Best Thermal Imaging Cameras for Electrical Inspections (2022)

Thermal images are an easy way to identify apparent temperature differences in industrial three-phase electrical circuits, compared to their normal operating conditions. By inspecting the thermal gradients of all three phases side-by-side, technicians can quickly spot performance anomalies on individual legs due to unbalance or overloading.

Electrical unbalance can be caused by several difference sources: a power delivery problem, low voltage on one leg, or an insulation resistance breakdown inside the motor windings.

Even a small voltage unbalance can cause connections to deteriorate, reducing the amount of voltage supplied, which motors and other loads will draw excessive current, delivery lower torque (with associated mechanical stress), and fail sooner. A severe unbalance can blow a fuse, reducing operations down to a single phase. Meanwhile, the unbalanced current will return on the neutral, causing the utility to fine the facility for peak power usage.

In practice, it is virtually impossible to perfectly balance the voltages across three phases. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) defines unbalances as a percentage: % unbalance – [(100)(maximum deviation from average voltage)] / average voltage. To help equipment operators determine acceptable levels of unbalance, NEMA has drafted specifications for multiple devices. These baselines are a useful point of comparison during maintenance and troubleshooting.

Commonly Inspected Components

Capture thermal images of all electrical panels and other high-load connection points such as drives, disconnects, and controls. Where you discover higher temperatures, follow that circuit and examine associated branches and loads.

Check panels and other connections with the covers off. Ideally, you should check electrical devices when they are fully warmed up and at steady state conditions with at least 40% of the typical load. This allows measurements to be properly evaluated and compared to normal operating conditions.

Abnormal heating associated with high resistance or excessive current flow is the main cause of many problems in electrical systems. Infrared thermography allows us to see these invisible thermal signatures of impending damage before the damage occurs. When current flows through an electric circuit, part of the electrical energy is converted into heat energy. This is normal. But, if there is an abnormally high resistance in the circuit or abnormally high current flow, abnormally high heat is generated which is wasteful, potentially damaging and not normal.

Ohm's law (P=I2R) describes the relationship between current, electrical resistance, and the power or heat energy generated. We use high electrical resistance for positive results like heat in a toaster or light in a light bulb. However sometimes unwanted heat is generated that result in costly damage. Under-sized conductors, loose connections or excessive current flow may cause abnormally high unwanted heating that result in dangerously hot electrical circuits. Components can literally become hot enough to melt.

(Video) TOP 5: Best Thermal Imaging Camera for Home Inspection 2021

Thermal cameras enable us to see the heat signatures associated with high electrical resistance long before the circuit becomes hot enough to cause an outage or explosion. Be aware of two basic thermal patterns associated with electrical failure: 1) a high resistance caused by poor surface contact and 2) an over loaded circuit or multi-phase imbalance problem.

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What to Look For

Equal load should equate to equal temperatures. In an unbalanced load situation, the more heavily loaded phase(s) will appear warmer than others due to the heat generated by resistance. However, an unbalanced load, an overload, a bad connection, and a harmonic imbalance can all create a similar pattern. Measuring the electrical load is required to diagnose the problem.

It is sound procedure to create a regular inspection route that includes all key electrical connections. Using the software that comes with your Fluke thermal camera, save each image you capture on a computer and track your measurements over time. This allows you to create a baseline of images to compare with images captured at later dates. This procedure will also help you determine whether a hot or cool spot is unusual. Following corrective action, new images will help you determine if repairs were successful.

Heat is produced by current flow through a contact with high electrical resistance. This type of problem is typically associated with switch contacts and connectors. The actual point of heating may often be very small, less than a 1/16 inch when it begins. Below are several examples found with the IR SnapShot during customer demonstrations.

Thermogram A) is a motor controller for an elevator in a large hotel. One of the three phase connections was loose, causing increased resistance at the connector. The excess heating produced a temperature rise of 50 degrees C (90F). Thermogram B) is a 3-phase fuse installation where one end of one fuse has poor electrical contact with the circuit. The increased contact resistance caused a 45C (81F) hotter temperature at that connection than at the other fuse connections. Thermogram C) is a fuse clip where one contact is 55C (99F) hotter than the others. And thermogram D) is a two-phase wall plug-in where the wire connections were loose causing the terminals to heat 55C (100F) hotter than the ambient.

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All four of these examples were serious and needed immediate attention. Thermogram B) shows an interesting principal used in interpreting thermal patterns of electrical circuit. The fuse is hot at one end only. If the fuse were hot at both ends, the problem would be interpreted differently. An overloaded circuit, phase imbalance, or an undersized fuse would cause both ends of the fuse to overheat. Being hot at one end only suggests that the problem is high contact resistance at the heated end.

