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Understanding the Different Types of Clean Agent Fire Suppression Systems

A clean agent fire suppression system is designed to minimize damage by acting quickly, suppressing a fire at the inception stage before it can grow. These systems are unique in that they are safe to use in occupied spaces, require no cleanup after discharge, don’t damage sensitive documents or equipment, and are environmentally friendly.

A major differentiator between different clean agent fire suppression systems is the type of clean agent being used. The most common types will make use of either chemical agents like FM-200™ OR 3M™ Novec™ 1230 or inert gases like nitrogen, argon, and carbon dioxide.

Generally, these systems that utilize clean agents are suited to situations where traditional water or foam systems would damage equipment or assets, like server rooms, electrical cabinets, data storage, and telecommunications systems, precision machines, repositories holding records or files, artwork, and so on.

Relatively recently, the patent for 3M ™ Novec™ 1230 expired, so it’s worth revisiting what Novec™ 1230 is and identifying the key points by which you might want to evaluate generic alternatives that hit the market. We’ll break it down, starting with a brief history of 3M’s patent.

Novec™ 1230 Patent History

3M originally manufactured FK-5-1-12 under the brand name Novec™ 1230. Until 2020, 3M held a patent on FK-5-1-12, but the patent expired on July 31, 2020. With the patent expired, customers may be tempted to assume that generic versions are going to be identical to Novec™ 1230.

In 3M’s own words, though, Novec™ 1230 is “more than just a molecule” and “a clean agent you can trust,” based on their manufacturing process, fluorochemical expertise, and reputation as a reliable, trusted supplier.

Now that 3M’s patent has expired, the landscape is changing. With the patent over a year expired now, more generic versions are expected to emerge. There’s a lot at stake when you’re thinking about fire suppression—so it’s important to make sure the solution you choose is of high quality, and that the manufacturer can back their product.

Assessing Generic FK-5-1-12 Products vs. Novec™ 1230

It can be difficult to know how to assess generic alternatives, especially with 3M’s patent expiring only relatively recently. The sheer amount of resources at 3M’s disposal—as well as their brand reputation, existing relationships with OEMs and customers, and global network of sales and marketing experts—can make it difficult for new products to enter the market.

These may well be worth considering, for cost-saving or other reasons—but it can be difficult to get to the facts, even to know what points to consider/compare. So, with that in mind, here are some questions you can ask in order to see how well a generic alternative stacks up to 3M’s tried-and-true Novec™ 1230.

“How does the FK-5-1-12 manufacturing process compare to that of Novec™ 1230?”

3M boasts a “proprietary manufacturing process” behind Novec™ 1230. What does that mean, though? The questions of how it’s made, in itself, maybe a differentiator from your point of view. If you’re interested in the specifics of how a generic FK-5-1-12 is manufactured, just ask or request relevant documentation.

“What kind of warranty do you offer? What’s covered, and for how long?”

3M supports Novec™ 1230 with a 20-year Blue Sky Warranty. Through this warranty, 3M promises protection against regulatory bans or restrictions based on factors like Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) or Global Warming Potential (GWP). You can ask about the generic manufacturer’s warranty, and then compare it with the robust warranty behind Novec™ 1230.

“What is your product’s Class A MEC / Class C MDC / Relative Agent Mass Required?”

Generic FK-5-1-12’s fluid profile may not match that of Novec™ 1230. While generic manufacturers are likely to continue to close the gap on Novec™ 1230, they may not quite have the formula perfected—generic agents tend to have a higher concentration (by as much as 13%), meaning more fluid is required (again, by 13%). For reference, here are a few quick points of comparison showing Novec™ 1230 advantages vs generic FK-5-1-12:

  • Class A, Minimum Extinguishing Concentration (MEC)
    • Novec™ 1230: 3.34%
    • Generic FK-5-1-12: 3.75%
  • Class C, Minimum Design Concentration (MDC)
    • Novec™ 1230: 4.5%
    • Generic FK-5-1-12: 5.1%
  • Relative Agent Mass Required
    • Novec™ 1230: 1000
    • Generic FK-5-1-12: 1130

For these items, you can ask direct questions. Knowing Novec™ 1230’s specifications, you can simply ask the generic manufacturer questions that will uncover straightforward points of comparison.

“What can you tell me about the extent of the safety testing your product undergoes?”

3M’s impressive resources enable rigorous safety testing and compliance, and generic FK-5-1-12 manufacturers may not have the same level of sophistication when it comes to safety measures. They also have over 50,000 installations under their belt, creating an extensive track record. Regardless, other suppliers may impress you, so don’t hesitate to ask about this. Taking a look at 3M’s Novec™ 1230 MSDS (safety data sheet) will provide a more granular understanding, which you can then ask more specific questions to other manufacturers, to see how everything compares.

“Is your product manufactured in the USA? Are your facilities ISO9001 and 14001-registered?”

Novec™ 1230 is manufactured in the United States, at a facility that is ISO9001 and 14001-registered, meaning these facilities conform to both quality management and environmental management regulations. While they may not be as thorough as 3M’s, it’s worth understanding to what extent these alternatives can compete—and it’s reasonable to expect them to be in compliance with these requirements, so ask specifically, and directly.

What is the Right Fire Suppression System for You?

Whether considering what type of clean agent or inert gas fire suppression system makes sense for your business, clean agent systems pose no significant risk to sensitive equipment, people, or the environment. Clean agents require no cleanup after discharge which prevents costly disruption and downtime, saving you both time and money.

Talk to a suppression specialist today.


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