1. #1
    Firehouse.com Guest

    Question How important is a microbolometer?

    We are looking at TICs and some of the guys say it isn't a big thing to have. I tend to disagree. Please give me some pros and cons.

  2. #2
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Microbolometer in my opinion hasn't quite proved itself. I have heard of the new generation MB that will set the playing field on edge. But as of technology today the BST still seems the preferred from my customers that are interested in cameras

    [This message has been edited by fireman_387 (edited 01-24-2001).]

  3. #3
    Rich F
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Fireman_387 what camera do you sell?? FYI the FDNY is only buying Microbolometer cameras and have stopped buying any BST cameras. The BST cameras that they selected were the MSA Argus 2.
    Stay Safe.

  4. #4
    Firehouse.com Guest


    I sell the ISI Vision 3 and have had pretty good luck in sales with the fact that I am setting in bullard country.

    In 3 demos that I have been in competition the MB's didn't fair well at all. I even helped market a MB brand (will stay nameless) at one time and wasn't that impressed with the picture. At ambient temps, they would be very snowy.

  5. #5
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Rich F,

    My understanding of the FDNY purchase was that the MSA "Evolution" camera was the low bid. Not necessarily the choice of the FDNY.

    When it came to the Argus 2 purchase, they were bought at a price less than the Marconi direct price.

    Maybe someone from Marconi can verify or clarify the information.

    NJ,PA & NY ISG Dealer

  6. #6
    Rich F
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Fire TIC,
    Yes the Evolution 4000 ended up being the low bid. The pricing was the secondary factor after a lengthy evaluation with the R&D Division. As you know with the FDNY they field test products first, and if they meet the needs and the funding is in place then they will solicit bids.As for the Argus 2 they were in service with R&D long before the MSA/Marconi relationship dissolved. I am not sure of the exact price that they were sold for.
    Do you know if ISG has any plans to move toward a microbolometer?
    Stay Safe.

  7. #7
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Greetings to everyone.

    My company, ICC, builds the FireOpTIC microbolometer based TIC, which is marketed and supported by Draeger Safety in Pittsburgh, PA.

    Just to be clear, the microbolometer (MB) is the only imaging technology we have ever used in the cameras we build for firefighting, so it would be hard for me to convince anyone that I did not have a bias.

    All of that aside, microbolometers can and do perform much better than other technologies for several key reasons:

    1. Durability - MB based cameras do not have (or at least should not have) continuously moving parts inside of them. This single major fact allows an MB based camera to endure (or should enable it to endure) greater impacts and drops than older generation BST and tube technologies. I have personally fixed competitive BST based cameras that have been dropped, and the portion that failed was, you guessed it, the moving "chopper wheel", the thing that allows a BST based camera to make a picture in the first place. I keep referring to MB cameras as "should" because not every MB camera builder has figured out how to make the MB work in a fire without the moving parts, so when making your evaluations, ask about how the camera deals with wildly varying extremes in ambient (air) temperature and what happens when the camera changes temperature rapidly. This is where the moving parts come back into play, because some cameras have to continuously recalibrate by inserting a shutter in front of the sensor to eliminate the thermal drift and image abnormalities created by this changing temperature.

    2. Greater Dynamic Range - Simply put, the MB camera will be able to image (or should be able to image) a wider range of scene temperatures than the comparable BST camera, and it does this without moving parts. The signal processing power inside of a BST camera is significantly less than that found in MB cameras and as a result, the scene will saturate much quicker than an MB camera. Now, there are ways to adjust the sensitivity of a BST camera to minimize this oversaturation, and the way in which this is accomplished is by having an iris (shutter) between the lens and sensor. The equivalent to this is the iris in the human eye, which adjusts continuously to accomodate varying degrees of incident light on the retina (the sensor). In a BST camera, this iris is adjusted either manually with a knob, or automatically with an electric motor. The use of the iris allows the camera to be adjusted for a wider scene temperature, but relies upon a second mechanical system to accomplish this, which can translate into lower reliability and in some cases, increased user interaction to operate the camera.

