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In the Northern hemisphere, November through to March is a particularly testing time for any energy supplier.  Electrical load is at its highest and the likelihood of a breakdown is far greater so the quick and efficient detection of faulty power lines and connections is vital.  For many utility companies thermal imaging has significantly boosted their ability for preventing failures.  Indeed, for the Mason Public Utility District (PUD 3), in Washington State USA, investment in the latest FLIR thermal imaging camera allows them to scan for problems without getting out of their moving vehicle.

“We drive down the road and one of us scans out of the window with our FLIR T-Series camera to spot check. If we see something, we get out and do a full analysis,” explained Chris Jorgensen. “Before we started using thermal imaging in 2001 there was no way to do preventative maintenance; equipment failed, we went out and fixed it. Now, my work is like hunting, we scan every line and every piece of equipment looking for potential problems.”

The FLIR T500 Series has been designed for comfortable, continuous operation.  Its hallmark feature is a 180-degree rotating optical block that allows the thermographer to image with ease at any angle. High quality imaging is assured through FLIR’s Vision Processing™ technology that combines proprietary adaptive filtering with MSX® multi spectral imaging and UltraMax® image enhancement.  Complementing this is 1-Touch level and span that enables the thermographer to adjust the contrast on the image so the target stands out against the background; a very useful tool when scanning power generation equipment.

PUD 3’s investment in this model has helped the company find problems on cutouts, substation getaway structures, poor or failed connections and is even used for checking the integrity of constructions.  Indeed, it has been responsible for huge cost savings on damage prevention and for underpinning the company’s reputation for good service.

A typical example is the discovery of a failing bushing on top of a regulator on a substation C-phase circuit.  If this had remained undetected the estimated cost of the damage would have been the equivalent of £28,000 and the failure would have deprived around 3,000 customers of electricity.  The company cites many similar examples with problem components such as hot taps, gang-operated switches and dead-end bells. The cost savings involved in preventing the failure of these structures far outweighs the cost of the thermal imaging investment.

PUD 3 monitors their loads with SCADA data acquisition software to determine what is under the greater amount of stress; this analysis informs the subsequent survey.  Findings from the FLIR T-Series camera then allows engineers to grade the severity of the fault and schedule repairs.

“Thermal imaging really allows us to see what the naked eye can’t.  Chris Jorgensen concludes. “It gives us great satisfaction when an imminent equipment failure is found and repaired before it causes an outage.”

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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