Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Future of Infrared Cameras

Lyon, France — Initially developed for the military market by US defense companies, use of uncooled infrared (IR) cameras in commercial applications has been growing over the last ten years. In the infrared spectrum, Long Wave Infrared (LWIR) is the most commonly used wavelength (8-12 microns). Thermography and a variety of vision enhancement applications are the main growth markets for uncooled IR cameras.

This camera cost reduction will continue through 2015 in the thermography business and will also be a strong factor in the vision market (also called night vision or vision enhancement) with the growth of the security/surveillance and automotive markets.

Driven by the continued cost reductions, the volumes of cameras sold will triple by 2015 from more than 200,000 cameras today to more than 700,000 units, meaning +23 % annual growth rate. The revenue growth will be about + 9% as market prices for the cameras decrease.
FLIR (US) has been, and remains, the pioneer of uncooled IR cameras with a vertically integrated business model (internal detector production) and a presence in all markets. This domination will be challenged at two levels in the future:

At the camera level: camera manufacturers specialized in each market have strong distribution networks and market presence. In the thermography business, Fluke will take market share from FLIR. In the security/surveillance market, visible camera leaders will enter the IR camera business (Axis, Bosch, Pelco).
At the detector level: new detector suppliers will arrive on the market from the MEMS and semiconductor industry with low cost/high volume product capabilities (Sensonor, Bosch, Faun Infrared…).
One of the major cost components for uncooled IR cameras is the IR detector. Hence, detector cost reduction is one of the major keys to further widespread use of IR cameras.

Microbolometers are the dominant uncooled IR detector technology with more than 95 % of the market in 2010.

Microbolometer manufacturers were few up to now, often owned by camera manufacturers, which limited the cost competition at the detector level. More than 75 % of the production is based in USA, due the original development of the technology by US Defense Department.

This landscape will change in the next five years: many new players (Sensonor, Faun Infrared, Bosch…), focusing only on selling detectors, often in Europe, will enter on the market place with aggressive price strategies.

Vanadium Oxide (VO x), the current dominant microbolometer material, will be challenged by a-Si material and new silicon based materials introduced by new market entrants, thanks to their cost structure, and easier to manufacture.

Detector/Microbolometer product lines are mainly segmented by format from small format (typically 160 x 120) to large format (640 x 480). Price reduction will be huge with –58 % expected between 2010 and 2015 for small format. Larger format will be under less price pressure.

The following technical trends make detector cost reduction possible:

At the packaging level: Wafer Level Packaging and even Pixel Level Packaging will play a huge part in reducing cost, -20 % at least.
At the pixel level: smaller pixel size (17 microns is becoming a standard) will allow smaller detectors.
At the integration level: 3D integration, wafer bonding techniques will allow the production of microbolometers in standard MEMS or CMOS foundries.

COMPANIES MENTIONED IN THE REPORT:

Axis Communications, Acreo, Aerius, Agiltron, Argus, e2v, Audi, Autoliv, BAE systems, BMW, Bosch, Automotive, Bosch Security Systems, Bullard, Dali, Chauvin Arnoux, Current Corporation, Dalsa, DAS Photonics, Draeger, DRS technologies, Electro Optic Sensors, EO C, ETH , Extech, GE Security, FocalPlane Santa Barbara, Fraunhofer IMS, Faun Infrared, FLIR, Fluke, GM, Goodrich, Guide Infrared, Honda, Honeywell, Infrared Solutions, INO , Ipht Jena, Invisage, Irisys, ISG , Jenoptik, KTH , L3Com, Leti, MetuMET , Mikrosistemler, Mitsubishi Electric, MSA , Murata, NE C Avio, NTT , Noble Peak Vision, OKS I, Omnivision, Panasonic, Pelco, QinetiQ, Raytheon, Redshift, Sarnoff, Satir, Samsung, Scott, SCD Semiconductors, SensArray Infrared, Sensonor, Silex, Sirica, Sony, Sumitomo Electric, Testo, Thermoteknix Systems, Toshiba, Tyco, Tyndall, Umicore, Ulis, Vigo, Xenics, Ziptronix.

Monday, June 14, 2010

FLIR Still Going Strong Despite Depressing Economy

JIM BATES / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Recession? What recession? You wouldn't know it from last year's results at Flir, where sales grew 6.5 percent over 2008 and profit was up a healthy 14.6 percent.

Then again, if anyone can ferret out hidden profit opportunities it's probably Flir. The company, which topped last year's ranking, relies on infrared technology. (Infrared, as you recall from high-school physics, is a part of the electromagnetic spectrum beyond visible light.)

Infrared cameras and other imaging systems detect minute temperature differences and can turn them into pictures without relying on external light; that makes them useful for everything from catching drug smugglers to driving in the fog.

Flir's strategy has been to pioneer new applications for infrared, often for the military (government sales account for well over half the company's sales), then pushing unit costs down to broaden the potential market.

Flir also has extended its technology toolbox and product offerings through acquisitions, 11 of them since 2003 and three last year alone. Just last month , Flir spent $180 million to buy Raymarine, a British maker of marine GPS systems — mainly to gain access to more than 1,000 retail outlets for its new hand-held night-vision cameras.