The wall plug in Thermogram D) was seriously damaged as seen in the visual picture below, however, it continued to operate until it was replaced.

(Video) Top 5 Thermal Inspection Points on an electrical motor - discovering energy waste

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What represents a “red alert”?

Repairs should be prioritized by safety first—i.e., equipment conditions that pose a safety risk—followed by criticality of the equipment and the extent of the temperature rise. NETA (InterNational Electrical Testing Association) guidelines dictate immediate action when the difference in temperature between similar electrical components under similar loads exceeds 15 °C (27 °F) or when the difference in temperature between an electrical component and the ambient air temperatures exceeds 40 °C (72 °F).

NEMA standards warn against operating any motor at a voltage unbalance exceeding one percent. In fact, NEMA recommends that motors be de-rated if operating at a higher unbalance. Safe unbalance percentage vary for other equipment.

The following thermograms show overloaded circuits. Thermogram E) shows a circuit panel in which the main breaker at the top is over heated 75C (135F) above ambient. This total panel is overloaded and in need of immediate attention. Thermograms E) and F) show all the standard circuit breakers over heated. Their temperatures were 60C (108F) above ambient. Although in the thermogram the wires are blue in color they are also hot, 45 to 50C (81 to 90F). This entire electrical system needs to be redone.

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Thermogram G) shows one line of a controller that is about 20C (36F) above the others. This needs further investigation to determine why one wire is that much hotter than the others are and to determine the repair needed. Thermogram H) shows a current transformer that is 14C (25F) warmer than the other two transformers in a 3-phase service installation. This indicates a serious imbalance of the service or a faulty current transformer that could seriously impact the customer's utility bill.

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Load Requirements

When making an inspection it is important that the system is under load. Wait with the inspection for "worst case" or peak loads, or when the load is at least 40% (according to NFPA 70B). Heat generated by a loose connection rises as the square of the load; the higher the load, the easier it is to find problems.

Don't forget to consider the cooling effect of wind or other air movement.

(Video) Best Thermal Imaging Camera for Home Inspection 2022 On Amazon

Surface Temperatures Only

Infrared cameras cannot see through electrical cabinets or solid metal bus trays. Whenever possible open enclosures so the camera can directly see the electrical circuits and components. If you find an abnormally high temperature on the outside surface of an enclosure, rest assured that the temperature is even higher, and usually much higher, inside the enclosure. Below are some thermograms taken of a bus enclosure, which identify a serious problem with the electrical buses inside the enclosure. The hot spots were on the order of 10C hotter than the ambient and 6C hotter than other parts of the bus enclosure.

Bus enclosures:

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Electric Distribution

Literally hundreds of different pieces of equipment may be found in an electrical system. They start with the utility electricity production, high voltage distribution, switchyards and substations, and end with service transformers, switchgear, breakers, meters, local distribution, and appliance panels. Many utilities have purchased the FlexCam® or SnapShot® to help with their maintenance. And nearly every type of industry has bought Infrared Solutions cameras to help with maintenance on their end of the electrical distribution system.

Thermogram M) is a service transformer that had leaked some cooling oil, resulting in dangerously over heated coils near the top. One connection was 160C (288F) above ambient. This transformer needed immediate replacement but the company wanted to delay the repair one month so it could be done during a scheduled total plant shutdown. They used the IR SnapShot camera to monitor the state of the transformer and successfully delayed the repair. Thermogram N) is for a pole mounted service transformer that has a connection 30C (54F) hotter than ambient. Such a condition required maintenance at the next convenient opportunity. Thermogram O) shows a hot main connection on an interrupter at a substation in

Mexico. The connection was found to be 14C (25F) hotter than the others. This was believed to be a problem that needed attention. Thermogram P) shows an overhead connection in a Peru substation. It was less than 10C or (18F) above ambient and not of immediate concern.

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What’s the potential cost of failure?

Motor failure is a common result of voltage unbalance. Total cost combines the cost of a motor, the labor required to change out a motor, the cost of product discarded due to uneven production, line operation, and the revenue lost during the time a line is down.

(Video) TOP 5: Best Thermal Imaging Cameras for Home Inspection [2022]

Assume the cost to replace a 50 hp motor each year is $5000, including labor. Assume 4 hours of downtime per year with income loss of $6000 per hour. Total cost: $5000 + (4 x $6000) = $29,000 annually.

Follow-up actions

When a thermal image shows an entire conductor is warmer than other components throughout part of a circuit, the conductor could be undersized or overloaded. Check the conductor rating and the actual load to determine which is the case.