    3. Picture clarity - IN MY OPINION, MBs do produce "clearer" pictures than BST cameras, but this is a highly subjective topic and depending upon how "clearer" is defined, sometimes BSTs are perceived to make better pictures than MBs. BSTs produce "whiter whites" and "blacker blacks" than MBs, but often times, what's missing is the wide range of shades of gray in between. BSTs also produce dark halos around hot objects, which can be perceived to be a benefit as it helps define the hot areas, but in a widely dispered scene of multiple hot objects, this can be somewhat of a distraction. I remember talking to a firefighter one time about image "clarity" and he reminded me that they were not trying to shoot broadcast quality video, they were simply trying to navigate where they previously could not see.. But like I said, I think MBs make clearer pictures, and so do a lot of other people.

    As for not knowing if the technology has matured enough to be fielded, I can say emphatically that it is certainly a mature technology, and, in the hands of the right camera manufacturer, can and does out perform BST any day. Beware, though, you have to understand the criteria on which this "performance" is being measured. I have only presented my views on what is important.. you may have other opinions and criteria which are important to you.

    MB cameras have the distinct disadvantage that they will frequently be more expensive than a given BST model, so if price is your key objective, than BST may be right for you. When a value based decision is considered, MBs often come out on top due to life cycle costs of ownership, less downtime, etc.

    Let me clear about one more thing, any TIC is better than no TIC. BST or MB, it doesn't matter. TICs allow the firefighter to see where he could not see before, no matter what the technology is. If you like a certain BST camera, then buy it. Do not let technology confusion or indecision stop you from fielding a camera. Decide what criteria is important to you, evaluate all the available models against them and make your decision. There are a myriad of other major criteria which really differentiates one camera from another, such as how the camera handles high temperature, ergonomics, vendor support, warranty, battery life and availability, installation and fielding issues to name just a few.

    To help avoid confusion, the FireOpTIC has been in service for over 2 years now, and ICC was the company to introduce the handheld MB camera to the fire service. ICC has formed an exclusive arrangement with Draeger Safety in Pittsburgh to represent, market and support the FireOpTIC. The FireOpTIC may now have the Draeger name on it, but it's still the same great camera it has been for the last 2 years and hundreds of units. This, of course, is just my opinion... unbiased as it is.

    As for the decision process in NYC, well, that's another matter....

    Tom Clynne
    President - ICC

  8. #8
    Rich F
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Thanks for taking the time to point out some big differences between the (2) competing technologies.Its going to be interesting to see how the market shakes out with some previous BST cameras making the jump into MB technology and the fact that their main sales pitch was that MB technology was unproven,unreliable etc...(yes I am employed by an MSA dealer)
    Thanks again for the information. Stay Safe.

  9. #9
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Hello All,

    First I would like to comment on something that I feel is very important, so important that it may mean the difference between life and death.

    I am rather disturbed that departments are getting caught up in this rage of “latest and greatest” and are running out to add microbolometers to their inventory of BST thermal imagers. This might not be a problem, except many of these departments are throwing the units out on the line with no additional training for their personnel. They figure since they have already conducted training on thermal imaging and everyone has already used a TI, there is no need to do any additional training.

    As all of the sales folks who are selling Microbolometers will tell you BST and Microbolometer units do not present images or function in the same manner. A number of firefighters have already learned this the hard way.

    It is interesting that FDNY was mentioned in this post because it is some of their members who have had some not so pleasant experiences. A number of BST units had been in service with a company and they had considerable experience using these units and interpreting the images from them. One day they were assigned a microbolometer based unit for use and evaluation. They ended up using the new unit on a basement fire to help advance the line. The operator could see white along the ceiling and white in the distance, but didn’t see any real convected gases, strong artifacts, or halos. As such they keep advancing thinking the conditions were not that bad and they had some distance to go to get to the real fire. Of course in actuality they were already advancing under rollover which quickly intensified and forced them to open the line and dig in to keep from being over run.

    Needless to say this was a very eye opening experience and those guys are working very hard to make sure they understand how the 2 different units are going to function and display and image. Fortunately no one was hurt, but it could have been a very different story.

    I believe both technologies have their pros and cons, and both technologies can do the job. However is also believe it is only a matter of time before someone gets injured or killed because they lack the knowledge or experience to make the right decisions. I think thermal imaging is going to save a lot of lives, but I also think its misuse has a great potential to cost a brother or sister their life.

