Advances in infrared tools for thermal imaging
February 13, 2019 - The world of infrared (IR) test and measurement has seen a steep curve of design advancement in recent years, with heavy investments in research and development (R&D) leading to the creation of tools that are lighter, faster and easier to deploy than their predecessors, in an everyday industrial environment.
Tools for electrical contractors should add value to what they are working to accomplish, while also ‘getting out of the way’ of the job at hand. With that in mind, today’s IR test and measurement tools are a fraction of their predecessors’ size, yet offer a substantial feature set, to help ensure any thermal management problems can be found quickly.
Further, high-output IR professional tools now offer on-board Wi-Fi and Bluetooth communications, so they can integrate seamlessly with peripheral tools. Clamps, multi-meters and other test and measurement meters can all communicate with a camera, sending their data feed for automatic embedding in thermal images.
Indeed, a thermal image is only half the story. Advanced communications allow contributing conditions to be accounted for, as well, as part of the bigger picture.
An electrician’s sixth sense
Thermal imaging is an essential tool because it enables thorough and complete troubleshooting to facilitate a safer work environment for electrical contractors. By implementing the technology as part of their daily workflow, they can test systems from a safe distance. They can identify a process or system operating in a condition that will lead to a catastrophic failure and then adjust their approach accordingly.
As such, thermal imaging allows for more confident and accurate action plans to be created, as they can reveal and accurately diagnose system faults—like loose connections and power quality issues—without having to work inside a panel. You could say thermal imaging is the industrial world’s ‘sixth sense.’ Without it, electricians are often working in the dark.
Physics determines what can be seen from a set distance. This is referred to as ‘spot size ratio’ and is key in understanding what can be accurately measured with thermal imaging tools. While the best camera is the one that is with you at any given time, it is important to appreciate a system’s limitations, as well as its capabilities.
Operating conditions like amperage and voltage can be recorded and saved within the IR image.
For a tool that gets out of your way, it is important to look for built-in flexibility, such as pivoting optics, to tackle tight spaces and common overhead work.
Lastly, an image is only as good as what you do with it. Using on-board Wi-Fi enables fast image transfers, as well as remote control by smartphones and tablets. Such conveniences make the difference between a tool that stays in its case and one that is put to work on every job.
In the coming years, smaller, faster and more rugged tools will be developed for the electrical industry and they will support even greater wireless communications connectivity with external devices. At the same time, IR sensors will be integrated into common tools like clamps and multi-meters, providing access to the technology without having to add new tools to an electrician’s kit.
Also, cameras will be mounted within panels and switchgear to run full-time, monitor critical assets and alert personnel when conditions exceed pre-set thresholds. This application will bridge the gap of infrequent inspections, helping to ensure a safe work environment for electrical professionals and reducing downtime for the equipment they install and service.
This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Electrical Business magazine.
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