Putting Fire Safety First

NUCO Inc.
Written by Pauline Müller

At NUCO Inc., saving lives and protecting property is everything. This company’s passion for safety leads the way to developing some of the best fire-retardant construction materials available in North America today. Boasting impressive ranges of polyurethane foams, construction adhesives, and intumescent silicone and acrylic sealants, the company has become a trusted supplier to several industries.

At home in Guelph, Ontario, NUCO is particularly well-known for producing market-leading intumescent materials sophisticated enough to pass even the most stringent industry certification tests. These materials char when exposed to heat, becoming poor heat conductors and protecting the materials underneath by slowing heat transfer.

As a result, the company serves construction leaders with the latest expertise and top-notch research. Its impressive list of customers and end users includes original equipment manufacturers; heavy industrial outfits; heating, ventilation, and cooling companies; and the commercial contractors distributing its products via industrial suppliers.

NUCO Inc. fabricates its own firestopping product ranges and supplies products to a host of well-known retail names that have given the company an international reach. These private-label customers benefit from NUCO’s full service, extensive technical and certification support, sales team product education, and much more.

The company’s state-of-the-art research and development outfit provides everything it needs to outshine the competition. That means that all packaging, labeling, and shipping are performed in-house. Delivering outstanding service is the mainstay of the company, and as such, its staff members are known for warmth toward customers and a great team spirit. The company also embraces diversity, upholding inclusivity and sharing an appreciation for engaging socially in fun and constructive ways.

“All our products focus on… passive fire protection. Life safety in construction is a big focus of our products,” says Chris Oswin, Technical Director. Oswin is also in charge of keeping the company’s considerable number of certifications up to date. As industry and legislation continually evolve, this is a complex task but one that NUCO takes pride in maintaining.

NUCO’s most popular material, a neutral-cure silicone which has been developed into three products, remains its best seller. These firestop sealants close gaps, slowing fire spread. The GG266, its all-star fire retardant is “a fairly difficult product to develop. While this product is a tad pricier than its sisters, it comes with improved capabilities that make it worth the extra cost,” says Oswin.

GG266 is also easy to install, reducing the chance of error during installation. In addition, it offers excellent longevity following application and holds its structural integrity well, while expanding impressively in fire situations. For this reason, the product is applied in several of its most advanced systems, especially around piping.

The company developed some of the first fire-retardant sealant, foam, and adhesive systems in the country to be approved by the Underwriters Laboratories of Canada, and its list of products stands at around 300 items today. “When they are called to action, they have to save lives. We take our responsibility seriously,” Oswin says of the company’s products and the unwavering commitment to quality required in creating them.

Fire retardation in North America became a growing priority and new field of research between 1960 and 1980 following several disasters. Some of the earliest materials that would help prevent such events from recurring, saving lives and property, came about when United States Navy combat vessels needed fireproofing compartments as part of their design. That later gave rise to building codes that would govern fire prevention and mitigation of potentially hazardous situations within public and private buildings.

One landmark disaster was Alabama’s infamous Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant fire in 1975. According to a United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission report: “Site personnel were resealing the penetration after cable installation and were checking the airflow through a temporary seal with a candle flame prior to installing the permanent sealing material. The temporary sealing material was highly combustible, and caught fire.” The building was only three months old at the time.

Another landmark fire happened on February 10, 1981, when the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, went up in smoke, claiming the lives of nearly 90 and injuring around 600 people, mainly through smoke inhalation. These were just two events of many that raised the alarm for better fire, smoke, and hazardous gas standards in North America.

NUCO Inc. has been responding to this need since 1988. The company stays ahead of the pack by responding to new designs in building materials, piping, and other elements with corresponding fire-retardant products. The process calls for thorough study and testing of all requirements and materials.

Before developing new products, however, the team typically approaches the appropriate certification board with a concept. In-house research and development on the new building materials to be considered follows, sometimes in collaboration with third-party engineers or those of the supply company. That is followed by an informal design creation process and troubleshooting before proof-of-concept testing commences. With a typical 90 percent success rate on its first-round testing processes, it is clear that this team understands its craft.

Once the concept design is agreed upon and all issues are solved, the final product assembly is done entirely onsite at the certification body’s premises. During this process, sufficient data is recorded on which to base the final safety verdicts. Once the authority is sufficiently convinced of the facts according to the jurisdiction in which the product will be applied, roughly three to four weeks of curing seals the deal before thorough furnace testing is completed according to the relevant building codes involved.

Finally, successful systems are signed off and ratings can be incorporated into NUCO’s product specifications released to the industry, giving construction professionals the peace of mind that, by using these products, their buildings comply with whatever fire standards their specifications follow. “If you see fire ratings, it means it held up in a full-on fire condition for the amount of time indicated. In a lot of cases, that’s no small feat when you have pipes, et cetera running through a site,” says Oswin.

The past two years have seen the company go from strength to strength. It recently merged with Columbus, Ohio’s Matrix Adhesives, and during this time, has enjoyed new investment driving robust expansion, including more new systems testing and increased staff numbers. All this effort has put NUCO Inc. onto an entirely new growth trajectory that looks like it will deliver according to plan over the next few years. New ownership and investment have also meant a significant improvement of company facilities, to everyone’s great excitement.

As part of these upgrades, NUCO’s mix room is being expanded and reorganized to optimize its processes, making it possible to produce higher product volumes. Another aspect of increased production is environmental responsibility, which remains a growing consideration in the development of products.

“We always have a strong focus on helping keep our products as environmentally friendly as we can,” says Oswin. “Many of them are very low in [volatile organic compounds] or have very low-emitting materials.”

As building materials continue to evolve, the company delivers even more opportunities. Some examples of necessary new systems include those for cross-laminated timber assemblies, as modern material combinations require new ways of handling fire performance demands. In other cases where different materials like plastics and metals join, challenges arise demanding new solutions, more sophisticated fire-retardant systems, and appropriate testing.

NUCO Inc. has always outdone itself in the firestop market and continues to do so. “We put in a considerable amount of time and effort to ensure that our products do what they need to do when they are called upon.”

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