By 21 September 2011 | Categories: news


Financial and risk services provider Alexander Forbes is pioneering the use of infrared thermal images in South Africa via its Infrared Inspection Systems (IRIS) division. The company is doing so in order to lower the cost of insurance, by identifying breakdown in complex or invisible systems before they happen.   

Infrared photography allows humans to view heat normally invisible to the human eye. Since there is nothing that does not emit some heat, infrared photography enables people to see far beyond our normal visual range, identifying hidden anomalies in our bodies, objects, machines, the earth and even space.

As such, “this technology has equipped man with an almost prescient capacity to identify wear, weakness and disease in machines, structures and bodies long before they would otherwise become visible and, most importantly, long before they case damage” explaines Wernher Le Hanie, a Thermographer at Alexander Forbes Risk Services.

“Knowing where things are going wrong ahead of a breakdown makes the difference between affordable maintenance costs and the total meltdown of a production line, smelter, aircraft engine or human system” said Le Hanie.

Before “we only knew when there was a problem when furnaces started melting their casings, aircraft engines caught fire, dam walls burst, or herds of cattle were already infected with foot and mouth. By then it was too late, the damage was done and everything needed to be replaced at considerable cost,” he stated.

Infrared technology makes it possible for a thermal image to be taken of almost any operational, mechanical, scientific, geographic or organic system, showing areas of stress in colours corresponding to specific temperature ranges.

Knowing what the optimal temperature ranges should be for the different parts of various systems “enables us to identify areas experiencing abnormal levels of stress before they break, burn, blow up or die, disrupting production lines, leaking, going off or killing animals or humans – and costing millions of rand in the process” Le Hanie added.

Applications of this technology include:

  • Identifying the origins of damp and leaks in buildings.
  • Temperature differences and therefore weaknesses and stresses on distribution boards.
  • Counting animals at night or finding animals in dense bush or from the air. For example, Panjo, an escaped tiger, was tracked and found in dense bush using infrared technology in Mpumalanga in July 2010.
  • Spotting diseases like foot and mouth and avian flu before they spread and infect others.
  • Pinpointing the hottest part of the fire to douse first.
  • Locating electrical or other circuit or systems weaknesses in factories or machines before there is a breakdown.
  • Research and development of new systems and products.
  • Identifying metal fatigue on ships and planes ahead of failure or breakdown.
  • Finding weaknesses in roads, bridges, rail tracks and other infrastructure ahead of collapse or subsidence.
  • Enabling hunters or military personnel to see in the dark, thick bush or grass.

“Considering that this technology can even identify rotten eggs and sour milk or spot unsealed cans, tins or leaking gas the implications for reduced insurance bills through preventative maintenance speak for themselves” concluded Le Hanie.


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