Use a multimeter with a clamp, a clamp meter, or a power quality analyzer to check current balance and loading on each phase.

On the voltage side, check the protection and switchgear for voltage drops. In general, line voltage should be within 10% of the nameplate rating. Neutral-to-ground voltage tells you how heavily your system is loaded and helps you track harmonic current. Neutral-to-ground voltage higher than 3% should trigger further investigation.

Loads do change, and a phase can suddenly be 5% lower on one leg, if a significantly large single-phase load comes online. Voltage drops across the fuses and switches can also show up as unbalance at the motor and excess heat at the root trouble spot. Before you assume the cause has been found, double check with both the thermal imager and multimeter or clamp meter current measurements.

Neither feeder nor branch circuits should be loaded to the maximum allowable limit. Circuit load equations should also allow for harmonics. The most common solution to overloading is to redistribute loads among the circuits, or to manage when loads come on during the process.

Using the associated software, each suspected problem uncovered with a thermal imager can be documented in a report that includes a thermal image and a digital image of the equipment. This is the best way to communicate problems and suggest repairs.

FAQs

Can thermal imaging detect electricity? ›

Thermography is rapidly becoming a valuable method for detecting problems in electrical systems. Thermal imaging can detect an issue in an electrical system before that issue significantly degrades the performance of the system, or before the issue gives rise to a safety problem such as the risk of fire.

Which thermal camera is best? ›

One of the best handheld options is the Hti-Xintai thermal camera, with a high resolution of 320 by 240 pixels, a large screen for visibility, and an extensive heat detection range. For a budget-friendly smartphone attachment, consider the FLIR ONE PRO for Apple/iOS devices or the FLIR ONE Gen 3 for Android users.

What is the difference between infrared camera and thermal camera? ›

Active IR systems use short wavelength infrared light to illuminate an area of interest. Some of the infrared energy is reflected back to a camera and interpreted to generate an image. Thermal imaging systems use mid- or long wavelength IR energy.

How can an infrared camera or thermal imager be useful in electrical testing? ›

Thermal imaging or 'thermography' uses an infrared camera to detect heat. We point these infrared cameras over electrical switchboards to show any hot components. These hot components can indicate loose connections, which can cause overloaded circuits, potential fire hazards or unbalanced loads.

What is electrical thermal imaging? ›

Electrical Thermal Imaging detects temperature changes in electrical components in switchboards and electrical infrastructure. It works using a specialised infrared camera to measure heat in the wiring of electrical components and connections.

What can thermal imaging not see through? ›

Thermal imaging cannot see through trees (or wood), but it can be helpful for spotting people in forested areas where their heat signatures stand out much more than a visible image might.

How do I choose a thermal imaging camera? ›

Apart from cost and quality, the two major factors that you should keep in mind when buying a thermal camera are Detector Resolution and Thermal Sensitivity. The Detector resolution is the number of pixels that the thermal imager can fill in a frame. More the pixels, more detailed the image is going to be!

What is the difference between FLIR and thermal? ›

FLIRs make pictures from heat, not visible light. Heat (also called infrared, or thermal, energy) and light are both parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, but a camera that can detect visible light won't see thermal energy, and vice versa.

How much does a good thermal camera cost? ›

To get a better idea of the market and how much you should expect to pay, consumer infrared cameras start at 200$ all the way up to 3000$. A pro-grade infrared camera will generally set you back more than 1000$ while a smartphone thermal camera generally costs between 200 and 400$.

What are the disadvantages of thermal imaging cameras? ›

Drawbacks or disadvantages of Thermal Imaging

Thermal imaging products require high initial investment cost. ➨Images are difficult to interpret in specific objects having erratic temperatures. ➨Accurate temperature measurements are hindered by differing emissivities and reflections from surfaces.

Is Far Infrared better than infrared? ›

Near infrared units tend to promote topical healing and mild pain relief quite effectively, but far infrared heating units are incredibly effective at removing toxins, improving circulation, and relaxing the muscles.

Is thermal or IR better? ›

Night vision scopes can render higher-resolution images than thermal scopes. They use ambient light sources or the IR to help you see in the dark. Through night vision scopes, you can easily detect your targeted game even if there are other moving objects since, you are getting almost the actual image.

Can a thermal camera see wires? ›

The cameras can detect a loose connection in a breaker panel by showing a hot spot. They may also show faulty components that are shorting. They detect loose and frayed wiring.

Can thermal imaging see through the ground? ›

Well, no - but to be fair, they don't 'see through' anything at all. A thermal imaging camera detects the surface temperature of the first object in its line of sight; point one at a wall or other solid surface, and it will register the heat being radiated outward by that surface.

