What drove Californian utilities Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric to add over 650 new FLIR thermal imaging cameras to their armoury? It all boiled down to simple common sense: who wouldn’t want a tool that can help minimise risks and maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of their predictive maintenance program?

Safety is always priority one for a lineman or troubleman. Before entering an underground vault or using a disconnect stick overhead, it’s vital to know whether an electrical component or connection is uncharacteristically hot before approaching it. A thermal imager can help spot that right away, whereas the naked eye cannot. In fact for Southern California Edison (SC Edison), scanning underground equipment with a thermal imaging camera before climbing down into a vault is now written into the company’s safety procedures. Thoroughness is also crucial for ensuring that components and systems are functioning at peak performance.

Following policies and procedures takes discipline, alertness and time – things that should never be sacrificed for increased productivity. What the two utilities discovered, though, was that such inspections were taking considerably longer when using an infrared (IR) thermometer, a fairly common tool of the trade. An IR thermometer can only target one spot at a time, often requires working closer than is practical and safe, and typically provides merely an average temperature across a circular area. Missing a hotspot could mean missing a brewing problem that signals an impending failure, which could also leave the technician with a false sense that all is well. That’s why both SC Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric have chosen to invest more in FLIR thermal imagers.

Thermography groups at both companies had discovered that a FLIR camera could scan a larger area and more targets from a safer distance much faster, as well as capture literally thousands of accurate temperature measurements in each image. Select SC Edison crews already had FLIR i40s, so with credibility well-established, FLIR was a logical choice when SC Edison decided on nearly 300 additional i40s and when PG&E ordered over 350 i7s.

With more technicians and trucks armed with the technology, a far greater number of linemen and troublemen are now able to do quick scans and safety checks on their troubleshooting rounds. As a result, more potential problems are being caught and fixed in time to prevent outages, expensive replacements and injuries.

Both utilities are now benefiting from the confidence and higher productivity that comes with the greater accuracy, improved efficiency and safer working conditions that the lower-cost FLIR thermal imaging cameras help make possible.

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