Thermographic cameras detect infrared radiation, and display images where the colors correspond to temperature. The technology has many applications, e.g. to identify heat loss in buildings, monitor the function of solar and wind power plants, and detect gas leakage. FLIR, a major exporter, traces its roots to Swedish AGA.

”FLIR develops and manufactures thermal imaging cameras – i.e. cameras that detect invisible infrared radiation and generate thermal images which illustrate temperature variations. In spite of employing 350 people in Sweden, we are somewhat unknown to the general public. It probably has to do with the fact that we are not listed on the stock exchange, and that we export 99 percent of our products”, says Rickard Lindvall, General Manager at FLIR Systems’s facility in Täby.

Med hjälp av en värmekamera kan motorhuvens yttemperatur visas. Foto: FLIR.

A thermal imaging camera can visualize the hood’s surface temperature. Photo: FLIR.

”Our history goes back to 1964 when Swedish AGA started to develop thermographic cameras. The venture was successful, but did not really fit in with the industrial gas. In the 90s, the thermal imaging was hived off to a separate company called Agema. The company was first in the world to manufacture a thermographic camera with a detector that did not need cooling, and the American company FLIR was so interested in this innovation that they bought Agema in 1997. Since then, thermography has evolved quickly, and we are manufacturing cameras for applications such as environmental protection, fire protection and border control”, Rickard says.

What is a thermal imaging camera?

”A thermal imaging camera is a measuring device that registers infrared radiation. The information is translated to an electronic signal which is processed to render a thermographic image showing temperature differences. The temperature is measured from a distance, and the resulting image encodes different temperature ranges with different colors. The camera is capable of imaging temperature over a wide area, and moving objects can be measured and tracked in real time”, Rickard Lindvall explains.

”Information on temperature is vital to understand and control many processes and thermographic cameras are useful in innumerous applications. There are many examples where this technology actually saves lives, benefits the environment and contributes to reduced energy consumption. One thing that opens interesting opportunities is that the cameras are getting cheaper and more affordable to regular consumers. One could quickly make sure that the gruel has the appropriate temperature to be served, or check whether the dog has been lying on the couch without permission. The heat trace remains”.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy

As much as half of the energy consumption of a building can often be attributed to heat loss. Air leakage and poorly sealed windows and doors are often to blame. The leakage pathways are often complex and difficult to follow, but thermographic imaging gives an opportunity to trace the leakage and take measures to minimize the energy losses.

”Building inspectors around the world are using thermal imaging cameras to monitor solar panels on roofs and in photovoltaic power stations. The thermal image with its high level of contrast makes it possible to notice malfunctioning panels before they are installed, and the cameras can also detect installed panels in need of replacement. Another example of a renewable energy application is wind turbine monitoring. Wind turbines contain many components, both mechanical and electrical, that can be monitored from a distance using thermographic cameras”, Rickard says.

Tracking dangerous gases

I kamerans display syns gasläckan som rök och det går snabbt att lokalisera källan. Foto: FLIR

The gas leakage appears as smoke in the camera’s display, and the source can quickly be located. Photo: FLIR

Gases that are toxic or harmful to the environment are often invisible to the naked eye. This is true for many volatile hydrocarbons, for instance, and emissions may affect the climate, the local environment and people’s health. Some substances are also very flammable, and uncontrolled emissions and leakages can be grave fire hazards. It is important for the natural gas industry to be able to detect methane leakages. Oil refineries, chemical industries and power plants are other examples where dangerous gases need to be monitored.

”We humans have a tendency to underestimate the effect of things we can not see or touch”, says Sara Haack, Global Product Manager, Optical Gas Imaging at FLIR. ”When a gas leak is visualized with the help of a detection camera, the problem is concretized and the importance of eliminating leaks is made obvious”.

A gas detection camera easily gains a complete picture of an area, and leaks that would otherwise have reached the atmosphere can be prevented. FLIR’s cameras can detect greenhouse gases such as methane, SF6 and carbon dioxide, and both the industry and the control authorites recognize the value of optical gas imaging to prevent leakages and reduce their harmful effects.

The UN organ CCAC, Climate and Clean Air Coalition, has created a voluntary initiative, the CCAC Oil & Gas Methane Partnership, to minimize methane emissions from industrial sources. Companies are free to join the partnership and commit themselves to surveys, evaluations and reports. This includes leakage tracking with the help of optical gas imaging. Many big oil and gas producers are already a part of the initiative.

”Our gas detection camera is a modified version of a thermal imaging camera, where a filter is put in front of the detector. The filter allows only certain wavelenghts to pass trough, and since different gases absorb different wavelengths in the infrared spectrum, the gases can be identified and visualized. In the camera, the otherwise invisible gas looks like a cloud of smoke”, Sara Haack says.

Thermographic surveillance of biofuel storages

The energy company Söderenergi is using thermal imaging cameras to secure their large biofuel storage against self-ignition and intrusions, thereby avoiding stoppages and drops in production. Söderenergi utilizes thermal imaging cameras in several ways:

  • At the Nykvarn fuel terminal, a thermal imaging system has been set up to detect temperature increases and fires.
  • Thermographic imaging is used to monitor electrical signalboxes for overload and overheating.
  • The operational staff is equipped with hand-held thermal imaging cameras, so they can detect leakages and check the temperature of hot surfaces around the boilers.

Prevention and control of pandemic diseases

In a globalized world where travellers are moving quickly around the globe, infectious diseases spread easily. Elevated body temperature is a reliable indicator of most viral infections affecting humans. Following the SARS and bird-flu (H5N1) outbreaks, health authorities have been eager to find a quick and reliable non-contact method to measure people’s body temperature.

”A thermal imaging camera can detect temperature differrences of 0.08 degrees and create a visual, real-time map of a body’s surface temperature. Such cameras are now being used at major airports in Southeast Asia to examine everyone that crosses the border. Continous thermographic monitoring of travellers provides an efficient early warning system for disease detection”, Rickard Lindvall says.flir3

FLIR ONE

”A while ago, we released the FLIR ONE. It is used as an accessory to a smartphone or tablet. The product allows you to explore your surroundings in an entirely new way; you can use it to look for heat loss and water leakages, identify overloaded electrical connections, find pets hiding in the dark, reveal intruders in the garden, check the temperature of babyfood and much more. It is a goldmine to the technology geek and the do-it-yourselfer alike”, Rickard Lindvall says.

The article was published in October 2016.