supplier of specialist industrial and commercial fire detection products in the domestic and international markets. We will continue to invest in new products and the necessary EN and international standards to assist with our continued growth and standing within the fire trade market.

We are focussed on supplying our products and providing engineering support based on years of experience within various applications.

We have recently added Aspirating Smoke Detection and Thermal Imaging Fire Detection to our range of products. This latter development is already providing opportunities in the waste recycling market where the threat of fire is particularly high, illustrated by the figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which has shown a doubling of the number of fatalities between 2015/2016 and 2016/2017.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the fire safety sector today?

Many operators and owners of buildings and plant see fire detection as an unwanted expense during the design and build of a project. We rely on governments, regulatory bodies and the Insurance industry to maintain and raise the standards and codes of practice around the world.

It is up to all of us to help make a difference by actively engaging with influencers globally to press home the importance of fire detection/protection systems to help prevent loss of life and property.

 What is the biggest challenge facing your business over the next few years?

Many of our products are supplied into the thermal power generation industry, particularly for new build projects around the world. We are conscious of the global review in the use of coal for power generation, which will lead to fewer coal-based new build projects. However, alternative fuels are being introduced – biomass being a prime example – bringing new opportunities in the power generation sector. We are also expanding our horizons and increasingly supplying our products into other areas such as mining, vehicle engine bays and trains, recognising that the advantages offered in coal-based applications are equally applicable in other areas.

 Do you foresee any major changes in the fire sector over the next five years?

I think there is a need to develop and maintain the expertise of those within the industry with professional qualifications, while also making the industry more visible and attractive to those seeking a career in the fire sector. 

A lot has been achieved in recent years to promote higher standards and qualifications, but I think there is still a long way to go. A lot of expertise currently exists within the fire industry and we need to make sure that this is passed onto the next generation so that methods of ensuring life safety and protecting premises from the threat of fire continue to evolve and develop.

 What is Patol doing to maximise production and supply chain capabilities?

Patol invested in new premises two years ago with new production facilities and increased warehouse space to extend our stock-holding capabilities and to enable us to continue to grow as a business. The relocation was deliberately only a short distance from our previous site so that we could retain our experienced personnel and continue to use local suppliers with whom we have established excellent relationships. The move effectively doubled the size of our manufacturing facilities, including the provision of a purpose-built ‘heat room’ to allow in-house testing of our LHDC range.

LHDC is particularly difficult to manage in terms of stock levels, as typical orders range from 100m up to 50,000m and manufacturing lead times can be several weeks. However, although we currently have ten different cables in our range, we can normally provide small orders next day and larger orders within a week. 

Is there any exciting technology in the pipeline?

The basic technology on which our LHDC is based has remained constant, providing tried and tested performance for numerous applications since its development in the 1970s. We are currently investing in a research and development programme to enhance our LHDC capabilities and the controllers to include many new features. 

The Aspirating Smoke Detection systems are continuously being enhanced with new accessories and options such as heated sampling points for cold store warehouses, a new automatic pipe blow through unit for dusty areas and new enhanced IP rated units for applications such as indoor farming environments.

We have recently introduced thermal imaging fire detection cameras to our range. This technology is relatively new and as such there are currently no EN standards with which the technology has to comply. However, it is being installed in applications such as waste recycling plants where it is accepted by the recycling industry bodies and, importantly, by the insurers. 

 Do you have a favourite project you have been involved with at Patol? 

As I have twice worked at Patol, the projects that I am most proud of are those that were installed over 25 years ago when I was first employed and are still operational today. We have recently upgraded a number of nuclear power stations where the LHDC systems were originally installed in the 1980s. These upgrades were fitted with the latest LHDC controllers which are now connected to the originally installed LHDC, which has proved to be reliable and electrically stable since the first installations.

A good example of the robust nature of this technology is the Hinkley Point B Nuclear Power Station. The facility became operational in 1976 and represents around one percent of the UK’s total power output. The LHDC system was originally installed in the 1990’s with 140 local zone monitoring units dispersed throughout to protect Hinkley B’s cable flats. A project undertaken in 2013 saw an upgrading of the system to make it easier to identify and locate a potential incident through the site’s fire alarm, with a two-stage alarm activation for sprinklers located throughout the cable flats.

 What do you think sets Patol apart from its competitors?

Our sales and operations teams are dedicated to customer service. Sometimes it is the small differences that impact the most. For example, our flexibility to provide our customers with what they require, such as LHDC cut to length instead of only providing fixed length reels, is a service that our customers respect. 

We treat every order, whether large or small, with the same commitment to detail, which ensures the repeat business we strive for. Long term product reliability has always been a big factor in the development of our products, together with backwards compatibility on new products. In testament to our robust designs, our LHDC controllers have gained SIL2 approval, even though it was not part of the original design brief. 

Kelvin Miller is sales director at Patol. For more information, visit www.patol.co.uk

Free CPD Seminar 

Kelvin will be part of a panel debate on Passive Fire Protection - Complying with the law at the Fire Safety Event in the NEC, Birmingham on 12 April. The session starts at 10:30am and is not only FREE to attend but also CPD accredited. Passive fire protection is key to stopping fires spreading through buildings. In this session you will hear key risk assessment tips on how to identify passive fire protection issues and how to identify suitable passive fire protection products for a range of different scenarios and premises.

Register for FREE to attend the Fire Safety Event (10-12 April 2018) and you can also reserve your seat in this or any other seminar session. For more information or to register visit www.firesafetyevents.com