Tiny video cameras mounted at the end of flexible cables. Infrared thermal imaging cameras that detect heat. The photo-taking capability of the ubiquitous smartphone. High-definition digital video and photo cameras mounted on unmanned drone aircraft. These are a few ways technology is helping electricians see into areas that are impractical or impossible to access, providing accurate photo and video that shows conditions for construction and maintenance work.

Video inspection cameras

Ben Cabot, product manager, Milwaukee Tool (www.milwaukeetool.com), said video inspection cameras provide a live view of hidden areas and the capability of taking pictures and video of them. Dark spaces are illuminated by adjustable, onboard lighting.

“Inspection cameras allow the user to avoid demolishing floors, walls or ceilings or dismantling parts to get a look at something,” Cabot said. “This saves time and money by determining where problems are but also where they are not.”

Milwaukee Tool offers M-series 360 and Flex Series inspection cameras that allow the user to orient the image without manipulating the camera cable. Four LED lights illuminate the viewing area, and a 2.7-inch LCD screen provides a clear picture of what the camera sees. Flex inspection cameras give users complete control of the camera head position to inspect in different directions.

Sean O’Flaherty, director of product management, Klein Tools (www.kleintools.com), said a portable borescope is a handheld device with a display, which connects to a flexible tube with a small camera.

“Usually, the active end of the tube also has an illumination system to ensure that images are ‘seen’ by the system,” O’Flaherty said. “The tube can be pushed into hard-to-reach areas, and it delivers an image of what it sees back to the handheld device.

“For electricians needing to see into wall cavities, beneath floors, ducts, vents or in ceilings, a borescope can be an invaluable tool, giving the operator the ability to capture video or still images for later inspection, analysis or recall. This is a huge benefit when brainstorming solutions or troubleshooting problems that need to be addressed,” he said.

Klein Tools’ handheld portable borescopes have video, audio and photo recording capabilities and file playback with adjustable work line and video output. Multiple accessories are available.

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Extech by Flir’s borescope cameras (www.extech.com) provide video and photo recording functions and wireless displays for an unobstructed view of difficult-to-access areas. Users can look inside wall cavities to locate and inspect electrical wiring, fixtures, pipe and conduits. You can also view obscured areas behind motors and other equipment. The product line includes eight general-purpose inspection cameras, industrial borescope cameras, and camera probes and accessories.

Smartphone cameras

For construction companies, smartphones are a key element in mobile communications systems. These devices can do so much. Smartphone cameras can take quality photos and video on job sites to document work, photograph potential problems, email images to others for review and input, and document accident scenes.

Thermal imaging cameras

Fluke Corp. (www.fluke.com) markets two types of thermal imaging products: infrared cameras for full, noncontact thermal characterization and analysis, and a new thermal multimeter that combines a digital multimeter with a thermal imager.

Fluke’s infrared cameras are for technicians that need quick, accurate thermal imaging in a rugged body, said Jessica Pounds, business unit manager, 
Fluke Corp.

“These infrared cameras are ideal for finding apparent temperature differences between components or materials that can point to a potential problem,” Pounds said. “For electrical contractors, infrared cameras can capture thermal information without touching the target, making them a good choice for inspecting to diagnose the integrity of electrical systems from a safe distance. They are built to survive in the toughest industrial environments.”

Thermal imagers can identify unbalanced loads, possible harmonics issues, overloaded systems with excessive current, loose or corroded connections that cause increased resistance in the circuit, winding insulation failure in electric motors, component failure, wiring mistakes and underspecified components.

Fluke’s newest offering for ECs is a thermal multimeter.

“This is a full-featured digital multimeter with integrated thermal imaging,” Pounds said. “It is a first-line troubleshooting tool for electrical equipment that can check hot spots on high-voltage equipment and transformers, [and] detect heating of fuses, wires, insulators, connectors, splices and switches. Scanning with the instrument can reveal many electrical issues rapidly and from a safe distance. By combining two tools into one, the thermal multimeter lightens the load and increases productivity.”

The thermal multimeter is compatible with a flexible current clamp to expand measurement capabilities and get into tight, hard-to-reach spaces for current measurements up to 2,500 amperes.

“Professional thermographers and maintenance managers can make use of cameras with our sharp focus feature that sets focus both near and far in one image,” Pounds said. “Expert Series cameras are for advanced thermographers who require premium image quality. Performance Series offers 320-by-240 resolution and advanced diagnosis and reporting tools.”

Richard Wexler, director of marketing, Flir (www.flir.com), said thermal imaging cameras give users the power to see problems that are invisible to the naked eye and to see in total darkness, so users can pinpoint the exact location of a problem by measuring differences in temperature. 

Wexler said thermal imaging cameras help eliminate guesswork, and enable electricians to troubleshoot complex and compounded issues by quickly finding warm or overheating connections, locating the root of a component problem (fuses, circuit-related wiring), and quickly identifying the list of potential issues.

“We have released a new line of test and measurement tools that are enhanced with IGM [infrared guided measurement] technology,” Wexler said. “With the line of lepton thermal camera core, our new line of tools visually points users to the precise location of potential electrical issues by showing a thermal image of the exact area that may require further testing and investigation. IGM products allow users to find problems faster, while also ensuring that a user is safe from potentially dangerous situations. With IGM, identifying problems before they’re problems allows users to work faster, smarter, and allows them to get the job done.”

Flir offers a broad line of thermal imaging products with advanced models featuring multispectral dynamic imaging technology that adds clarity and definition to the thermal image. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities allow connection to enabled test and measurement tools.

Cabot said temperature is an extremely useful indicator of potential problems. By understanding differences of temperature, users can identify missing insulation in walls, poor seals around windows and doors, overheating circuit breakers or electrical connections, blocks in steam traps, and even damaging heat to motors, bearings and belts. Infrared cameras allow users to monitor important equipment closely and instantly expose issues. Milwaukee Tool offers two thermal imager models and a thermal imaging kit.

Other product sources

In addition to the companies providing information for this report, borescopes and thermal cameras for professionals are manufactured by several companies well-known in the electrical industry, including Greenlee (www.greenlee.com), Hilti (www.us.hilti.com), Ideal Industries (www.idealindustries.com), Ridgid (www.ridgid.com) and Ryobi Tools (www.ryobitools.com).