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A thermal imaging camera will clearly identify ‘hot spots’, so that preventive action can be taken before failure occurs

Image: FLIR Systems
5 Ratings

Image Processing Preventing shut-downs and fires

Sep 13, 2016

An application story on how Flir’s thermal imaging camera provides a faster route to solutions, for the electrical systems specialist in preventing shut-downs and fires

Electrical systems specialist, EGI provides its customers in the areas of industrial, commercial and building technology with electrical installation services. More than 40 employees work for the company with DIN EN ISO 9001, DIN 14675 and OHSAS 18001 certifications. Michael Weigt, Managing Director, EGI, has strengthened the company and focused on extending the business model and identified thermal imaging inspections as a new opportunity.

Thermal imaging inspections

In 2007, Weigt researched the thermal imaging camera market, obtained information about different manufacturers and tested various thermal imaging cameras at trade shows. In this process, FLIR thermal imaging camera quickly made the shortlist. “From the very beginning, I was not looking for a toy, but a well-engineered and high-resolution thermal imaging camera,” said Weigt. He was impressed by the image quality and attractive design of the FLIR T360.

Time for training

“In the midst of the economic crisis, our new thermal imaging business got off to a slow start in 2008-2009,” said Weigt in retrospect. “We faced skepticism and the same arguments over and over. We’ll check that ourselves. Our own electricians can do that. We don’t have a budget right now for thermal inspections.” But Weigt didn’t let this deter him, because he was convinced of the potential of thermal imaging for electrical inspections. He and some of his technicians followed a training course at the Infrared Training Center (ITC) in order to gain more in-depth knowledge of the FLIR thermal imaging camera and Reporter software. Extra training was provided by FLIR sales partner, Herzog. In the beginning, the jobs consisted of examining individual electrical cabinets in schools, hospitals, banks and public buildings. Today, EGI inspects electrical installations for industrial customers.

Thermal imaging for electrical inspection

“Control rooms can include up to 40 electrical cabinets and they have to be inspected every 4 years. This is not only stipulated by law, but also required by insurance companies for fire prevention,” said Weigt from experience, because some of these control rooms have been in operation for 30 years. He further said, “Old cable coating can become porous. External factors, such as UV radiation and subsequent chemical processes in the material change the softening agents in the plastic coating over the course of time, thus, making it more brittle and causing it to break off.”

In addition to this, contact points oxidise and fuses become overloaded. The FLIR thermal imaging camera detects this immediately. Defective electrical components are then noted for replacement during the next planned shut-down. Inspection with a thermal imaging camera allows the system to be under load. Electrical systems tend to heat up before they break down. A thermal imaging camera will clearly identify ‘hot spots’, so that preventive action can be taken before failure occurs.

Thermal imaging can also be used to detect asymmetrical loads. The reason for this is not always faulty modules. Older systems have often been extended over the course of time. In such cases, an electrical circuit could be exposed to more load than originally intended. This requires immediate action, because excess load can cause heat problems and pose a fire hazard. “If serviced regularly, even older electrical installations can run smoothly and unplanned shut-downs and high costs of downtime can be efficiently avoided,” said Weigt.

Thermal imaging for quality control

EGI not only provides thermal services, but builds its own electrical switchboards and cabinets. It uses thermal imaging also to monitor the quality of their own cabinets and documents this for the customers. All components are wired and each screw contact has to be tightened to a specific torque. A thermal imaging camera is used before commissioning the system to detect excess heat and to immediately correct the problem.

Starting in 2010, EGI received an increasing number of orders for thermal imaging and decided to buy a new thermal imaging camera. It decided for the FLIR T440. One of the unique features in the FLIR T440 is Multi Spectral Dynamic Imaging (MSX). MSX is a new, patent-pending technology based on FLIR’s unique onboard processor that provides extraordinary thermal image details in real time. It has real-time thermal video enhanced with visible spectrum definition, exceptional thermal clarity to highlight exactly where the problem is, easier target identification without compromising temperature data and unrivalled image quality. As such, there is no need for a separate digital photo for reports.

Unlike traditional thermal fusion that inserts a thermal image into a visible-light picture, FLIR’s new MSX embosses digital camera detail into thermal video and stills. MSX provides sharper looking thermal images, quicker target orientation, clutter-free reports and a faster route to solutions.

Interchangeable wide-angle lens for tight spaces

The FLIR T440 comes equipped with a 25° lens, which is ideal for many applications. But thermal imaging professionals often don’t have enough space in tight rooms. Therefore, EGI decided to purchase an additional interchangeable 45° wideangle lens, because sometimes, the distance to the electrical cabinet is only 80 cm, when taking thermal images. Even at such short distances, the 45° lens provides a full picture, in which problem areas, even in thin cables, can be clearly identified.

Technician Andre Bacht is impressed by the touchscreen display with its sketch feature. This new FLIR Systems feature allows to clearly indicate on a saved image the location of the problem area, both on the thermal and the visual image. This can be done immediately on the touch screen of the camera. The indications you make on the thermal image will automatically appear in your report. He also uses the Meterlink feature. FLIR MeterLink technology makes it possible to transfer, via Bluetooth, the data acquired by an Extech clamp meter into the thermal imaging camera. This saves time since there is no longer the need to take notes during the inspection. Furthermore, it eliminates the risk of erroneous notes and speeds up the reporting process since all values are automatically included in the inspection report.

“We used to note the values of a clamp meter separately on a sheet of paper and allocated them to the correct thermal image later on. Of course, this posed the risk of mistakes,” explained Bacht. He also uses the camera’s integrated wireless LAN feature to transfer the thermal images to his tablet PC.

Conclusion

As per Michael Weigt, the strategy has been an absolute success. “Our goal consisted of tapping into a new business area for EGI with qualified services. We have achieved this, and thermal inspection has also proven to be an interesting job. FLIR thermal imaging cameras are perfect for the task,” he concludes.

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