Imagine a jobsite where losing your tape measure was punishable by death. That, Jeff Gust said, is how it was if you built pyramids in ancient Egypt. Fail to show up at the monthly meeting to check your cubit (a measuring stick equal to the length of the pharaoh's forearm plus the width of his hand) against the master cubit, and you would be put to death.
Gust is the head of metrology (the science of measurement) for Fluke – a company that makes multi-meters and other types of measurement equipment. I met him at an event for customers and journalists held at Fluke headquarters in Everett, WA, the first week of April. Gust's point was that accuracy has always been important in construction and that Fluke is as serious about it as the ancient Egyptians were – though without the death penalty.
As is always the case at press events, the host unveiled several new products – two of which will be useful on the jobsite.
62 Max and 62 Max+ Infrared Thermometers
According to the folks at Fluke, time is the only thing that is measured more frequently than temperature. Infrared thermometers – also known as laser thermometers or non-contact thermometers - measure the amount of thermal radiation coming off of an object and use it to infer that object's temperature.
Why would anyone care about surface temperature? Well, if you're an electrician you're going to want to know if certain components (breakers, wiring, etc...) are hotter than others – because it may indicate a problem. An HVAC mechanic will want to know if a motor or compressor is running hot or if something is cold when it should be hot. A carpenter can use variations in temperature to locate air leaks and areas where insulation is lacking.
The 62 Max series tools are pistol grip thermometers designed to resist dust, water, and falls of up to 3 meters onto wood. At the event we were free to bury thermometers in dust (talcum powder), dunk them in a water tank, and throw them onto the floor. I saw all three done with no damage to the devices.
Using the thermometer is a matter of squeezing the trigger and positioning the laser beam so it lands on the surface you want to measure. The temperature displays on the screen.
The 62 Max has one laser beam – that lands at the center of the area being sampled. The diameter of that area is a function of the tool's distance from the "work". The greater the distance, the wider the spread – just as it is with the beam from a flashlight. The closer you are, the more accurate the measurement is. The 62 Max+ has two beams – which land on the edges of the area being measured, so you can tell at a glance what you are hitting.
The tool has a comfortable rubberized grip and controls that can be accessed without shifting your hand. It's small enough to fit in a tool belt and has a hole for a carabiner so you can hang it. Available for purchase in May 2012, the 62 Max will sell for $100 and the 62 Max+ for $130.
Ti100 Thermal Imager
Thermal imagers used to cost upwards of $25,000 so only a select group of contractors made use of them. But in recent years prices have fallen to 1/10 of that amount so the tools are far more accessible. The most likely users in construction would be building performance contractors and weatherization contractors because they need to get an overall picture of where heat leaks through the building envelope.
A thermal imaging camera uses a special sensor to pick up infrared light – which it uses to infer variations in surface temperature. This information displays as a color coded image on the screen of the device. You can save the image as a reference or scan continuously across the surface to determine what's going on inside.
The operator can use this information to detect air leaks, missing insulation, thermal bridging, pipes, duct work, and the like. Remediation contractors can use them to detect water leaks that are not visible to the naked eye. Thermal imagers are equally useful to people doing electrical, HVAC, and facilities maintenance work – especially commercial.
I'm not qualified to tell you whether or not Fluke's new Ti100 is better than similar models from the competition but I can tell you that it's simple to use and allows you to see things that could not be picked up by eye. As part of the demonstration I used one to view electrical and HVAC components that I couldn't reach or for reasons of safety would not want to touch.
This device combines the functions of a computer and camera: It can make and save infrared images, standard images, video, and voice recordings. The data can be read directly from the screen or saved and downloaded for future use.
The Ti100 sells for $2,500 and is one of several thermal imagers made by Fluke.