Bowie Fire Engineering and Thermal Sciences Laboratory

Product manufacturers encounter numerous engineering and regulatory requirements in creating fire-safe products. Bringing reliable products to market means complying with flammability standards in a variety of components such as the plastic housing in consumer appliances and electronics. Meeting federal and industry test standards is compounded by supply chain issues that may necessitate changing a material within a product—and determining how this change affects flammability—in goods ranging from transportation materials to protective clothing and upholstered furniture.

In addition to flammability, in-depth knowledge of fire dynamics and propagation is essential for analyzing a material’s fire growth and spread. For example, if fencing material ignites from an encroaching wildfire or lithium-ion batteries cause thermal runaway in an electronic device, how fast will the fire spread and grow to other areas? Equally important is safeguarding manufacturing facilities by developing optimal fire suppression systems, like sprinklers, to protect against facility and product fire from chemical ignitions or heater, furnace, boiler, or other manufacturing equipment explosions.

The Bowie Fire Engineering and Thermal Sciences (FETS) Laboratory can help product manufacturers ensure that their materials—regardless of supply chain issues—will continue to pass increasingly tougher national fire test standards. From explosions to fire protection systems, the lab specializes in customized fire-testing and protocol development for ignitability, heat resistance, flame development, burning behavior, and heat release, as well as the origin and cause of structural, wildland, and industrial fires and explosions.

Using equipment, such as our cone calorimeter, we can determine the material fire properties of products ranging from furniture and mattress components to wall covering materials and electrical wire/cable coverings. Our team of licensed professional engineers (PEs) and certified fire and explosion investigators (CFEIs) regularly performs onsite inspections and consults with manufacturers on optimizing fire suppression systems and combustion systems such as boilers, heaters, and furnaces.

To supplement analytical, experimental, and field-based activities, our team uses computational fluid dynamic (CFD) modeling to create an accurate simulation of the burning material, support fire origin and cause determinations in the forensic environment, and provide performance-based evaluations of industrial applications. Other analysis includes flash point testing, UL 94 burn testing for plastic components, and flammability testing cabinets for clothing and textiles. The FETS Lab also performs in-house overhead research in areas such as smoke alarms to further the development of fire protection engineering.

Exponent’s FETS Lab offers a broad range of capabilities and equipment, including:


  • Heat release rate and mass loss rate
  • Intermediate-scale calorimetry
  • Smoke and heat detector testing
  • Flash point and fire point testing
  • Fabric and textile flammability testing
  • Upholstered furniture and mattress component and mock-up testing
  • Pressure and leak testing
  • Thermal hazard testing
  • Hot surface ignition testing
  • Customized testing scenarios
  • Accident reconstruction


  • Cone calorimeter
    • Oxygen consumption calorimetry
    • Product/material comparison
    • Measurements
      • Heat release rate (HRR)
      • Mass loss rate (MLR)
      • Effective heat of combustion (∆Hc)
      • Critical heat flux
      • Ignition time
      • Smoke production rate
      • CO/CO2 production rates/yields
  • Flammability test cabinets
    • 45° flammability test
    • Vertical flammability test
    • Horizontal flammability test
    • Full-scale textile flammability tests
  • Flame Spread
    • UL 94: test for flammability of plastic materials for parts in devices and appliances
  • Exhaust hood system
    • Intermediate-scale fire tests
    • Capable of handling fires up to 500 kW in size
  • Pressure and flow testing rigs
  • Furnace
  • Convection and vacuum ovens
  • Environmental chamber
  • Mass and volumetric flow rates
  • Velocity measuring
  • Thermocouples and heat-flux transducers
  • Data acquisition systems
  • Infrared (IR) thermometry
  • Smoke and particulate analysis