Wihuri Group minimises fire risks at the planning stage

The packaging business of the Wihuri Group, comprising Wipak in Europe and Asia and Winpak in North America, is one of the world’s leading producers of packaging materials for the food and medical supply industries. The company is investing in production plants around the world. If’s Risk Engineers give credit to Wipak and Winpak for the opportunity of being involved in the plant planning process from the very beginning.
transparent plastic packages
Packaging protects the product during transport, storage and retail sale. It also preserves the product so that it is fit for use. Photo: Loma Graphics Oy

Packaging plays a key role

Wihuri is a global Finnish industry and trade conglomerate engaged in operations in four different business sectors. One of them is the packaging business with an annual turnover of approximately one billion euros. Packaging produced by Wipak and Winpak is used in the food and medical supply industries.

Packaging plays a key role in many sectors, including the foodstuff production chain, preventing foodstuff degradation and, thereby, forestalling the generation of much more harmful waste – food waste. Food supply chains are one of the main contributors to several pressing environmental problems such as climate change, eutrophication and loss of biodiversity.

Food production and consumption comprise more than one-fifth of global CO2-emissions. The energy consumption of the industrial processing of food and their transportation have minor impact for carbon footprint. The amount of packaging material also has a low environmental impact, as long as packaging waste is recycled.

Packaging protects the product during transport, storage and retail sale. It also preserves the product so that it is fit for use. Stringent requirements govern cleanliness and hygiene. 

Applied to foodstuffs, multilayer film materials produced by Wipak and Winpak enable a reduction in the amount of food additives used to preserve the food for a longer time.

A multitude of things happen during the planning phase

Wipak and Winpak place a premium on quality and risk management, a fact that is clearly evident in the fire safety of the production facilities around the world.

“Wipak has put in place the latest technology at their plants. This will protect the personnel and property against loss caused by accidents, ensuring continued operation in a sector that is extremely vulnerable to smoke and impurities,” comments Ari Ahonen, Risk Engineer, If P&C Insurance (ret.).

In addition to cutting-edge technology, employees play a key role. The provision of regular training for motivated and skilled personnel in handling first-aid fire extinguishing equipment and similar technology, is an important part of Wipak’s and Winpak’s fire safety system.

Engaging If’s risk engineers in the planning process at the earliest possible opportunity made also economic sense, as installing automated extinguishing equipment after the facility is completed would be expensive and difficult.

By taking account of fire safety from the planning stage onwards, major accidents can be prevented and securing official permission to continue operations from local authorities can be ensured in situations where a fire has damaged only a small section of a production facility. If there was a major accident event, local authorities may be hesitant to grant a license for the plant, which may jeopardise the continuation of operations.

Safety aspects at early stage

In 2012 - 2014, while planning fire safety at Wipak’s packaging facilities in Poland and China, If’s risk engineers highlighted that the installation of piping and fire detectors as well as the division of the production premises into fire compartments is significantly easier when these aspects are taken into consideration in the planning stage of the project.

In addition to Poland and China, Wipak has production plants in Finland, Germany, France, Holland, UK, Spain and Italy. Winpak has facilities in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

According to Petri Leskinen, Treasurer at the Wihuri Group, which owns Wipak, collaboration with If’s risk management has been a very positive experience.

“We are satisfied with the services offered by If’s risk management and with the professional competence of their risk engineers. With regard to plant projects like this, beginning collaboration as early as possible is extremely fruitful, both from the viewpoint of the enterprise and the insurance company,” he says.

Risk management provides excellent support to enabling quality work, which is vital in the production of medical packaging.

“True, much remains to be done in our risk management, but generally speaking, since we are engaged in international competition, investments in this area constitute part of the development of our operations and, through this, part of the development of our competitiveness,” comments Leskinen.

Building materials play a crucial role in fire protection.

Every effort taken to ensure safe operations

At Wipak’s plant in Poland, every effort has been made to take all relevant factors into consideration. If there is an unexpected interruption in the plant’s power supply and the electric sprinkler pump stops functioning, an automatically started diesel pump will provide the sprinkler system with a sufficient amount of water.

The large 680 cubic metre water tank of the automatic extinguishing system and the pumping station are located in a separate building. A water tank sufficiently large in size and efficient pumps enable the expansion of the extinguishing system when the production facilities are expanded.

Several extinguishing systems

In addition to the sprinkler extinguishing system, the storage and handling premises for flammable liquids have been protected using a carbon dioxide extinguishing system, and the server room has been equipped with a gas extinguishing system.

Fire compartments

A major goal in fire protection is to prevent the fire and combustion gases from spreading beyond the fire compartment. The key passive protection method lies in dividing a building into smaller parts by means of structures forming fire compartments.

Wipak’s production plant in Poland is divided into four major fire compartments: the office, the printing hall, the slitting department and the storage area. In addition to this, the technical facilities such as the premises for electric equipment and flammable liquids comprise their own fire compartments.

Fire doors

Fire doors must provide the same level of fire safety as the wall in which they are installed. They have also been equipped with a mechanism that automatically closes the doors in the event of a fire alarm. The cable and pipe penetrations between the various compartments have been sealed in a proper manner. The compatibility of the smoke ventilation system with the sprinkler system has been ensured. 

Building material

Building materials play a crucial role in fire protection. These must be of a type that is not conducive to the spread of fire. Wipak’s production plant in Poland has a concrete construction, rendering it resistant to the spread of fire. The inner part of the wall structures that insulates temperature is made of mineral wool, making it considerably safer from the viewpoint of fire safety than wall structures constructed using combustible insulation materials like XPS, PUR and PIR.

In China, the fire risks of Wipak’s new production facility have also been brought under control. All imaginable risk factors have been taken into consideration by putting in place smoke detectors and an automatic sprinkler extinguishing system, by dividing the facility into fire compartments, and by using other structural solutions.

plastic packaging production facility
Wipak production facility in Nastola, Finland

The sights are set on a flawless fire safety system

In collaboration with If’s risk engineers, Wipak’s and Winpak’s experts are exploring means by which the fire safety systems of production facilities can be made as flawless as possible.

When defining the protection level for the packaging manufacturing plant, account was taken of normal planning criteria (including the use of flammable liquids and the manufacturing process) as well as the speed at which a fire would spread.

If the estimated fire development at the site is so rapid that fire-fighting crews would be unable to contain or extinguish the fire, the plant should be equipped with an automatic fire-extinguishing system. This will prevent the comprehensive flashover of the fire compartment and avoid the related property and personal risks.

“One of our duties is to support our customers representing the packaging industry in building safer production facilities,” Ahonen explains.

“Managing fire risks will give the manufacturer an important competitive edge which will become all the more important if one bears in mind the volumes manufactured and the high-quality standards set for the packaging industry.”

Managing fire risks will give the manufacturer an important competitive edge.

Despite changes in production technology, the principles of fire protection remain unchanged.

 “Effective fire protection methods do exist. Structural fire prevention as well as a fire alarm system and an automatic extinguishing system form the foundation for all of this. Wipak was prepared to fully address these considerations, although the regulations issued by the Polish and Chinese authorities did not require such solutions,” Ahonen states.

In a packaging plant making use of flammable liquids, an automatic extinguishing system plays a key role.

“The primary element in fire safety is an automatic extinguishing system, or sprinkler, designed and installed in accordance with the rules.” Ahonen comments. “A well-designed and properly installed sprinkler system will not allow the fire to spread but contain or extinguish it where it breaks out.”

Article by Harry Nordqvist & Ari Ahonen/If, Petri Leskinen/Wihuri Group