Spotlight on Team Rhino: Dr Chris Norris

July 14 2020

For approaching 27 years Rhino Doors has been a leading provider of engineered doors that protect people and assets across the critical national infrastructure, defence, transport and energy industries. At the heart of this success has been a commitment to continual innovation and solid engineering. In this edition of Spotlight on Rhino we speak to Chief Engineer Dr. Chris Norris who is leading Rhino’s efforts to create ever better portal, entry and blast protection solutions.

Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background

Whilst studying for my degree in Civil Engineering I decided to continue my studies and obtain a doctorate and undertake several years of post-doctoral research into the behaviour of spot-welded corrugated-core steel sandwich panels. It’s this research which led me into my subsequent career within the engineered door and blast protection industry.

Just as my post-doctoral research was coming to an end, the infamous Piper Alpha disaster occurred in July 1988 when 167 people tragically lost their lives. It was a real wake up call for the industry. Prior to Piper Alpha, some within the industry had been reluctant to try new forms of blast protection. Piper Alpha completely changed this. The aftermath of the tragedy saw the oil and gas and the wider engineering industries quite rightly place a much stronger focus on blast protection and fire insulation.

It was in this atmosphere that I secured my first job with an engineering firm. So, with Piper Alpha fresh on people’s minds I began to develop methodologies for the structural dynamic design of both blast resistant walling systems and blast resistant doors (proven by full scale blasting). It’s these methods which are now acknowledged as the norm within the offshore oil and gas industry. I’m also pleased to say that these methodologies have also been adopted by other critical industries such as civil nuclear power, defence, petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals.

So, from the early-1990s onwards I have been designing against blasts of all types, from fixed platforms and FPSOs in the oil industry, to walling systems and doors for critical national infrastructure (power stations, underground rail stations, water treatment plants etc). Since joining Rhino, I’ve had the opportunity to explore and experiment even further with more advanced blast protection methodologies and ideas.

From an engineering perspective how have Rhino’s products developed, and where are they heading?

Rhino got its start producing CPNI-rated, sliding and/or folding doors. At first these doors were very much pre-engineered and Rhino was simply manufacturing and installing doors and didn’t really get involved in bespoke projects. However, when I arrived (along with some other engineers and technical staff), we changed the direction of the company and are now very much ‘bespoke’ engineered door and blast protection providers, in addition to our traditional CPNI rated doors.

If you need a portal or entry solution for your project, Rhino can now handle the full lifecycle of such a requirement – in other words, from a blank sheet of paper, through manufacturing to installation and aftersales support. Whatever your project may be, we have the knowledge, experience and expertise in-house to deliver a door that will meet your requirements.

In terms of where Rhino’s products are heading, we have been working on some interesting enhancements to our current range of doors. For example, we are experimenting with adding stiffening to a standard Rhino door (which can already withstand a blast), so that it can withstand an even higher rated blast.

Our recent geographic expansion and partnering agreements also mean that we are delivering doors in new locations and for new types of projects – some of which are quite different to what we’ve previously worked on. For confidentiality reasons I can’t disclose what they are, but their nature means they present a very formidable set of challenges to be solved.

Going forward, I think we’ll be working increasingly as a trusted advisor to projects, becoming involved earlier in the planning and design process of overall projects to ensure that the portal/entry requirements are factored into the overall civil engineering envelope.

Rhino provides portal/entry solutions to protect against a variety of threats such as attack, fire, blasts and flooding. Are there any new threats which manufacturers will have to respond to soon?

Hydrogen is the new kid on the block in terms of challenges to be faced. Listen to many policy advisors, planners and leaders within the energy sector and you’ll hear much talk about how battery energy storage represents the future. However, I don’t think that will be the case. Batteries are cumbersome, resource intensive and don’t offer the flexibility of liquid fuels. So, I would suggest we’re likely to see hydrogen become a major fuel source in the future. Already, we’re seeing major trials underway to incorporate hydrogen into the UK’s domestic natural gas supply, and there are increasing moves by automotive manufacturers to launch hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. This is all very positive however, hydrogen is combustible and has very different blast characteristics to traditional liquid hydrocarbon fuels such as petrol or diesel.

Hydrogen requires unique blast protection solutions.

Firstly, hydrogen is highly flammable, and work is needed to develop fire tests to protect against the very hot, short duration flames which hydrogen generates.

Secondly, hydrogen is highly explosive. There’s currently a large amount of research work ongoing, including testing, to simulate and determine the levels of blast that would be generated by a hydrogen explosion. Gathering this information and conducting this research will help us design various forms of protection.

Rhino is responding to the rise of hydrogen by undertaking extensive research into its blast properties and what a suitable protection solution could look like. To help us in this work we’ve teamed up with a leading hydrogen production company based in Norway. They’re a major producer of water electrolysers, and as part of their future development plans require a safe, reliable, high-quality blast protection solution; so, we’re working with them to achieve that.

