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Thermal imaging cameras for protecting railways and pipelines

FLIR Systems Ltd : 26 August, 2010  (Special Report)
FLIR Systems provides an explanation of how thermal imaging systems provide an advantage over the use of visual spectrum camera systems for the protection of remote facilities in hostile environments such as borders, railway lines and oil or gas pipelines
Thermal imaging cameras for protecting railways and pipelines
Thermal imaging cameras need no light whatsoever to operate. Based on subtle differences in temperature, called heat signatures, thermal imaging cameras create a crisp image. Contrary to other technologies, thermal imaging needs no light whatsoever to produce a clear image in total darkness, in practically all weather conditions, in which the smallest of details can be seen. A thermal imaging camera can also see through light fog and smoke.

But thermal imaging is also useful in broad daylight. A thermal imaging camera cannot be blinded by the sun like a normal CCTV camera. Furthermore, thermal contrast is extremely difficult to mask, so people trying to camouflage themselves or trying to hide in bushes or shadows will be seamlessly detected.

Thermal imaging for security and surveillance applications

Security professionals need to see what is happening 24 hours a day. Therefore, thermal imagers are very effective for security and surveillance. They can detect intruders in the darkest of nights, through light fog, rain and snow. Thermal imaging cameras have been installed at numerous industrial facilities, ports, airports, petrochemical plants, warehouses and even houses worldwide. Thermal imaging cameras are also in use for border surveillance programs.

Thermal imaging for protecting pipelines

Pipelines, whether they are used for transporting oil, gas, water, or any other substances are vulnerable installations that need to be protected. If something happens with a part of the pipeline this not only means the loss of valuable material. Explosions and fires can break out as well.

Pipelines often go through remote locations and it can be difficult to protect long stretches with security guards. Furthermore, they need to be protected day and night. Thermal imaging cameras offer a perfect solution.

FLIR Systems markets thermal imaging cameras that can detect man-sized targets at more than 20 kilometers away. If the terrain does not allow to see that far FLIR Systems offers models that can detect man-sized target at a distance varying from several hundred meters to several kilometers.

Some FLIR thermal imaging cameras are also installed on a robust pan/tilt. This way the operator can not only look along the pipeline but he has the opportunity to see what is happening in other directions as well. This drastically increases situational awareness.

Multi-Sensor systems that combine a thermal imaging camera with a daylight/lowlight camera are available as well.

Thermal imaging cameras for railway security

Trains can also contain a lot of dangerous, explosive or valuable material. Thermal imaging can be used to protect trains as well. FLIR Systems has delivered some cameras for protecting trains and the valuable material they are sometimes transporting. Often users choose from a number of short range thermal imaging cameras that are mounted every so often on a train wagon.

But protecting railways means more than protecting only the trains. The railway infrastructure also contains a lot of valuable material that thieves like to steal. Copper theft is a real problem in certain areas. Thieves are not afraid of cutting the power lines in order to obtain the valuable copper. Often this happens during the dark hours of the day.

Installing thermal imaging cameras along the lines can offer a solution. The price of a thermal imaging camera is still a bit higher than the price of a conventional camera but if copper theft can be prevented, a thermal imaging camera is only a small investment.

Video analytics

FLIR thermal imaging cameras work perfectly together with video analytics. Often even better than CCTV cameras since thermal imaging cameras provide more contrast between the object and the scenery.

Both for protecting railways and pipelines, algorithms like trip wires can offer a solution. Once a user defined line is crossed, an alarm will go off. The operator in the control room can have a look at what is happening and can decide if further action needs to be taken.

IP based solutions

Practically all FLIR Systems thermal imaging cameras are ready to be integrated in an IP network. This means that you can monitor what is happening at a pipeline or railway even if you are thousands of kilometres away. FLIR thermal imaging cameras can also be installed in legacy networks.

Thermal imaging: an affordable technology

Demand for thermal imaging cameras has increased drastically over the last few years. Thanks to this increase in demand, production volumes have gone up and prices for thermal imaging cameras have come down.

Although a thermal imaging camera is still more expensive than a CCTV camera, fewer cameras need to be deployed to cover the same area. The civil works that need to be carried out are minimal. Furthermore, since thermal imaging cameras produce a clear image in the darkest of nights, no complimentary technologies like light or infrared illuminators need to be installed. Not only does this limit the amount of civil works that need to be carried out but it also reduces the maintenance cost.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for thermal imaging is extremely low

When calculating the TCO of a certain technology not only the initial purchase price needs to be taken into account. Installation, maintenance, replacements, ... all needs to be calculated in order to have an idea about the total price of the solution.

Although the initial price for a thermal imaging camera is still a bit higher, they do not require any maintenance. Most FLIR Systems thermal imaging cameras contain an uncooled Vanadium Oxide detector. This not only produces excellent quality thermal images, since it is not containing any moving parts, it also needs no maintenance.

Furthermore, compared to the power needed for lighting up an entire area or the power that is being consumed by infrared illuminators, certainly if at least some range performance is required, the power consumption of thermal imaging cameras is minimal.

Finally there is no need to replace lamps or infrared illuminators. CCTVs with infrared illuminators require lamp replacement every 2000 to 4000 hours or about every 8 months and the illuminator is usually the most expensive part of the camera. In contrast, thermal imaging technology requires no additional lighting or illumination and has no regular maintenance costs.

For new or existing security networks.

Thermal imaging cameras can be easily installed in new or existing security networks, providing early detection and visibility 24/7 all year round. They can be configured for stand-alone use, as part of a network or in a hybrid configuration with local and network based control. Thermal imaging cameras are also very easy to use. No operator training is required.

For projects that need security 24 hours a day, 365 days a year thermal imaging cameras are definitely a technology that needs to be considered. It is probably the best technology to spot intruders during night time, in all weather conditions. And that is what security is all about: let no threat go undetected.

If you would like to have more information about thermal imaging cameras for any application, please contact FLIR
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