Executives told Reuters that specialized camera makers have jumped on the bandwagon to deal with supply disruptions when people enter crowded workplaces to quickly scan for fevers, forcing some hospital-like customers to prioritize.
Many businesses around the world have stopped or reduced operations to help fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, which sometimes causes serious COVID-19 respiratory illnesses.
Major employers such as Tyson Foods and Intel are experimenting with thermal cameras to prevent workers from entering the factory with potential illness, an important part of maintaining production during an epidemic that could expand further as the economy reopens. Thermal camera companies such as US-based FLIR Systems, UK-based Thermotechnics Systems and Israel’s Opgal Optronic Industries say the surge in interest has created a sales spike – some quarterly revenue tripled or many units sold in a few weeks. More than five years.
The most common method used by Amazon.com, Walmart, and others to test employee temperature is using a handheld thermometer. This, however, limits how fast workers can enter a building, and operators must stand within the proposed 6-foot (1.8 m) boundary for social distance.
Thermal cameras, which measure the amount of energy that an object emits compared to the surrounding environment, present a potentially safe non-contact option. Cameras scan people as they enter through doors or hallways and send alerts to isolate an employee for checking with a thermometer.
Intel told Reuters it was evaluating thermal camera systems from several manufacturers for use in a computer chip plant in Israel, where it was already testing employee temperatures. In the United States, meat supplier Tyson Foods said Thursday it has purchased more than 150 infrared scanners and installed them at four facilities, including pork plants in Iowa and Indiana and poultry plants in Arkansas and Georgia. On Monday, Tyson shut down a hog slaughterhouse in Columbus Junction, Iowa, where more than 24 Kovid-19 cases have surfaced involving staff at the facility.
“We hope to have at least one of each of our food production facilities in the end,” Tyson spokeswoman Healy Young said in a statement.
Back to work, but safely
Thermal camera technology has been widely used in Asian airports since the 2003 SARS epidemic. The need for fever-detection around the world has sparked renewed interest in technology, with cameras, displays and other essential hardware costing around $ 5,000 to $ 10,000.
Richard Salisbury, a medical doctor who founded Thermotechnic more than 30 years ago, says first-quarter sales are three times higher than a normal year.
“Our goal is to get people back to work, but to get them back to work safely and to keep our infrastructure and our food supply running in this unprecedented situation,” Salisbury said in an interview.
While working with suppliers disrupted by lockdown orders in Malaysia and elsewhere, Frank Penici, president of the firm’s industrial business unit, said FLIR was seeing a “growth rate of demand.”
“We need to prioritize hospitals and medical facilities and locations that are trying to stop the spread of the disease,” Penny said.
In Israel, Opgal has replaced a thermal camera used in industrial maintenance to test for fever. Iran Blustein, Opgal’s director of business development, said the company had sold 1,000 cameras in the last two months – more units than previous maintenance camera sales since its launch in 2013.
However, camera manufacturers warn that their devices are a first screening step, rather than a stupid fever-detection system.
Thermal cameras do not measure absolute temperature but rather the difference in energy emitted between one object and another. Systems require regular re-calibration, for example, to operate a factory shift that starts on a cold morning when workers are filing from outside versus the afternoon shift when the sun warms around.
Fever alarms still need to be verified with a medical-grade thermometer. In addition, U.S. health officials say people can spread the coronavirus without showing signs of fever, a condition that can sometimes be alleviated with over-the-counter medications.
As the coronavirus spreads worldwide, some thermal camera startups have emerged that claim to scan large crowds of people over a wide area for fever. Officials at FLIR, Thermoteknix and Opgal, each of which has sold heating systems to military and industrial customers for decades, say such methods are unlikely to meet international accuracy standards for fever detection.
“You’ll still be able to pass a few people at once,” Blustein of Opgal said. “But that’s enough for most places of business that want it for entrances or hallways.”
ম Thomson Reuters 2020