Probably the most pressing hydrogen-related blast protection requirement is refuelling stations for the general public. Such refuelling stations must be as safe as possible – yet incidents such as the explosion of a hydrogen refuelling station in Norway last summer – threaten to halt the rise of hydrogen before it’s really gathered pace. We’re seeking to limit the damage associated with such incidents in future by developing various blast relieving solutions. For this project it is primarily blast relieving doors which are being developed.

We’re hopeful that our blast protection solution can become an industry standard in much the same way as our solutions have become standard within the oil and gas industry. Look out for an academic paper which I’ve written in conjunction with Robert Brewerton which will be released in November. It’ll detail much of the progress we’ve made so far on making this hydrogen blast solution a reality.

Designing a blast door is obviously a complicated process, but what are the factors that need to be considered?

It’s all about starting with a detailed, high-quality specification. In addition to the basic elements such as the size of the door, the type of door (will it be hinged single leaf, hinged double leaf, sliding single leaf etc?) we also work with clients to establish the factors it will need to withstand. So, with explosions, we factor in considerations such as the magnitude and shape of the blast pulse, as well as the duration and direction of the blast. Such considerations can be complex and are usually determined by a consultant working for the client using recognised specifications, as well as more complicated analyses (e.g. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD)).

Once we’ve established which blast factors will need to be considered, we then turn to what the structural dynamic behaviour of the door will need to be. Depending on how onerous the blast pulse is expected to be, will influence the dynamic behaviour of the door (e.g. if the door is located on the outside of a building, then an external blast would typically ‘push’ the door onto the supporting wall).

Having factored all those possibilities into the specification, we also work with the client to figure out what the door should do ‘post-blast’. We ask, what are the operability requirements for the door once the blast has occurred? In general, these operability requirements will be one of the following:

> Operable – with elastic behaviour, meaning it is okay to be subjected to repeated blasts.

> Operable – but able to withstand significant damage.

> Inoperable – but able to withstand significant damage.

> Inoperable – failure in rebound (e.g. fails once it has rebounded from the supporting wall).

Rebound is an important factor in blast door design as it represents the ‘bounce back’ of a door when it pulls away from its supporting wall following a blast. It’s during rebound that a door will oscillate which is another consideration which has to be factored into the door’s design, hanging and installation. For high-level blast doors, such as those expected to withstand blasts of +300kPa it is withstanding the rebound which is the most difficult and complex part of the design. We work to keep the rebound loads as low as possible; utilising iterative designs which balance the mass versus stiffness relationship.

Having factored in rebound, holding the blast door on to its supporting structure can also be a source of much work and calculations. What kind of hinges need to be used? What is the door being fixed to? Does the client want to use steel frames cast into the structure and fixed to rebar? As you can see, designing a quality and effective blast door involves much, much more than first meets the eye. The sheer number of calculations and variables as well as the level of engineering required, means it’s vital that you choose a door provider that not only has demonstrated experience and expertise but can support you throughout the full lifecycle of your project.

Is it fair to say then that blast doors generally do not come as a standard, certified product?

It’s renowned in the engineered door and blast protection industry that there are too many variations to create a standard, certified blast product. It sounds like a cliché, but no two solutions are the same when it comes to blast protection. As I discussed earlier, the inherent nature of blasts and their pressure, shape, duration and intensity means that doors and blast solutions just cannot be standardised.

Are there any new developments /products from Rhino that specifiers/architects should keep an eye on?

Yes, there are two developments. The first of which is the hydrogen blast protection solution which I discussed above, while the second is a new insulated fire door which could have a big impact on the industry.

Due to tragedies such as Grenfell, we are expecting it to be the case that doors in residential, commercial and other properties will require an insulating rating. At present, the only doors which are required to have an insulation rating are those found on offshore platforms; however, it makes sense from a safety point of view for other buildings to be mandated to have insulated fire doors.

So, we’ve designed the El2120 door which will have a very high insulation rating, without being prohibitively expensive for specifiers and architects to consider for their projects. We’ve designed it with flush faces and architectural hardware, and it doesn’t rely on heavy, internal steel stiffening to resist thermal deflections, so it will find a wide array of practical applications. It’s not merely an industrial door, but suitable for stadia, homes etc.

We’re aiming for a standard of insulation which no other company has yet been able to achieve, so if our preliminary tests are successful, this door could have a transformative impact upon not just public safety, but the engineered/insulated door market as a whole.

What sets Rhino Doors apart from other engineered door and blast protection manufacturers?

Rhino is bespoke, bespoke, bespoke. If you need a portal or entry solution for your project, Rhino can accommodate it. We’ve delivered doors and blast protection solutions for a wildly diverse array of projects across the globe. From a clean sheet or paper through to installation and after-sales support and servicing, Rhino supports specifiers and architects every step of the way to ensure they have a door or blast protection solution that will add value to their project and of course protect people and assets.

For many specifiers and architects Rhino acts as a trusted advisor, helping them to think about all eventualities and considerations – such as how the door may impact upon, or be impacted by, other elements of an overall construction project. And, we also offer our services on a consultative basis, so, you can receive only the services you need at a particular time, in a particular place.

The next article in our Spotlight on Team Rhino series will feature our Commercial Director Mrs Jan McPherson.

Want to find out how Rhino Doors can help your project? Contact us today.

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