Of the many benefits that thermal imaging cameras bring to industrial workplaces – such as their use in condition monitoring and preventative maintenance, the technology has lately received increased interest from businesses looking to monitor higher-than-usual body temperatures and increase safety of their employees.
With Australian businesses preparing to adjust to the ‘new normal’ in workplace safety measures after the coronavirus outbreak, Steven Blott, FLIR Systems Country Manager for Instruments, says FLIR’s thermal imaging technology is receiving a new wave of interest from customers looking to take dual benefits from a single purchase.
“Some of FLIR Systems’ thermal cameras can be used to screen people for elevated body temperatures when set to the right configuration. Once the pandemic is over, the same cameras can be used for preventative maintenance, for example to detect hot joints, bad connections, overheated bearings or insulation losses,” Steven says.
He is quick to clarify, however, that FLIR’s cameras are not medical devices and should not be viewed as tools to detect for coronavirus or fever.
“Our cameras are extremely effective at detecting deviations in the external temperature of objects and people, with some models in the FLIR Exx and FLIR T500 series capable of detecting small variations of ±0.3°C. But it’s important to note that the cameras are first and foremost industrial cameras. It just so happens that we had introduced scanning configurations in most of our models after the SARS outbreak back in 2003, which enables the cameras to be configured for personnel monitoring,” says Steven.
“In fact, FLIR has received approval for certain cameras from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to screen in high-traffic public places.”
In Australia, FLIR has partnered with CBC since 2010 to engage closely with customers through CBC’s established distribution and service network.
Anthony O’Keefe, CBC’s Engineering Manager, says apart from being a national distribution partner for FLIR, the CBC specialists also use FLIR’s cameras extensively as part of their predictive maintenance engineering services to customers.
“We enjoy working with FLIR as they provide high-performing, reliable products for preventative maintenance. Our engineering and maintenance teams use FLIR’s thermal imaging cameras as part of their routine maintenance visits to industrial plants for maintenance surveys. By detecting over-heated bearings or insulation losses in time, we can help our customers save money in repair costs.
“The experience also puts our team in an excellent position to help our customers when it comes to choosing the best fit for their applications. Because we are using the product ourselves in our services, we have the expertise and experience to guide and advise customers on matters related to configuration and set up,” Anthony says.
Steven says the close engagement with customers, as facilitated by CBC, is important to make sure the end-users understand the benefits and limitations of thermal cameras.
“Some people have unrealistic expectations that using a thermal camera would give them Superman-like powers or X-ray vision to see through the walls. That is where the trained CBC technicians can clarify some of those doubts for customers and help them choose cameras that are fit-for-purpose.”
In reality, infrared thermal imaging cameras are designed to detect variations in temperature and to convert this data into colors that the human eye can then view as a thermal image, Steven explains.
“The best way to understand a thermal camera is to look at it as a normal digital camera. The only difference is that a thermal camera captures the infrared radiations, which the human eye cannot see. When you take a picture with the thermal camera, it detects thermal radiations and builds up a picture with color, that helps us differentiate between the different surface temperatures,” he explains.
By the same analogy, Steven says the decision as to which thermal camera is best suited for a certain application depends on how accurate the image is required to be.
“Just like you get sharper images on your digital camera if it has a higher pixel-rating, similarly you get sharper and more defined images on the thermal camera that has a better detector, and hence higher sensitivity. Now, how sensitive you need your images to be depends on the application. For example, if temperatures in a certain piece of equipment reach 2000°C, a tolerance of ±50°C might be acceptable; whereas some cameras are required to detect variations of less than ±1°C.”
Choosing the right lens is another factor to keep in mind, Steven says.
“Similar to normal cameras, the field of view of a thermal camera depends on the lens that you choose. For example, if you have a 24-degree lens, you can clearly see most things up to about three metres away. If you replace the lens with a telephoto lens, you can see things up to 10 metres away and if you have a high-power telephoto lens, you can see things up to 50 metres away.”
The FLIR T500 Series, which includes the T530 and T540 models, feature a 180-degree rotating optical block, making it easier to carry out inspections in challenging conditions, especially when equipment is obstructed from view or difficult to access.
The FLIR Exx series, which includes the E53, E75, E85 and E95 models, is designed as pistol-grip cameras and can provide image resolutions of up to 464×348 pixels in the high-end E95 model. The cameras can connect to mobile devices with Wi-Fi or MeterLink™ – a FLIR wireless technology that connects the infrared cameras to external instruments – for easy data transfer.
FLIR Systems has also recently launched the compact FLIR C5 camera, which features an improved 160×120 pixel resolution over older Cx models while being able to fit inside the pocket. This new C5 model will eventually replace the existing 80×60 lower-resolution C2 and C3 cameras.
“We have a wide range of thermal imaging cameras, which are designed for different industries and applications. It’s important that you buy the camera that is fit-for-purpose or otherwise your investment will go to waste. That is why we recommend that businesses consult with trained specialists, like our partners at CBC, before making a choice,” he concludes.