Skip to content
27/05/2014 / Graham Lowe

Quality over quantity

I’m Graham Lowe, sales director at Hochiki Europe, and I’d like to welcome you to a series of blogs where I, along with guest bloggers, examine the issues affecting the life safety industry.

In this blog I examine the thorny issue of fire detection product warranties and explain why the length of warranty is not the be all and end all. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate – so whether you agree or disagree, feel free to post your comments below.

For most of us a warranty acts as a security blanket so that if something should go wrong with our purchase, our hard earned cash is protected and we can get a replacement. Warranties have been a successful part of the buying and selling of goods for many years and we have become accustomed to thinking that the longer the time period they cover, the better.

This is, perhaps, understandable. However, I firmly believe that when it comes to selecting fire detection products a warranty should be just one aspect of the purchasing criteria, not the sole reason for selection. Unfortunately, we are in a situation where marketing departments have recognised that a warranty is a powerful device for attracting customers and are ignoring more important issues.

When it comes to fire detection a product failure can result in anything from a minor inconvenience to a catastrophic event. Therefore, the important consideration is not whether the manufacturer will provide a replacement product free of charge under a warranty, but rather the reliability of the product itself.

Have you ever stopped to consider the cost of a failure? Let’s consider the least expensive option – a detector fails and causes a false alarm. Can you put costs against evacuation of a building and subsequent loss of production, fire service callout charge, the labour cost of identifying the cause and replacing the faulty unit, and the cost of disruption to normal activities during replacement process? If you can’t, then let me put the financial implications into perspective for you – it is likely to be 10-20 times the cost of the replacement device alone. It’s also worth bearing in mind that for the worst-case scenario – a fire that is undetected or is detected late due to a faulty device – the costs are almost incalculable.

When considering these points, the issue of reliability suddenly becomes much more important than whether a three, five, 10 or even a lifetime guarantee is offered. In fact, I would go as far as to say that warranties simply detract from the more important point – whether the product is reliable.

This is not to say that a warranty is a waste of paper – far from it. However, it has been proven that if any failures are likely to occur they will happen within the first year of installation, so three years is a more than adequate period of time to be covered.

If you agree with my views so far, you will no doubt be wondering how to find out which manufacturer’s products offer the highest levels of reliability. Unfortunately, this is not easy as there is little available independent information identifying which manufacturer has the most reliable offering.

It is also worth noting that any vendor generated reliability statistics have to be treated with a degree of caution, as they will often be formed from the number of units that have been sent back to the manufacturer. What they won’t – and can’t – account for are those units that have simply been disposed of and replaced without making a warranty claim. However, some manufacturers carry out regular surveys amongst their customers and those that are confident about the quality of their products will have no problem in discussing their findings.

My advice would be to ask the right questions, seek testimonials and references, and compare and contrast what the industry has to offer. When you analyse a particular offering it might not be the bargain you expected.

The old saying that ‘you get what you pay for’ is as relevant to the purchase of fire detection products as anything else and it is reasonable to assume that cheaper products are more likely to cause problems. Buying on initial cost alone can prove to be a false economy as cheaper devices may have a much lower mean time to failure rate compared to a more expensive premium product. In addition, you’ll often find that it is the low cost end of the market that does not offer anything beyond a statutory warranty and therefore there is no comeback if the product causes problems.

At Hochiki Europe we take product reliability seriously and make an investment in technology to reduce ongoing costs and minimise unwanted alarms. For example, when it comes to transport hubs such as underground rail networks, for example, any remedial action should be avoided at all costs. To that end, some of our products include a compensation feature against dust or dirt build up that will automatically adjust the alarm threshold to account for any contamination within the sensor chamber, resulting in increased reliability.

Also, sophisticated single- and multi-sensor detectors are available which use algorithms to filter out temporary abnormal readings that, in the past, would have generated false alarms. Variable sensitivity products can be controlled via a time clock or an event such as a security alarm, providing, for instance, lower sensitivity when a building is occupied and an increase in sensitivity during an unoccupied period.

As these examples demonstrate, it is always advisable to scratch the surface and look at what a manufacturer can offer in order to prevent a high total cost of ownership. The upshot is that the duration of a warranty is no replacement for a reliable and robust product and should only form part of the bigger picture.

One Comment

Leave a Comment
  1. Jim Murdock / May 29 2014 1:31 pm

    Agreed Graham, excellent post

    We as company have seen both sides i.e ‘reliable and robust products” and “highly unreliable equipment”

    As a reference point could manufactures provide verified easily understood statics on warranty return rates plus the possibly giving brief reasons for failure? Hochiki I guess would welcome the marketing of said results with open arms, maybe Hochiki are already doing this but its not obvious currently to me. An Independent industry reliability league table is another thought….. We all need to side line unreliable equipment

    If the competition refused to do so it may by default separate the quality manufactures from the rest and give assistance to various parties on selection of reliable equipment

    Jim

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: