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Thermal imaging camera monitors small changes in temperature during fabrication of polymeric materials

05 April 2012

A UK-based stress analysis consultancy firm is using thermal imaging cameras from Micro-Epsilon to monitor energy flow processes in a wide range of components and materials. The cameras have been used on almost a daily basis since mid-2009 and have proved to be reliable pieces of equipment.

Established in 2004, Chesterfield-based firm Strain Solutions Ltd is using Micro-Epsilon’s thermoIMAGER TIM160 inline radiometric thermal imaging camera to conduct thermal non-destructive evaluation (NDE) projects for clients in the UK, Continental Europe and North America. This work includes strain and fatigue performance tests, where the camera is used to detect very small changes in the temperature of materials or components as they are bent, fabricated or work-hardened.

Powered and operated via a USB 2.0 interface, the thermoIMAGER TIM160 is a low cost inline radiometric thermal imaging camera that provides temperature images and profiles of a target area. This plug-and-play unit is supplied with a full software package, TIM Connect, that enables the user to configure all device parameters, as well as enabling the real time capture (at 120Hz full frame rate) and storage of images or video of an event for slow motion play back or snapshots at a later date – an important feature in R&D and failure diagnostics work.

As Dr Richard John Greene, Managing Director at Strain Solutions comments: “The thermoIMAGER TIM160 is a superb little device with a high frame rate and unusually high thermal sensitivity and response rate for a camera of this price level [less than £3,000]. The camera housing and lens combination is also unusually compact, which has allowed us to use the system for internal inspection of structural components.”

Dr Greene, who has experience working with nitrogen-cooled thermal imaging cameras for the military, initially discovered Micro-Epsilon’s thermoIMAGER TIM160 at a trade exhibition in the UK back in 2009. “I was looking for a camera which would enable us to do comparable non-destructive test work I had already performed with high-specification, cooled infrared detector systems but at a price that was affordable for a small firm such as Strain Solutions.
The technical specification for the thermoIMAGER TIM160 was unique, offering remarkable technical specification for the price. The two critical factors for me in selecting the TIM160 were the camera’s fast response rate and excellent thermal resolution per pixel for a micro-bolometer array.”

He continues: “The TIM Connect software provided with the camera is easy to use and surprisingly fully featured for such a reasonably priced camera. We particularly like the software’s ability to stream every frame to memory, which allows the full, uncompressed, raw data to be captured for post-processing at a later stage.

The Software Developer’s Kit [SDK] also provided with the camera has enabled us to make a rapid start in creating our own software applications to capture and process the raw data stream from the camera. The sample C++ code is well laid out and comprehensively annotated and demonstrates most of the useful camera functions.”

Other features and accessories provided with the thermoIMAGER TIM160 include an optional traceable certificate of calibration (one for each individual lens), a tripod mount (adjustable from 200mm up to 1,000mm), a rugged carrying case, and USB cables (from 1m up to 100m).

Glenn Wedgbrow, Sales Manager at Micro-Epsilon UK Ltd comments: “Rather than supplying the thermoIMAGER TIM160 with a single factory calibrated optical lens, Micro-Epsilon offers users the option of a Developer Kit that includes three interchangeable lenses [6, 23 and 48 degree FOV]. For R&D test engineers who may be unsure of which applications they will use the device for, the three interchangeable lenses cater for a wide range of fields of view for temperature monitoring tasks.”

In June 2011, Strain Solutions purchased a second thermoIMAGER TIM160 from Micro-Epsilon. Shortly after this, Dr Greene required some specialist technical support. He explains: “I was interested in some very specific technical details about the imager detector array, in terms of sensitivity, data rates, and raw analogue-to-digital unit output.

"My questions were dealt with and I was provided with exactly the answers I needed within a few days. This is impressive, particularly in light of the fact that we are not a major volume buyer of these cameras – we are a micro-customer and also a developer of analysis systems, and as such have been pushing the boundaries of both the camera and software developer’s kit.

"For a small-scale user of infrared camera hardware to be furnished with accurate and timely technical support, particularly in response to unusual queries relating to the detailed operation of the hardware, is superb. Our service from Micro-Epsilon has been very refreshing.”

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