Affordability, portability and precision key to thermal imaging

Paul Boughton
The latest thermal imagers focus on affordability, portability and the sort of precision you would normally expect to find with more advanced solutions. Sean Ottewell reports.

On 3rd March Californian company LumaSense Technologies announced the release of its new Mikron MikroSHOT thermal imaging camera.

The latest addition to the company's Mikron infrared (IR) thermal imaging product range is aimed at users who need affordable, pocket-sized portability with capabilities normally found in larger, more expensive thermal imagers.

Its innovative Thermal-on-Visible mode allows for radiometric temperature data to be displayed directly on the visible image. A large 2.7-inch display and 160x120 pixel image resolution allow easy viewing of images. At the same time, the MikroSHOT is capabable of measuring from -20°C to 350°C, operating at a temperature range of -15°C to 50°C.

The SD card, USB and video output capability allow for convenient, quick analysis of the jpeg-format data on a laptop or other mobile device using common software. MikroSpec 4.0 software is included for image analysis and reporting.

"The MikroSHOT is a camera designed specifically for affordability. Its ease of use and unique features will benefit any thermographer in the field," comments Brett Sargent, general manager, Thermal Imaging. "No camera on the market can fit in your pocket, be operated with one hand and comes with so many features at a great low price. The MikroSHOT will bring the benefits of thermal imaging to existing applications and a whole new set of applications," he added.

MikroSHOT is joined in LumaSense's new product stable by the Mikron MCL320MF thermal imaging camera. This is suitable for use in process control applications where thermal data is needed to interface directly with process control systems, without the use of a PC or an external software interface.

The camera has 320x240 resolution and digital outputs and streaming video, plus it can detect thermal abnormalities in process applications without the use of multiple temperature sensors. Any alarms are notified directly to a process control system.

In addition, the MCL320MF system can be mounted within harsh industrial process environments, requires no custom software for set-up and can be remotely mounted within protective enclosures. Having no moving parts, maintenance is low while reliability is maximised.

Overall, the MCL320MF takes into consideration the key purchasing factors: overall cost of the system, integration support needed and cost of ownership.

High precision in rugged processes

Meanwhile, Hart Scientific, a division of Fluke Corporation, has launched a high-accuracy dual-channel handheld thermometer for platinum resistance thermometry (PRT), thermocouple, and thermistor measurement.

The new Fluke 1523 and 1524 thermometers offer single and dual channel models, and feature precision components and circuitry to put lab-quality measurement in easy reach of field technicians and engineers.

According to the company, these rugged and affordable portable electronic thermometers offer accuracy of +/- 0.002°C, a level appropriate for high precision field work in oil, gas and other industries, where the current practice is the use of toxic mercury-in-glass thermometers. Fluke guarantees the specifications in -10°C to 60°C ambient temperatures, with best performance over the range 13°C to 33°C.

In addition, the thermometers' graph trends and display statistics to increase productivity, shorten the learning curve, and extend the capabilities of technicians.

Another Fluke innovation are the portable Ti10 and Ti25 thermal imagers that are specifically intended for IR preventative and predictive maintenance at industrial sites - most notably surveys of steam systems.

In many process plant applications steam is used to heat raw materials and treat semi-finished products. Generally, steam is a very efficient way to transport heat energy because the amount of latent heat required to produce steam from water is quite large, and steam is easily moved in pressurised piping systems that can deliver that energy at manageable costs.

But steam is not free, so cutting down on losses makes good economic sense.

Several condition-monitoring technologies are useful for monitoring steam systems to determine how well they are functioning.

Among those technologies is infrared (IR) thermography, in which technicians capture two-dimensional images of the surface temperatures of equipment and structures.

Thermal images of steam systems reveal the comparative temperatures of system components and thereby indicate how effectively and efficiently steam system components are operating.

Using a combination of ultrasound and thermal inspections significantly increases the detection rate of problems in steam systems. During inspections, both thermal and ultrasonic testing should be used to identify failed steam traps and whether they have failed open or closed.

According to Fluke, in general, if a thermal image shows a high inlet temperature and a low outlet temperature (<100°C), that indicates that the trap is functioning correctly. If the inlet temperature is significantly less than the system temperature, steam is not getting to the trap. This may be due to an upstream problem such as a closed valve or a pipe blockage.

If both the inlet and outlet temperatures are the same, the trap probably has failed open and is 'blowing steam' into the condensate line. This keeps the system operating but with significant energy loss.

Low inlet and outlet temperatures indicate that the trap has failed closed and condensate is filling the trap and the inlet line.

Steam transmission lines should be checked for blockages, including closed valves, and underground steam lines for leaks; heat exchangers for blockages; boilers, especially their refractories and insulation; steam-using equipment for any anomalies; and recent repairs to confirm their success.

The rugged, portable Fluke Ti10 and Ti25 Thermal Imagers are specifically intended for infrared preventive and predictive maintenance at industrial sites.

Both units are very straightforward to use, allowing in-house staff familiar with the facility and potential trouble spots to conduct periodic inspections.

Earlier, Fluke also announced that it is including a new version of Smartview software, featuring 3D imaging capabilities and options for organising images and creating reports, with all new thermal imagers.

The software also includes a two-and-a-half hour training programme on DVD, which incorporates step-by-step instructions covering the theory and the practice of thermal imaging.

The enhanced Fluke Smartview 2.0 software is a modular suite of tools for viewing, annotating, editing and analysing infrared images and creating illustrated, customised reports.

Users can download images captured with any Fluke thermal imager equipped with IR Fusion, a process where visible light images can be merged with infrared images, making identification and diagnosis of problems simpler.

Once downloaded, users can analyse, optimise and organise those images, add notes and comments and create reports in a few steps. The enhanced features of Smartview 2.0 include: thermal imaging in 3D, an updated user interface; and new reporting capabilities.

Detecting electrical faults

For Flir, detecting electrical faults and so improving process efficiency product quality are the main drivers behind the latest additions to its iSeries thermal imaging cameras.

The new i40 and i60 cameras weigh 600g and have a 2.3 megapixel digital camera and double LED lights to allow use in dark environments.

A Picture-in-Picture function allows the overlaying and scaling of an infrared image on a visual image, in real time and at the push of a button. This enables easier identification and interpretation of inspected objects.

These cameras feature intuitive command buttons and a clear user menu available in 21 languages. They are dust- and water-splash proof, shock resistant and equipped with a field replaceable battery for five hours of uninterrupted use.

A wide temperature measurement range of -20°C to 350°C is ideal for the majority of preventive maintenance applications.

The main differentiator between the cameras is the size of a focal plane array. The Flir i40 has a 120x120 pixels detector and the top of the range Flir i60 has a 180x180 pixels detector

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