General Mills installs Notifier solution

Whether it’s for a new children’s cereal or a comprehensive fire and life safety system, Lauren Hoen, a Building Operations Manager for General Mills, understands that the recipe for success calls for only the finest ingredients.

Hoen is the building operations manager at the James Ford Bell (JFB) Technical Center, General Mills’ research and development facility located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Recently, Hoen was tasked with finding a fire safety system that could address the extensive challenges posed by the large and complex JFB campus.

The JFB Technical Center’s 690,000-sq.-ft. facility is home to numerous R&D labs and offices, sensory labs, and four pilot plants. The Center also houses a cereal science classroom and a comprehensive research library that contains over 800 journals, 20,000 books, 500 online databases, and over 1,400 food industry Internet resources.

The existing fire alarm system at JFB was nearly twenty years old, outdated, and no longer in production, making system upgrades impossible. Hoen had seen first-hand in his former job at Pillsbury that a NOTIFIER system could provide a powerful, effective, and flexible fire safety solution for a large company—one that easily adapted to growing or changing needs.

Hoen explained, "I installed my first NOTIFIER system at the Pillsbury R&D center in the early 1980’s. Upgrades and building expansions over the years have kept the system current to this day. In 2001, General Mills acquired Pillsbury and I was transferred to JFB. As a result of the merger, the main campus practically doubled in size. I’ve installed fire alarm systems at four different facilities over the years. From my experience, I knew that a NOTIFIER system would provide a seamless and consistent interface for the existing JFB campus."

To get the precise NOTIFER system he needed, Hoen chose to work with Low Voltage Contractors, a NOTIFIER distributor that’s been serving the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for twenty-two years. According to Dan Westberg, Operations Manager at Low Voltage Contractors, a systems integration company, NOTIFIER was a “natural fit” to address the complexities of this project.

"The JFB campus, with its size, unique needs, and unusual serpentine configuration, posed many challenges to maintaining fire safety. The building itself is designed with a primary "spine" with branches shooting off of it at many different points, some leading to entirely new and sizable building sections. The NOTIFIER product had the horsepower, ease of use, and zone control that this application demanded," Westberg said.

Westberg recommended that JFB go with solutions from NOTIFIER’s ONYX series, specifically, an NFS2-3030 intelligent fire alarm-voice evacuation control panel to be located in the facility’s incident command center, an ONYXWorks graphical workstation, and eighteen NFS2-640 intelligent fire alarm control panels strategically located throughout the building.

Hoen added, "I find the zoned voice evacuation components to be highly valuable. Our facility is very complex; there are product development labs, data centers, clean rooms, process pilot plants and production facilities, courtyards, employee services and amenities, and hundreds of offices. The NOTIFIER system gives us complete vision of and control over fire safety throughout this facility, and yet it is extremely intuitive to use. I particularly like the ONYXWorks graphical user interface—ease of use is critical in a fire alarm system today."

The primary NFS2-3030 control panel, which can support up to ten Signaling Line Circuits (SLCs) and 3,180 intelligent devices, is paired with the ONYXWorks graphical workstation as well as a forty-inch monitor in the JFB Incident Command Center. The ONYXWorks workstation integrates all the fire safety components into a single point of control. In conjunction with the monitor, it provides a graphical overview of conditions throughout the facility and allows all key personnel at the Incident Command Center to supervise and control fire safety throughout JFB. In addition, the system features an integrated speaker control panel for maximum communication capabilities with fire fighting personnel, and all building engineers and maintenance engineers have voice pagers to receive updates on alarm status.

The eighteen NFS2-640s are linked to the NFS2-3030, ONYXWorks, and to one another via NOTI-FIRE-NET, NOTIFIER’s intelligent fire alarm network. On the network, each panel operates independently, yet cohesively, as part of unified fire and life safety system. NOTI-FIRE-NET’s flexibility and expandability aligned perfectly with the needs of Lauren Hoen and JFB.

Hoen said, "One thing we particularly did not want was another proprietary system that could only be maintained and upgraded by a single vendor. We were fairly certain the system we wanted would be a NOTIFIER, because of its system architecture and design, as well as the variety of vendors available to provide any needed service."

JFB's fire safety system not only had to address all of Hoen's concerns, but it had to meet a huge array of regulatory as well as internal standards. Hoen explained, "As a food research facility, we fall under just about every regulatory agency one can imagine. Our designs and installations had to meet USDA, FDA and Department of Agriculture requirements, among many others, in addition to IBC, FM Global, UL and a very tough staff of fire and building professionals in our city.

"We also have very stringent internal standards within General Mills, including safety design, CAD standards, component wash-down requirements, personal protective equipment (PPE), installation staff requirements, HAZMAT, recycling requirements of removed equipment, and even procedures on how project purpose, construction impact and testing is communicated to GM employees. The NOTIFIER system and Low Voltage Contractors have exceeded my expectations while helping us to meet all these tough standards."

"The installation process took just about two years, and has been operational for just under a year," according to Hoen. Hoen continued, "We now have a sophisticated and user-friendly fire safety system at JFB, one with a seamless interface and entirely without the complexities and problems inherent to our previous system. The NOTIFIER system has also saved us substantial dollars, as training costs on this system are significantly lower."

The work is not yet done for Hoen and Low Voltage Contractors. Westberg concluded, "JFB is always updating and there is constant construction. NOTIFIER is certainly playing a role in these future developments, with system expansions, with a new voice system being added in select locations, and with a plan for exterior notifications on the building exteriors and grounds in 2009."

There may be some changes to the fire and life safety recipe at General Mills' JFB Technical Center, but the central ingredient will remain the same—NOTIFIER.

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