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National Fire Research Laboratory: Infrastructure and Commissioning Project

Summary:

At present, there is no research facility in the world that allows scientists and engineers to conduct research on the response of real-scale structural systems to realistic fire and mechanical loading under controlled laboratory conditions. The National Fire Research Laboratory (NFRL), currently under construction and slated to be completed by the end of FY 2013, will serve these research needs.  The unique facility will enable experiments on the performance of structural elements, subassemblies, and systems exposed to fires up to 20 MW and will enable the development of the technical basis for performance-based design methodologies for structures exposed to fire. The project will outfit and develop the infrastructure for the NFRL, including laboratory/testing operational procedures, standard test protocols to ensure safe and effective operation of the laboratory, and completion of commissioning by the end of the first quarter of FY 2015.

Description:

Objective: By Q1 FY151, to deliver a fully operational NFRL by the end of the first quarter of by completion of commissioning, including outfitting of laboratory infrastructure and verifying operation and calibration of individual and combined fire and structural systems.

What is the new technical idea? Currently there is no research facility in the world that would allow scientists and engineers to conduct research on the response of real-scale structural systems to a realistic fire and mechanical loading under controlled laboratory conditions. Expansion of the NFRL, when completed, will allow structures, ranging in size from small components to large systems up to 2 stories in height and 2 bays × 3 bays in plan, to be tested under fully-developed building fires up to 20 MW. Mechanical loading will be applied using configurable hydraulic actuators or fixed loads. The new research capabilities will enable researchers to explore innovative measurement techniques to (1) better characterize fire-structure interaction, (2) develop an experimental database on the performance of large-scale structural connections, components, sub-assemblies, and systems under realistic fire and other typical vertical/lateral loads, (3) validate physics-based computational models to predict fire resistance performance of structures, (4) enable performance-based standards for fire resistance design of structures, and (5) foster innovations in design and construction. To complete the NFRL expansion and enable the testing of large scale structures subjected to realistic fires will require the procurement, installation, and testing of the necessary laboratory infrastructure, and the calibration of the structural loading, fuel delivery, and calorimetry systems. A series of commissioning tests will verify the newly added capabilities to ensure safe and effective execution of future experiments. Based on the commissioning tests, laboratory/testing standard operational procedures and standard test protocols will be developed to ensure proper operation of the laboratory. This project seeks to deliver a fully operational laboratory by the end of the first quarter of FY 2015.

What is the research plan? This project seeks to (1) develop NFRL laboratory/testing standard operational procedures, (2) complete outfitting and commissioning the NFRL by testing and calibrating the structural loading system, thermal and structural instrumentation, data acquisition system, and application and control of fire loading and safety systems, and (3) develop standard test protocols. This project, together with the project on NFRL Research Development and Operations and the project on Performance-based Design Methodologies for Structures in Fire, will deliver a fully operational laboratory ready for testing real-scale structures under realistic loading and fire conditions.

NFRL laboratory/testing standard operational procedures, including structural loading, specimen support and restraint, fire load application, instrumentation and data acquisition, and safety measures will be developed. The structural loading system, thermal and structural instrumentation, data acquisition system, and application and control of fire loading and safety systems will be tested and calibrated. The project will also develop standard test protocols, including fire characterization (fire intensity and duration), thermal and structural response measurements, characterization of measurement uncertainty, and calibration of test apparatus and instrumentation. The standard operational procedures and test protocols will be guided by the experience gained from the set of commissioning tests that will be conducted within the framework of this project.

Requirements for outfitting of the NFRL control room will be determined and finalized. Equipment and tools needed for outfitting will be specified and procured. Specialized apparatus (e.g., fuel delivery system, exhaust hood skirt, lifting jig, cooling system for the strong wall, actuator mounts) will be designed and fabricated or procured. Maintenance and calibration contracts will be put in place to ensure uninterrupted operation of the laboratory equipment and systems, and quality of measurements. Subsequent to the completion of construction, commissioning the NFRL will be conducted in three phases as follows: Phase I: outfitting of laboratory infrastructure including installation of (1) building health monitoring, (2) video monitoring system, (3) calorimetry instrumentation, (4) control room equipment, (5) hood skirts. Phase II: verification of the operation and calibration of individual fire systems (oxygen depletion calorimetry, calibration burner), and structural systems (hydraulic loading system, reaction frames, boundary support conditions). Phase III: testing of simple structural configuration to verify the ability to safely test structures under combined fire and structural loading, and calibration and integration of the structural loading system, thermal and structural instrumentation, data acquisition system, and application and control of fire loading and safety systems. Lessons learned during commissioning will provide the basis for finalizing test protocols and operational procedures for the NFRL.

 


[1] Assuming access to a fully operational facility by October 1, 2013

Major Accomplishments:

Recent Results:

  • Reaction frame components designed, fabricated and delivered
  • Design of control room contract awarded
  • Fabrication of calibration burner completed
  • Instrumentation of calibration burner in progress
  • Determining requirements to outfit the NFRL (actuator base mounts, calorimetry instrumentation, hood skirts, natural gas delivery system, strong wall fire protection), and support the issuance of procurement contracts. (ongoing)
  • Prototype control room set up including data acquisition and video monitoring equipment/system. Integrated data acquisition, control, monitoring, and calibration system in Beta test phase.  Development of data acquisition and control system and testing of all systems is ongoing.
  • Development of initial set of standard test protocols, including fire characterization, thermal and structural response measurements, calibration of test apparatus and instrumentation, and data acquisition is in progress.

Standards and Codes:  Using the new capabilities of the NFRL, NIST will develop experimental data on the performance of large-scale structural connections, components, subassemblies, and systems under realistic fire and loading.  Such data will allow the validation of physics-based models to predict fire resistance performance of structures, and thereby provide the technical basis for establishing performance-based standards for fire resistance design of structures, and foster innovations in design and construction.  NIST will work closely with code-writing bodies such as the ICC, and SDOs such as SFPE, NFPA, ASTM, AISC, ACI, and possibly ISO for implementation of performance-based design/rehabilitation methodologies.