Thermal surveillance in action

From waste management to the factory floor - Every five minutes, a fire starts at a company facility in Germany, according to the latest statistics released by the German Insurance Association with financial damage amounting to several billion euros annually. In response, high risk sites are using a new wave of lower cost thermal imaging cameras that are able to recognise potential dangers from sudden increases or decrease in temperature and raise the alarm before a fire outbreak.

Thermal cameras detect the mid-wavelength infrared radiation from an object or body otherwise invisible to the human eye caused by thermal motion within a body’s molecules. Recent advances in digital sensors and lens materials has dramatically reduced the cost and size of these modern thermal cameras that displays temperature distribution across surfaces and objects with an overlay of artificial colours with blue identified as cooler and red as warmer.

A great example of this new trend is ZAK (Zentrale Abfallwirtschaft Kaiserslautern), a municipal waste management company in Germany that uses mechanical biological treatments (MBT) to sort waste for recycling and composting along with anaerobic digestion for a biomass heating plant and energy generation. The 88 hectare site stores and processes thousands of tons of mixed waste and biomass fuel each month and uses many temperature sensitive tasks that can trigger fires.

Alongside traditional smoke detectors, ZAK uses a thermal camera suspended in the timber shelter where it monitors the entire area for high temperature as a fire can break out quickly during the fermentation process. This way, materials with excessive temperatures being added to the facilities when brought by truck can be detected. The second video solution has been installed in a location where the material is transported by crane so it can be fed into the incineration process. The cameras can automatically detect events within a range from -40 to 550 °C in up to 20 different measurement windows with individual temperature triggers at ranges of up to 400 meters.

“We can know exactly how high the temperature is in the timber shelter and can take countermeasures, if necessary,” explains Michael Hentz, IT and telecommunications manager at ZAK, “These cameras are particularly excellent because they are robust, low-maintenance and weatherproof. These features play a very critical role because dirt is omnipresent at the waste management facility. And of course, this dirt collects on the cameras, as well. But the MOBOTIX models continue to perform well. They’ve really proven themselves.”

ZAK is not alone. A number of manufacturers across Germany are also using MOBOTIX thermal imaging to detect abnormal heat build-up within a production line equipment for both health and safety and to assist with preventive maintenance. This is particularly useful in facilities where dust, steam and other airborne particles may disrupt the monitoring of temperature critical processes. In both cases, a major advantage of MOBOTIX thermal cameras is its decentralised technology using built-in processing software to analyse a scene and generate automatic alarms without the need for a centralised control room. This capability is vital to rapidly detect potential fire, gas or other issues that register temperature change as a danger signal. In combination with lower power consumption, a rugged IP66 rated chassis and small form factor; the new thermal cameras can be deployed in even the harshest locations that legacy cameras would struggle to operate in for an extended period.


Thermal imaging is one of the most exciting technologies within the areas of fire prevention and surveillance. The ongoing innovation is demonstrated through this new generation of devices that combine multiple sensors and on-board intelligence within smaller yet lower cost devices. As video analytics technologies progress, these benefits will be passed on through upgrades to the built-in software to help users to protect more diverse environments, people and processes.



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