How effective is thermal imaging? ›

It is superior to visible imaging technologies because thermal radiation can penetrate smokes, aerosols, dust, and mists more effectively than visible radiation so that animals can be detected over a wide range of normally troublesome atmospheric conditions.

What is infrared scanning for electrical equipment? ›

Infrared (IR) scanning is a noninvasive substation inspection technique. It uses a thermal imaging camera to detect high levels of heat—one of your transformer's top three enemies—emitted in the form of infrared radiation. The camera can also identify cold spots that should be hot, which could indicate a problem.

What is infrared electrical inspection? ›

IR Safety Inspections of electrical equipment identify excess heat on apparatus and detect electrical issues such as loose connections, faulty fuses, defective breakers, damaged switches, overloaded or imbalanced circuits and a myriad of other problematic electrical conditions.

Is thermal imaging good for a home inspection? ›

Now, thermal imaging cameras have become the norm for home inspections. Thermal imaging cameras can detect subtle temperature differences that would otherwise go unnoticed. They're small, handheld devices that make a home inspector's job much easier and more thorough.

What defeats thermal imaging? ›

A thick woolen blanket is a good variant to defeat the thermal imager. However, it is considered to be a quick temporary method of hiding infrared radiation. To block the heat, you just need to cover yourself with a blanket. Actually, the principle of hiding from a thermal imager is identical to a space blanket.

Does aluminum foil block thermal imaging? ›

5. Can thermal imaging see through aluminium foil? ​The answer is NO. Any electrically conductive material will block infrared radiation.

Can thermal cameras see people through walls? ›

Thermal imaging devices can't “see” through walls. But pointing a thermal camera at a building still reveals sensitive information about what's going on inside. Thermal cameras read the heat radiating off of an object.

Which is better night vision or thermal imaging? ›

Thermal is best used to detect the desired game object. Night vision is best used to recognize, identify and harvest the game only if facial recognition is required or for deer depredation. If you have your choice of options, thermal imaging is the best twenty-four hour imaging option.

How deep into the ground can a thermal camera see? ›

The subterranean limit for most radar is about 30 feet, El-Baz said. Infrared imaging, which detects surface-level heat differences above buried objects, is most effective to a depth of about five feet, he said, though it, too, has been used to track objects 25 feet down.

What is the max range of a thermal camera? ›

Depending on the camera configuration chosen it may be possible to detect humans beyond 15 km distance, ground vehicles or small boats beyond 20 km, larger ships or vessels and aircraft beyond 30 km.

Is FLIR or seek better? ›

In other words, the image quality of the thermal images in FLIR One is higher than SEEK Compact PRO. However, the thermal images of FLIR One are noisier than SEEK Compact PRO since the thermal resolution of FLIR One is 160 × 120 while it is 320 × 240 in SEEK Compact PRO.

Can my phone be a thermal camera? ›

This accessory turns your phone into a thermal camera - YouTube

How far can thermal imaging See? ›

Detect Threats at Long Range

Humans, animals and vehicles are typically warmer than their environment, providing a high contrast that allows for fast wide-angle detection of threats from a much further distance (sometimes up to 50km) than what can be achieved with optical imaging.

What is the hottest color in a thermal camera? ›

In any thermogram, the brighter colors (red, orange, and yellow) indicate warmer temperatures (more heat and infrared radiation emitted) while the purples and dark blue/black indicate cooler temperatures (less heat and infrared radiation emitted).

What is the best FLIR thermal camera? ›

We chose the FLIR E6-XT because it is a premium thermal camera with a high thermal resolution of 240 x 180 (43,200 pixels).
...
#1. FLIR E6-XT (Best Trigger Style)
Resolution:240 x 180 (43,200 pixels)
Thermal Range:-4°F to 1022°F
Sensitivity:0.11°F (60mK)
Field of View:54° x 34°
Refresh Rate:9-Hz
4 more rows

What camera can see through walls? ›

The latest version of a 'sense through the wall' camera, developed by Israeli company Camero, can detect any object, wire, or even shallow breathing of a human, from a distance of over 50-meters (164 feet).

Can thermal cameras be fooled? ›

Thermal cameras

They give a false colour image on a TV screen that depicts the variations in heat energy coming from the objects in view. However, if you heat up everything to exactly the same temperature it won't necessarily make everything look the same on the screen.

What are the three different types of thermal imaging technology? ›

Infrared cameras come in three basic types: short wavelength, mid-wavelength, and long wavelength. Each type has its own place in facilities maintenance, depending on use and operation.

Can thermal camera see through clothes? ›

Can Thermal imaging cameras see through clothing? No, thermal imaging cameras can detect the temperature of the cloth but will not see through it.

What are the disadvantages of using infrared? ›

Disadvantages of infrared sensor:
  • The required line of sight.
  • Limited range, support a shorter range.
  • Get blocked by common objects.
  • The transmission data rate is low.
  • Can be affected by environmental conditions such as rain, fog, dust, pollution, sunlight, smoke, etc.
  • Infrared waves at high power can damage eyes.

Can you get too much far infrared? ›

Dr. Sharma says the dry heat generated in an infrared sauna can cause you to become overheated, and if used for a prolonged session, it can also cause dehydration and even heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Can you see a snake with a thermal scope? ›

Modern thermal imaging cameras for hunting allow you to detect a thermal target in all light conditions. Grass and bushes are not significant obstacles. However, a thermal imaging camera will not be enough for snake detection.

Can thermal imaging see through fog? ›

Although thermal imaging cameras can see in total darkness, through light fog, light rain, and snow, the distance they can see is affected by these atmospheric conditions.

Do infrared cameras work in daylight? ›

Do Infrared Cameras Work In the Daylight? Infrared cameras should not be confused with night vision, which enhances visible light. Because infrared cameras measure light that is not visible, they can work in darkness as well as daylight.

What can thermal imaging detect? ›

Thermography, or thermal imaging, detects infrared radiation to help see objects in the dark. Thermal cameras distinguish the relative temperature of objects around us to help us see warmer objects – like people and animals – against cooler backdrops, even at night.

What can thermal imaging see through? ›

Well, no - but to be fair, they don't 'see through' anything at all. A thermal imaging camera detects the surface temperature of the first object in its line of sight; point one at a wall or other solid surface, and it will register the heat being radiated outward by that surface.

What does a thermal detector detect? ›

Thermal cameras detect temperature by recognizing and capturing different levels of infrared light. This light is invisible to the naked eye, but can be felt as heat if the intensity is high enough. All objects emit some kind of infrared radiation, and it's one of the ways that heat is transferred.

What do thermal sensors detect? ›

Temperature Sensors

It can be used to monitor the temperature of solids, liquids or gases over an extremely wide temperature range. Non-contact measurement interprets the radiant energy of a heat source in the form of energy emitted in the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Can a thermal camera see through walls? ›

Thermal imaging devices can't “see” through walls. But pointing a thermal camera at a building still reveals sensitive information about what's going on inside. Thermal cameras read the heat radiating off of an object.

Can thermal imaging see through aluminum foil? ›

Can thermal imaging see through aluminium foil? ​The answer is NO. Any electrically conductive material will block infrared radiation. The greater the conductivity, the greater the blocking.

How far can a thermal camera see? ›

There is no practical limit to how far a thermal camera can see through a clear line of sight. The Moon for example is often visible when not obscured by clouds (water vapor absorbs IR energy).

What is the difference between FLIR and thermal? ›

FLIRs make pictures from heat, not visible light. Heat (also called infrared, or thermal, energy) and light are both parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, but a camera that can detect visible light won't see thermal energy, and vice versa.

Is there a camera that can see through walls? ›

The latest version of a 'sense through the wall' camera, developed by Israeli company Camero, can detect any object, wire, or even shallow breathing of a human, from a distance of over 50-meters (164 feet).

Can a thermal camera see through clothes? ›

Can Thermal imaging cameras see through clothing? No, thermal imaging cameras can detect the temperature of the cloth but will not see through it.

Can thermal imaging see mold? ›

Thermal imaging can not detect mold but can detect variations in temperatures behind walls, which assists in cold spots that can become potential moisture or water intrusion issues. Moisture meters are used after the hot and cold spots are found.

What does red and yellow indicate in an infrared camera? ›

In any thermogram, the brighter colors (red, orange, and yellow) indicate warmer temperatures (more heat and infrared radiation emitted) while the purples and dark blue/black indicate cooler temperatures (less heat and infrared radiation emitted).

What are the three different types of thermal imaging technology? ›

Infrared cameras come in three basic types: short wavelength, mid-wavelength, and long wavelength. Each type has its own place in facilities maintenance, depending on use and operation.

How far can infrared sensors see? ›

It can recognize an object (fills eight pixels) at 368 meters away. It can identify a target (fills 13 pixels) at 226 meters away. Larger targets increase the distance.

Can infrared cameras see in the dark? ›

Because infrared cameras measure light that is not visible, they can work in darkness as well as daylight.

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