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Thermal imaging is a great inspection technology and its scope of application is not only vast but also steadily growing, according to Flir Systems.

No longer is infrared the preserve of dedicated thermographers working for companies with large budgets, this technology is now available to every engineering discipline.

Infrared has become an important tool for electricians and electrical contractors.

With an entry price of less than GBP2,000, infrared technology is now affordable and delivers a quick return on investment.

It has also become increasingly easy to apply, allowing users to do their job quicker and with greater efficiency.

It’s not just advances in camera technology that are responsible for this growth.

Parallel development in PC-based analysis and reporting software, as well as application-specific software is becoming increasingly significant.

And it’s the manufacturers pursuing all these aspects that are presenting industry with the greatest advantage.

It’s now very easy to create customised survey reports via software that are fully integrated with Microsoft Word.

A wizard guides the user step by step through the process of combining all IR inspection data – infrared and visual images, temperature measurements and text notes – into a professional and easy to interpret maintenance report.

Simple dialogue boxes and drag-and-drop features allow the thermographer to superimpose a smaller IR image onto a visible light photo.

It also enables this ‘picture-in-picture’ to be moved and resized anywhere in the image to show the level of detail required by the given application.

Interval and blending fusion further enhance the detail so that highly sensitive or dangerous temperature developments are highlighted.

Some models of thermal-imaging cameras now have built-in GPS and software has been developed that automatically adds the GPS co-ordinates into the report.

It also works in tandem with Google Maps so the user can see a satellite image of the inspection site, obtain address information and even travel directions.

New analysis features include predictive trending to enable the camera user to track thermal information relating to IR surveys.

Armed with this information, engineers can better determine when maintenance procedures need to be performed.

More advanced features include automatic formulae calculation and the instant creation of report summaries.

The inclusion of wireless technology is also playing its part in extending the scope of infrared.

For example, a new development allows portable meters to transfer their measurement data directly to the infrared camera via Bluetooth.

This brings much greater intelligence to the IR environment.

Users can transmit key readings such as current or voltage from a clamp meter to a camera, making it possible to establish a relationship between heat and load.

Bluetooth technology is also being used to provide wireless headset connection to cameras for easier recording of voice comments associated with inspection.

From find-it-fix-it models through to the sophisticated high-end models, infrared cameras are getting smarter.

Features that were once solely the preserve of the most expensive cameras are now starting to be incorporated in less sophisticated models.

For example, image streaming is now available in mid-range cameras.

This means, for example, the user can watch a process at start-up and acquire radiometric data at a reasonable speed.

In other words, a predictive maintenance camera can also be used for some research tasks.

Periodic storage is another example.

This allows snapshots to be taken at predetermined intervals, allowing the camera to act as a watchman for a variety of applications.

The wide-ranging ability of today’s infrared camera gives the technology great cost-saving potential.

It is possible that a thermal-imaging camera whose principal job is electrical fault identification can also be used to monitor the efficiency of waterpipes, inspect bearings, check the integrity of wall insulation or study a dynamic process.

The return on investment is accelerated with every application added to the list.

So all thermographers – irrespective of whether their prime function is electrical, mechanical or building inspection – should be encouraged to try it out.

If something looks abnormally hot or cold in a thermal image, the chances are that this signifies a fault that could quickly turn into a costly failure.

FLIR Systems specialises in technologies that enhance perception and awareness.  The company brings innovative sensing solutions into daily life through its thermal imaging and visible light imaging technology and systems for measurement, diagnosis, location and advanced threat detection.  Its products improve the way people interact with the world around them, enhance productivity, increase energy efficiency and make the workplace safer.

FLIR Systems has six operating segments – surveillance, instruments, OEM and emerging markets, maritime, security and finally, detection. Of these six, ‘instruments’ is of greatest interest to trade and industry and the second largest segment in the company’s portfolio. This division provides devices that image, measure and assess thermal energy, gases and other environmental elements for industrial, commercial and scientific applications.

These products are manufactured across five production sites, three in the USA and two in Europe; Sweden and Estonia.

A model to suit every application and budget
The options that FLIR Systems provides for measuring temperature and studying thermal performance have never been greater.  Not only does the company offer a huge range of models to suit all thermal application needs but the technology is also affordable and very easy to use.  Thermal cameras now come in various shapes, sizes and degrees of sophistication and FLIR continues to invest heavily in the development of new and complementary technologies to differentiate itself from competitors.

An important milestone in the development of thermal imaging has been the introduction of the FLIR Lepton® core, a micro longwave detector, the size of a mobile SIM.  This has allowed thermal imaging to be repackaged to meet the needs of an even wider audience and, in combination with another new technology called Infrared Guided Measurement – IGM™ – has led to the development of a range of test and measurement meters with imaging capability.

Another important growth area for FLIR thermal imaging is in continuous monitoring to assure quality and safety.  Through its introduction of discrete fixed mounted thermal cameras which are fully compliant industry standard plug-and-play protocols, FLIR Systems has provided industry with infrared machine vision which is instantly ready for quick and easy network installation.

Protecting assets and people from fire is an area for which thermal imaging is least known but, thanks to FLIR Systems’ development, it is now one of the most cost-effective methods available.  Its application flexibility and rapid return on investment present an attractive proposition for any site or safety manager.

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