As fever checks become the norm in the coronavirus era, demand for thermal imaging cameras is skyrocketing

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(Reuters) – Manufacturers of specialized cameras to quickly detect fevers when people enter crowded workplaces are struggling with growing demand while facing supply disruptions, forcing some to prioritize customers such as hospitals, executives told Reuters.

Many companies around the world have halted or reduced their operations to help fight the spread of the new coronavirus that causes the sometimes deadly COVID-19 respiratory disease.

Major employers such as Tyson Foods Inc (TSN.N) and Intel Corp (INTC.O) are experimenting with thermal imaging cameras to make sure workers don’t enter factories with a potential disease, an essential part of sustaining production during the pandemic which could become more widespread as economies reopen. Thermal camera companies such as FLIR Systems Inc., based in the United States (FLIR.O), Thermoteknix Systems Ltd, based in the United Kingdom, and Opgal Optronic Industries Ltd, of Israel, claim that the rise in interest rates has caused an increase in sales – with tripled sales per quarter or sales units in a few weeks as in more than five years.

The most common method for checking employee temperatures, used by Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), Walmart (WMT.N) and others use a hand thermometer. But this limits the speed at which workers can enter a building and forces operators to stay within the recommended 6-foot (1.8m) distance limit.

Thermal imaging cameras, which measure the amount of energy emitted by an object relative to its environment, represent a potentially safer contactless alternative. Cameras scan people entering through doors or hallways and send alerts to dismiss an employee for control with a thermometer.

Intel Corp told Reuters that it is evaluating thermal imaging systems from several manufacturers for use in a computer chip factory in Israel, where it is already checking employee temperatures. In the U.S., meat supplier Tyson Foods said on Thursday it had 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 in Georgia. Tyson closed a pig slaughterhouse in Columbus Junction, Iowa on Monday for the week after more than 24 cases of COVID-19 appeared involving workers at the facility.

“We hope that eventually each of our food production facilities will have at least one in place,” Tyson spokesperson Hli Yang said in a statement.

RETURN TO WORK, BUT SAFE

Thermal camera technology became widely used at airports in Asia after the SARS epidemic in 2003. The requirements for fever detection around the world have renewed interest in the technology, with systems including cameras, screens and other necessary materials, which cost between $ 5,000 and $ 10,000.

FILE PHOTO: Unidentified workers wave man through temperature control zone using thermal imaging camera in unknown location in this undated photo published in Reuters on April 8, 2020. Opgal Optronic / Document via REUTERS

Richard Salisbury, a doctor who founded Thermoteknix over 30 years ago, said first quarter sales were 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 keep our infrastructure and our food supply running in this unprecedented situation,” Salisbury said in an interview.

FLIR sees an “exponential increase in demand,” said Frank Pennisi, president of the company’s industrial division, while dealing with suppliers disrupted by blocking orders in Malaysia and elsewhere.

“We must prioritize hospitals and medical facilities and places that are trying to stop the spread of the disease,” said Pennisi.

In Israel, Opgal modified a thermal camera used for industrial maintenance work to detect fevers. Eran Bluestein, director of business development at Opgal, said the company has sold 1,000 cameras in the past two months – more units than it has sold the previous maintenance camera since its introduction in 2013 .

NOT WATERPROOF

But camera makers are warning that their devices are a first step in screening rather than a foolproof fever detection system.

Thermal imaging cameras do not measure the absolute temperature but rather the difference in energy emitted between one object and another. The systems require regular recalibration, for example, to manage a shift that begins with a cold morning when workers arrive from the outside versus a shift in the afternoon when the sun has warmed up. environment.

Fever alarms still need to be checked with a medical grade thermometer. In addition, US health officials have said that people can spread the coronavirus without showing symptoms such as a fever, a condition that can sometimes be reduced with over-the-counter medications.

Slideshow (3 Pictures)

As the coronavirus has spread around the world, some thermal imaging startups have emerged that claim to scan crowds of people over a large area to detect fevers. Officials at FLIR, Thermoteknix and Opgal, who have each sold thermal systems for decades to military and industrial customers, said that such an approach would likely not meet international standards for precision in detecting fever.

“You can only meet two people at a time,” said Opest’s Bluestein. “But that is enough for most establishments that want it for entrances or corridors. “

Stephen Nellis reports in San Francisco Editing by Greg Mitchell and Matthew Lewis

Our standards:Principles of the Thomson Reuters Trust.

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