An interview with the co-inventors of Self-Test

Gent Blog Post

Honeywell’s patented Self-Test technology was honoured by the 2023 Edison Awards with a Gold Medal for innovation. The Self-Test series of fire detectors enables both smoke and heat fire detectors to be tested remotely using a compact module that fits inside the footprint of existing detectors.

Self-Test co-inventors, Ben Wolf, and Mike Barson have shared their journey to innovating Self-Test in an interview with the team at Honeywell Fire:

Why did you think of the need to innovate the testing of smoke devices?
“I work closely with the talented engineers that we have at Honeywell and there was a development which I thought was interesting - it was a super sensitive detector. We started looking at self-verification as a form of monitoring to ensure the detector would function correctly and this led to experimenting with resistors to create a small trace of smoke to perform a functional test in the detector, which worked, and we got the funding to prove the concept”, says Ben.
Ben continues, “Testing fire detectors is essential to any fire system to ensure that they will work when required to save lives. We know that the fire industry often struggles to fully perform the testing required by the code of practice in buildings due to many practical reasons such as access restrictions or the impact on occupants and processes. We thought this technology could really help overcome these issues and help to achieve 100% functional and compliant testing. We now have an innovative technology that can add huge value to the industry and ultimately make buildings safer.”

What were the key challenges faced during the innovation of Self-Test?
Michael says, “The main challenges were finding a suitable material for the optical Self-Test aerosol generation, which would not evaporate over a long service life, drip-out in transport, be chemically stable, non-toxic, and would not contaminate the smoke chamber with deposits and produce many repeatable tests. After testing many materials, we finally used a high temperature paraffin wax heated with a coil to produce an aerosol, which then enters the smoke chamber and is blown-out via the smoke entry points.”

With Self-Test now on its way to market, how do you feel that this new technology will be adopted?
“We need to work hard to make sure that everyone really understands the value that it drives in terms of efficiency and safety. This technology adds value in the life of an installed fire system, which everyone can benefit from. We are hoping that this will disrupt our current offerings in a big way because we really believe that this technology is a much-needed step in the right direction for us, the industry, and building owners and occupiers. Change is always inevitable, and we feel that we have invented a technology that is industry leading and market disrupting, but in a good way,” says Ben.

What was the Eureka moment when you realised that this technology could really work?
Ben says, “It was after we proved that you could use this technology to do consistent testing of detectors and we could consistently receive an indication that the smoke entry points were clear from any kind of blockages. It ticked every box and the realisation sunk in that we now had a solid technology and process that completely automated the functional testing requirements of a fire system.”

Looking to the future, where you do predict the fire industry will innovate further?
“Through connected services there is the ability to understand big data and how it can be used in improving life safety systems. There are many systems that go into a building that can all become much more efficient when connected through the cloud. Fire systems are typically installed throughout the building and can be the portal to connect buildings effectively. We are also discovering that sustainability and net zero opportunities can be realised through the adoption of connected services”, says Ben.

Which industries do you both think will benefit the most from Self-Test?
“Every building can benefit but there are some sectors that will find significant benefit such as healthcare, hospitality, correction facilities, educational buildings/student accommodation, and manufacturing plants. All of these verticals have unique access complexities and protocols to comply with.”

And finally, Michael, how did it feel to win the Edison Gold Award?
“On a personal level it was an incredibly positive experience, and it does make you feel proud to win and be in the company of the other category winners and fellow finalists. It was very interesting to talk to other people about their businesses and ideas. The process encourages you to reflect on what we do and what the future could be.”