The Air Up There: And The Winner Is…

By: John Demeter
May 2010

Last month we polled our readers in a special e-blast and asked the question: Five years from now which “clean” fire suppression agent do you think will dominate the market?” There were three options – FM200 by DuPont, Novec 1230 by 3M and “other”.

This was not a scientific poll and we don’t think that the results are a serious indication of where the market will be in five years. The current interaction between business, politics and science pretty much assures that even the most sophisticated crystal ball will be hard pressed to predict who will win the battle for market share. Nevertheless, we were curious, since our business is entrenched in the fire protection market as is the business of our supplier and customer base.

Before we get to the results, we thought we’d share a few comments that we received.

One respondent had this to say:

“This is a really stupid email, you know that? There has already been enough damage to our industry because manufacturers bad mouth each other and use scare tactics in an attempt to market their products. It is real disappointing to see (you) play agent provocateur. Clean agent use is declining because of (expletive deleted) like this.”

We happen to agree with him! Not with the “stupid” part but certainly about the damage being caused by some equipment and agent suppliers who view the market as a zero-sum game. Either they win or their competitor wins and damn what happens to the overall market for special hazard suppression and the distributors who work this market every day.  In a recent blog exchange a supplier of Novec 1230 equipment suggested that FM200 should not be used because it was not “sustainable”  due to its environmental impact and that we should follow the example of  Switzerland, Austria and Australia and “ban HFC’s”.  Huh???

Another respondent said:

“This segment of the fire protection industry will not withstand another crisis like the one caused by the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer and the banning of halons. End users will not believe us this time. ‘FM200 is a global warmer??What will you be telling me about Novec 1230 in 5 years?’ It will be the end of the clean agent industry! Buyers will switch to detection and water. It’s a shame what is happening”.

We agree. During this year’s regional NAFED meetings, at which we were asked to discuss the Future of Clean Agents (you can find the presentation here)  a consensus seemed to develop that the debate over “which way forward” was indeed having an negative impact on the special hazard market for clean agent suppression. Manufacturers please take note!

Now, for the results:

FM 200 :          40%

Novec 1230: 36%

Other: 24%

Is FM200 the winner? We’re not really sure since the 4 point difference falls within the margin of error. But what it did tell us is that the industry is happy with its choices of agents to protect special hazards. Especially surprising was the showing of “other” that included several comments that inert gases and water mist were going to play a large role in the industry.

Perhaps what we are seeing is a disconnect between manufacturer and distributor on this subject. Perhaps we’re seeing manufacturers trying to steer a course in this industry that is not fully in sync with the end user and the distributor. Perhaps distributors are not being listened to enough.

Perhaps this industry needs a few more ‘Agent Provocateurs’!

To see a PDF of this article please click here: And The Winner Is (May 2010)

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