    Which ever unit you buy or may use (don’t forget about mutual aid units) make sure you :
    understand how the unit functions
    understand how to interpret the images the unit produces
    understand the basics of thermal imaging (infrared and heat transfer principles)
    understand how to use a thermal imager in different applications
    MOST IMPORTANTLY, do not forget the basics of firefighting and never rely on a thermal imager 100 percent of the time.

    With the important stuff out of the way, a few comments on some of the other posts.

    I hope no one will decide which unit to buy based solely on the fact that any one particular dept purchased a thermal imager or that a unit passed any single test or evaluation. I always find it interesting that some people seem to live and breath FDNY. I have worked with many of the brothers on the job in the city and there is no questions many of them are true leaders in the Fire Service. But they will also be the first ones to tell you that just because the city buys a piece of equipment does not mean it is the best thing going. Contrary to some of the posts : FDNY did evaluate a number of units but it was a pass or fail process and there were a number of units that received passing marks. The MSA Evolution 4000 did not “come on out on top” as suggested, it simply passed like the others. That being the case I would say the bottom line would have to be price contrary to what others have suggested. Buy the way certain units in FDNY have conducted their own evaluations and are using other units so the whole issue of MSA being the top choice of FDNY is pretty weak.

    Also ISG is still throwing the US Navy evaluation around and guess what, there were 2 other units that passed the testing and the US Navy has still not gone out and purchased any large quantity of ISG thermal imagers.

    The bottom line is talk to everyone you can find with a TI and find out what has been working and what has not been working. I can give you the names of at least 20 depts who did an "thorough objective evaluation" (but talked to no end users) and purchased a particular unit 1-2 years ago and the units are sitting in a closet or compartment broke or not being used. There is a lot to be said for a year of performance under realist conditions.

    As far as the technology goes, Tom has added some valuable information and I commend him for it, though I would not agree with all of it 100 percent.

    Finally, I would simply say “Don’t buy the hype” see and evaluate both of the technologies for yourself. If microbolometers were it, ICC would have put everyone out of business 2 years ago when they had a microbolometer and no one else did. Reality is BST units out number microbolometers by at least 20 to 1, are still outselling them, and will continue to save lives as they have for the past 3 years.

    Both technologies will work, but not all TIs are created equal !

    A tool is only as good as the operator using it ! TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN !

    Good Luck, Be Safe,

    Mike Richardson
    Bullard TI Training Specialist

    For TI Training : www.safe-ir.com www.thermalimager.com/training

  10. #10
    Firehouse.com Guest


    We can sit here and argue this point forever and get nowwhere. For one, MB technology is not the next evolution, it dates to the same time as BST technology. Also , MB does have moving parts.. To see how much better BST is over MB, take a MB camera and a BST camera ( we used a ISG K90 - BST ) and place them in your station oven for 5 minutes at 350 degrees and see what happens!!! The ISG worked fine.


  11. #11
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Interesting demo idea to use the oven Heatseeker... I understand that there's a Drager Rep out there who demos the FireOpTIC microbolmeter camera in the fire house by doing just what you said.. putting it in the oven and leting it bake.. only difference is that he puts a pile of mozzarella cheese on top and lets it bubble and cook while the camera is on.

    Here's another reason microbolometers are better than BST... Instant On operation.

    The Drager FireOpTIC camera is now available with breakthrough instant on operation that makes the image appear on the screen in under 1/2 second. This is not a power consuming sleep mode or standby operation, but true instant on operation, much like your flashlight. The benefit here is dramatically increased battery life and no camera warm up time when you need it.

    For those of you just starting your camera evaluation and procurement journey, be aware that all TICs take 20 to 30 seconds to produce an image from start up... AT ROOM TEMPERATURE. If the TIC is cold or hot, this start up time can be increased dramatically, with some cameras taking over 2 minutes to power up if they're near the limits of their operational environmental specs (not really that cold or hot if you think about and compare the specs). Consider that fact when you consider keeping your camera in the Chief's Car (as some small volunteer departments do) or in an un-heated or un-airconditioned storage compartment in the fire truck.

    Like I said earlier, any TIC is better than no TIC, I just feel that the fire service needs to be aware of the latest technology available, particularly if it makes their job easier and takes away one more thing that they used to have to worry about.... did someone remember to turn the TIC on when the truck left the fire house???

    Tom Clynne
    President - ICC

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