Last year, sales in Flir's government-systems segment were up 15.2 percent, mainly due to higher sales of its very stable platforms for airborne payloads. Commercial vision systems, the division that includes night-vision devices, was up 14.2 percent on broad sales increases across most product lines; but sales in the thermography segment, whose products tend to be costlier, fell 12.8 percent.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Water Ingress - The Complete Picture with Infrared

Business for The Revival Company is the recovery of domestic property and equipment following fire and flood, particularly in the high net worth segment. Its sister company in the Revival Group, Arepa, is focussed on the recovery of technical equipment following a disaster. Scientific, AV and IT equipment as well as manufacturing plant are typical examples. And both companies are now benefiting from the addition of thermography to its range of detection techniques.

The Group bought a FLIR B200 infrared camera eighteen months ago and has since supplemented this initial investment with FLIR BCAM models from the company’s compact range. Thermography is used to complement traditional methods of moisture detection. It allows the quick identification of the point of ingress without intrusion and the target areas requiring particular attention to be highlighted.

“In particular it improves the level of certainty when identifying points and levels of ingress and saves us time and money in the process,” explained Group Technical Manager, Simon Walker.

The company recently investigated a case of water ingress to a substantial holiday villa in Spain that was believed to be the result of a roof leak. Severe damage had resulted throughout the property. Initial reports from the building contractor recommended either repair or replacement of the roof and guttering system.

The Revival Company conducted a thermal imaging survey of all areas using its B200 camera and discovered an unexpected cause. By tracing the passage of water through the fabric of the property, it was able to confirm that the source of ingress was not at high level as originally expected. It identified a moisture bridge from the roof level sun deck beneath the patio doors that allowed water to enter the property during heavy rainfall.

The recommendations made as result of this inspection included the standard drying techniques employed following an event of this nature. Remedial work to the sun deck/property junction was also identified and also the reconfiguration of the drainage system serving this area.

As a result of the FLIR thermal inspection the cost of this work was fractional by comparison with the large scale roof repairs originally envisaged. Furthermore the work could be undertaken with minimal disruption to the owners.

Establishing efficient drying systems after flood is another important application for FLIR infrared at the Revival Group. This includes identifying building defects which would either hamper the drying process or indicate a pre-existing problem. It enables the optimum drying system to be put into effect and for the drying process itself to be tracked and documented visually.

The first step in planning a drying system is to establish the extent of the moisture ingress to the property and the migration of this through various materials. Whilst standard moisture measurement and detection techniques are also used for this purpose, FLIR thermal imaging employed by The Revival Company provides its experienced technicians with a thorough understanding of the extent of the problem, without them having to resort to intrusive testing as a first resort.

Additionally the images provide The Revival Company with a visual representation of the moisture within the property allowing more detailed communication with all parties.

During the drying process, moisture monitoring is carried out using both thermography and standard techniques. The use of thermography provides an immediate indication of the progress of the drying process in various materials. This enables the operator to establish accurate timescale estimates and, if needs be, to reconfigure the drying system to maintain the optimum performance.

Simon Walker concludes, “Thermography is an extremely useful addition to the drying technician’s arsenal of monitoring and measuring equipment. However the correct interpretation of the results by a trained technician is the key to its success.”

Greater sensitivity and image analysis is the strength of the FLIR B200. It has a 2x digital zoom, 9Hz frame refresh and Picture-in-Picture function. This allows the overlay, pan and scale of an infrared image on a visual one and full analysis of the combined image from retained data. This is a particular useful customer service feature for The Revival Group. It makes the task of explaining the water damage problem to a customer so much easier.

Equally valuable for The Revival Group are the humidity and insulation alarms provided by the FLIR B200. These features are ideal for identifying the extent of moisture ingress to premises and can reduce the need to use other time-consuming and more intrusive methods of detection.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Contractors Tout FLIR Camera As Great Tool - Thermal Imaging Getting More Use In Homes

(Re-published from KETV Channel 7 of Omaha, Nebraska)

Law enforcement and the military have been using thermal imaging technology and night vision gear for decades. But now more homeowners are using it to determine the energy efficiency of their home.

A forward-looking infrared radiometer, also known as a FLIR camera, can pinpoint more than just cold and warm air moving through a home. “You can look for termites in the walls. See where they’re colonizing in the walls. You can see HVAC problems, cracked heat exchangers, condenser coils outside where they are clogged,” said David Doerhoff with the FLIR Corporation.

Extremely sensitive cameras pick up just a 10th of a degree in thermal differences. Doerhoff placed his hand on the wall and the device could see the body heat left behind.

More and more contractors are finding the technology to be useful. “We’re able to walk around with the homeowner and show exactly what it looks like within their walls,” said Todd Trevaille with USA Insulation. Trevaille said he’s used the camera on 80 different homes in the metro. He said it allows him to see the problem without doing anything destructive to the home. The Omaha Public Power District also used the cameras to evaluate substations and lines. But, the cameras aren’t cheap. The starting price for a FLIR camera is $3,000.