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Thermal camera

When self-employed electrician Gary Fisher was given the opportunity to ‘road test’ a FLIR C2 thermal imaging camera and CM174 clamp meter, he saw it as a chance to see exactly how much value these advanced devices could add to his work.

In electrical installations, successful diagnosis of problems before they become a genuine danger is a real advantage. Among the devices best able to help facilitate this is a thermal imaging camera. Its speed and ease-of-use make it a must-have gadget for the electrical trade. At least that’s the theory, but what about in practice?

Fisher carries out a wide range of electrical work, typically involving distribution boards, covering an area between his base in Milton Keynes, down the M1 corridor as far south as Harrow in northwest London.

“There’s no doubt that thermal imaging is coming more and more into what we do,” he says. “Even before I tried the camera I knew it would be able to identify heat spots that would show up circuits using a lot more energy than elsewhere in the system. I couldn’t wait to put the FLIR C2 through its paces.” The first thing that Fisher noted was the size of the C2 (125 x 80 x 24mm), which he says “could easily be mistaken for a mobile phone”. Compact and light (130g), the device fits comfortably within an electrician’s top pocket.

“Its ease-of-use was also striking,” he says. “I have never used a thermal camera before but it really is point and shoot. The image can be viewed through the 3in touchscreen, which displays amazing picture quality.”

The C2 features FLIR’s MSX real-time image enhancement technology to help identify problem locations easier. Furthermore, the C2’s 4800-pixel resolution detector is able to capture and display subtle thermal patterns, while a built-in work light and flash helps illuminate poorly lit areas encountered by many electricians.

“It’s easy to see objects and heat areas extremely clearly and with plenty of detail, which helps quickly identify the areas that need attention,” says Fisher. “It’s the sort of device that can benefit electricians of all levels, from serious professionals who maintain high voltage installations in the industrial and heavy commercial sectors, through to domestic tradesmen. From my point of view, the opportunity to present the customer with a binder complete with thermal images that record and report findings is a mark of quality, and would definitely give me a competitive edge.”

The C2 can store radiometric JPEGs at the push of a button. Furthermore, the images can be downloaded later using the free FLIR Tools software, which allows the user to adjust thermal image levels, isolate and add temperature measurements, change colour palettes and create persuasive reports.

However, aside from the C2’s innovative features, it is the device’s pure ability to avoid dangerous situations and, potentially, save lives that proves the main attraction. One of principal reasons that consumer units are made from metal is because of the fires that can occur due to loose connections building up heat points.

“The FLIR C2 is just the thing to prevent this,” states Fisher. “When performing an estimate you can simply point it at the client’s consumer unit and provide clear proof that there is a possible danger that needs to be addressed.”

Sufficiently impressed with the FLIR C2, Fisher also had the opportunity to test the FLIR CM174 600AC/DC clamp meter. “When I’m undertaking a job I find it’s important to know what current is being consumed as it helps with my decision making,” he says. “If there is any humming noise or any uncertainty surrounding a circuit, I can get the CM174 on the job and see immediately what’s going on.”

With the FLIR CM174 clamp meter, which features IGM (infrared guided measurement), users can identify dangerous and unknown problem areas quickly and safely. In short, electrical issues can be visually identified without requiring direct contact with panels, cabinets or cluttered wires and cables that may present safety hazards. “In essence the CM174 is a clamp meter combined with a thermal imager, which makes it a really neat device,” says Fisher. “If I owned this I know I would use it regularly.”

Further features of the FLIR CM174 admired by Fisher include the narrow clamp jaws, which help getting in between all the cables inside consumer units. He also says that it is of sufficiently robust design to keep inside his toolbox with the rest of his kit.

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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