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Thermal image training proves a worthwhile investment

Tim Lacey, an electrical and instrumentation specialist, founded Lacey Instrumentation in Collingwood, Ontario after spending more than 25 years of repair and calibration work for construction and industrial companies – including 10 years with a leading brewery. Since he decided to break out on his own in 2002, he has done a steady stream of repair and calibration work for a number of major brewery operations across Canada, along with other production facilities.

Snell Level 1 classes include all areas of relevant and practical theory, best and safe inspection practices, image analysis, and camera and software operation. Here students are not only learning how to transfer images to a computer and use the Fluke Smartview software but also how to analyze images and create reports.

A few months ago Lacey saw a demo of a Fluke thermal imaging camera and decided it might be just the ticket for his business. "Having been in construction for many years, I know the benefits infrared technology can bring to finding electrical problems," he says. "I was definitely intrigued by it."

He decided thermal imaging might be a worthwhile service to offer his customers so his first order of the day was to get up to speed on the technology and options.  As a good professional in his line of business, he signed up for an introductory infrared imaging course before making any purchasing decisions. "Since I didn't know much about the technology itself, I felt I should go and take the course first and then determine which Fluke thermal imaging camera would be best for me."

The road to learning infrared was a bit more challenging than he'd initially thought. "For the first couple of days, I wondered if I could do it because there was a lot more to learn than I expected. But by the third day I really came to respect what the technology can do. It's definitely not something to be taken lightly."

Greg McIntosh, Managing Director of Canadian Operations for The Snell Group, says Lacey's initial trepidation is not unusual when people come for infrared training at the center. "When people buy cameras or are thinking about them, they're not at all aware of the depth of knowledge needed to interpret the information they provide. They jump in and think it's a simple thing to run. Yes, they're easy cameras to operate. But they don't realize that it's all about the interpretation of the images. Once they get into it they learn pretty quickly it's not like simply turning on a video camera."

McIntosh confirms that Lacey started having second thoughts after a full day of theoretical teaching. But he told him to hang in for day three, when he could put theory into practice. "By the end of that day, Tim started seeing how the camera could be a useful tool and how he could apply it to his own work. Once he could add his own knowledge and experience, he turned his thinking around completely. It was like a light switch had flipped on."

When the course moved on to explore mechanical, building and roofing applications, Lacey says he became even more intrigued by the whole idea. "All of a sudden I realized I could justify the investment in an instrument that could enhance my business and make me more competitive. In class they teach you how to "Think Thermally®", and I couldn't stop doing it all weekend. I was ready to buy a camera. The only question was which one?"

After looking at some suppliers, he decided that Fluke technology was the only way to go. In fact he was so impressed with the camera's capabilities and what he had learned, his original plan to buy a lower cost Fluke Ti10 thermal imager was shelved, and he upgraded his wish list to the Ti55.

"I really wanted to leverage the diversity of applications and believed that I should not be limited by a lower end product. I like the flexibility of the Fluke Ti55 and I knew I would have no problem justifying the extra investment."

He says that having spent years working with Fluke instruments, it was an easy choice. "I always get a warm and fuzzy feeling with Fluke equipment because I know what I'm getting quality wise. Besides, none of the other vendors offered enough capabilities for me to even consider anything but a Fluke camera."

Since buying the Ti55, Lacey has used it several times for his process instrumentation calibration work. While he mainly uses the camera for checking electrical circuits, he did find it came in very handy when he recently was asked to troubleshoot a valve problem in the piping. "With the camera, I was able to see from the heat transfer images, that the valve was not opening properly. Without thermal imaging, I don't think we would ever have been able to find the problem."

Lacey is considering branching beyond electrical applications since the incident. "After being able to troubleshoot the valve problem, I think there could be a lot more opportunities on the mechanical side of things."

Even though he had a few doubts when he began his training course, Lacey says the rewards were well worth the effort. "Of all the courses I've taken over the years, this was the best. The facility and the instructor were outstanding. And I learned a lot more than I ever expected."

McIntosh says that Lacey is proof positive that putting the time and effort into understanding thermal imaging can open the doors to all sorts of new opportunities. "Thermal imaging cameras are great problem solving tools. If you know what you're doing, they can become a very lucrative business opportunity. It's very rewarding to see the transition that people like Tim can make in just a few short days."

After five days of training with The Snell Group, Lacey discovered that thermal cameras did a lot more than he ever expected, that the experience was worth the investment allowing him to make much more informed decisions and without a doubt, Fluke instruments were the right technology choice for him.

Note: Think Thermally® is a registered trademark of Snell Infrared