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Smarter and more affordable

27 March 2017

A thermal imaging camera is now a primary means of monitoring the performance status of plant, equipment and buildings. Andrew Baker, sales director North Europe - FLIR Systems outlines the latest developments

Numerous hardware and software advances have contributed to the growing popularity of thermal imaging and one significant new development is the thermal micro core, the size of a mobile SIM card. This has allowed the technology to be repackaged to meet the needs of an even wider audience.  

The detector has enabled thermal imaging to be incorporated into devices which are pocket-sized and to provide smart phones with integral thermal imaging. It has also been combined with guided measurement technology to pave the way for the introduction a growing range of electrical measurement and building science meters which have thermal imaging capability.

Although an imaging thermometer, for example, doesn’t have the sophistication of a dedicated thermal camera, it allows the user to see heat patterns, measure temperature accurately and store measurement data for reporting. But ultimately, the choice of device for temperature measurement depends on the job and whether you simply want to confirm temperature or investigate a wider problem.  

For maintenance engineers whose daily task is to ensure the efficiency and reliability of electro-mechanical systems, a dedicated thermal imaging camera is often the most cost efficient choice. And the good news is that many of the most exciting new developments are in the mid-range cameras that are favoured by this sector.

Intelligent lenses

The ability to change the lens of the thermal imaging camera is important because it allows the device to be used optimally for a wider range of tasks. Originally, this was an option only available to high end cameras but, as with many features, it is now available in the mid-range too.  

A new introduction that complements interchangeable lenses is the intelligent lens that the camera automatically recognises and calibrates, eliminating the need for time-consuming manual calibration. Laser distance measurement has also been incorporated to ensure precise autofocus to improve temperature measurement accuracy.

The 320 x 240 pixels resolution of standard mid-range cameras can now also take advantage of a super-resolution process that improves effective resolution by four times – up to 645,888 pixels - and thermal sensitivity by up to 50%. The result is much more detailed imagery that makes fault diagnosis easier.

Multi-spectral imaging

The ability to share thermal images with others involved in the maintenance process is one of the big benefits of the technology. However, a thermal image alone is not always sufficient to help all parties understand what they are seeing.

One development that has been hugely beneficial in this regard is multi-spectral imaging. This captures visual data from the on-board visual camera and radiometric data from the thermal camera. Internal software then analyses the image and superimposes key elements from the visual image as a high-contrast ‘skeleton’ on the thermal output. This all happens in real time and without compromising temperature measurement or minimising visibility.

The result is an image showing unprecedented detail. Orientation of the target is easy, reports are clutter-free and all these elements contribute to fast and more efficient inspection. And, in turn, this has real impact on overall plant efficiency and the costs of operation.

Continuous development has resulted in this capability becoming even more potent. The physical relationship of the digital and thermal cameras has been optimised to give improved parallax and therefore, even greater image clarity.

Another introduction is a camera with all the software features needed for both electro-mechanical and building inspection on the same unit. This simple enhancement is particularly helpful for those involved in maintenance whose tasks often involve both fields of application.