SwRI First Standards Test Image

Automated ASTM-E84 Fire Test


Cherry Durfee – Solubit 

Rana-Lee Richards – Solubit

The Challenge

Automate a materials fire test procedure according to ASTM-E84 standards. 

ASTM-E84:  The standard test method for assessing the surface burning characteristics of building products to explore how the material might contribute to flame spread in the event of a fire. The test reports the Flame Spread index and Smoke Developed index of the tested product.

The Solution

A CompactDAQ-based modular system that can easily adjust to standard changes while guiding a technician through the test sequence. Solubit’s GMOD libraries create the desired modularity in the software architecture, thus allowing for easy extensibility and targeted changes that ensure maintainability and long system life.  The open-source code and thorough user guide promote full end-user ownership.

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Test operators in a control center viewing data

System Components

Hardware: cDAQ, Type K Thermocouples, TC Module (NI 9212), Digital Input Module (NI 9435), Analog Input Modules (NI 9205 and 9216)

Software: LabVIEW 2020

Data Types Captured: Temperature, Flame Distance, Light TRansmittance, Smoke, and Optical Density

Mitigating Human Error

This solution offers two operation modes: a regular Test Run Mode and a Heptane Calibration Test mode. These operation modes are equipped with file directories that facilitate version control. 

Within each test mode, a custom checklist is generated by the user and presented to the test technician to promote standardized test step sequencing. 

Active error handling in this feature is crucial to the goal of mitigating the human error inherent in the manual test process being automated by this system. When the test operator attempts a test step out of order an error appears guiding the user back to the correct step sequence. 

The software includes a Calibration Mode. This feature enables calibration data to be reviewed before implementing the new calibration calculations into the test sequence for standard testing. 

The Data is now collected in one file instead of residing in multiple files relying on manual compilation and analysis. Once the data has been reviewed, the files directory allows the new calibration data and calculations to be inserted into the test sequence seamlessly.

Customer Benefits

SwRI is able to reduce their test time, along with improved data fidelity and report logging organization. A calibration template is now automated, thus removing the need for the previously complex, manual calibration file log process. This also allows SwRI to continue testing while the calibration data is under review. 

The software portion of this test architecture is accessible and organized to allow for easy adjustments as standards change. The hardware is also designed with future adjustments in mind. Sensors can be added or removed from the system. 

Another benefit of this automation process for SwRI has been the de-siloing of test information as well as data. The software UI allows the operator to record their test observations, and this documentation can be distributed.

Solubit’s Support-Driven Approach

Our developers went the extra mile to create an in-depth user guide for SwRI. Hanging off a system to the customer is a process that Solubit takes thought for. The goal always being that the customer is equipped to own and maintain that system long-term. This user guide is a valuable resource delivered along with the base code to SwRI.

Southwest Research Institute
Southwest Research Institute

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) Fire Technology Department conducts standard tests (below) in accordance with strict standard fire test methods used in the construction, transportation, and public utilities industries.