We install cameras on all kinds of construction and engineering projects, and we make sure they stand up to whatever kind of punishment you - our very dear clients - can throw at them. We’ve covered the sort of challenging environments that we’ve successfully worked in - at height, offshore, northern Scandinavian winters, summers in Oman - in a previous blog post. This time, we’ll look at all of the testing that our equipment goes through to make sure it works day in, day out, for years at a time, without fail.
We don’t use cheap third-party camera systems. What we’ve developed is better technically, is far more resilient and flexible, and, most of all, it’s been battle-tested extensively. We estimate that our cameras have captured about 850 years of time-lapse, so far!
A balmy day atop a lighting mast, Dubai
One of the many factors that can cause electronics to fail is through the application of too much heat. Most electronics are only certified to work up to 40°C (104°F), and we put cameras in locations where summer temperatures often exceed that, going to 48°C at times.
We used to install Peltier air-conditioning in hot environments, to keep all the electronics below 40°C, but this solution is heavy, uses a lot of power, and most units are only certified for two years’ use ‘in the field’ - when we often need six or even eight.
When we developed the new ‘ARM‘ board processor, we went through a number of test and deployment stages in order to ensure that it could work in any hot environment. We performed a ‘dry heat test’ at a local lab - heating the Lobster Pot time lapse camera to 60°C for an unbroken four-day period, constantly monitoring all of the functions throughout. The Pot passed with flying colours, earning us a valuable and industry-accredited certification.
We installed an ARM system with a friendly client in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - above a not very interesting but very exposed car park. This was in place for over two years, and didn’t use Peltier air-conditioning. It didn’t miss a single shot over that time, and gave us the confidence to deploy our new ARM system without air conditioning.
In a twist to the story, some earlier systems we deployed in Abu Dhabi - way back in 2011 - show from their temperature monitoring that their Peltier cooling stopped working in about 2014 (the project was supposed to run for three years but is still going). However the cameras - now nearly eight years in - keep right on working, day after day, year after year.
The Lobster Pot time lapse camera is looking away, as Senior Technician Luke poses with a snow-thing
When we had our first job in Finland , we had to check - can a Lobster Pot go down to -20°C (-4°F) and beyond? We suspected that the electronics inside the enclosure - as well as the glass heater that's standard in every unit - would keep things warm enough to function without icing up - but we had to be sure, for a number of mission-critical jobs. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail and all that.
So, before heading for the north, we purchased an industrial chest freezer big enough to take a Lobster Pot, and cold enough to freeze the hind legs off an arctic fox. We placed the 8K Lobster Pot inside, with a target image and a couple of thermometers - one for the internal temperature, and one for inside the camera. Over a few weeks, we got temperature right down to the low twenties, all the while taking pictures - and the unit performed perfectly. Since then, we’ve installed time lapse cameras all over Scandinavia, the colder parts of the USA, and remote corners of Scotland - we’re fully confident that Lobsters thrive in cold environments, too.
We’ve designed the Lobster Pot with every kind of safety as top priority. This includes electrical safety, of course. Our Operations Manager is a fully qualified electrician, and everything that leaves the office is ‘PAT tested’ for electrical safety.
All the major components inside the Lobster Pot are CE tested. There’s a simple power supply inside the Lobster Pot that takes any sort of site supply - 110v, 240v and even US-standard 60Hz mains - and transforms it down to a safe 12 volts DC, which goes straight into our patented ‘crab’ unit. All the outputs for this - power for the camera, for the heater and for the other components - are constantly monitored, transmitted to our HQ and recorded, so we can always see if there’s a problem on the horizon.
The Lobster Pot patented ‘Crab’ module - All Crustacean, all the time
One of the worst things that can happen to a time lapse camera is that it’s switched off and, once the power is restored, it doesn’t switch on again. We’ve designed all of our hardware and electronics to spring back to life after a power loss.
This was a big driver for our move from an off-the-shelf miniature control computer to our own ARM-based system. With the old system, we found that if there was a power loss, 99% of the time the power being restored would bring the system back to life. But that’s not enough, of course, particularly when you have a couple of hundred systems out in the field, and power cuts on sites are not uncommon. Especially if some of those are in far-flung places... we have a full service guarantee too! So, with the new ARM system, we made sure that the successful reboot rate is far closer to 100% - by extensively testing a number of units ‘on the bench’. To add to this, we ‘soak test’ new units in the workshop for a few weeks with a rigorous set of power tests, to be absolutely certain that when they’re on site - when it matters to you - they will work perfectly.
Waterproof & Dustproof
Splashes to Splashes, Dust to Dust
Full disclosure: We initially designed our own enclosure for the Lobster Pot because our supplier of ‘CCTV’ casings went out of business. There are however, a huge amount of advantages to having our own casing, built to our own specifications. The size and shape is far more appropriate for a high-quality digital SLR camera and lens, and we can fit ‘4K’ and ‘8K’ cameras with prime lenses in the same unit. We designed it for landscape and portrait use - we use this a lot for the huge amount of towers being built in London at the moment, as well as some of our more ‘monumental’ engineering projects globally.
With the new design, there was an opportunity to achieve a higher level of ingress protection than we could from an off the shelf unit. So we used an external testing facility to really put the new Pot through its paces. We achieved IP68 rating - higher than we’d aimed for - meaning that the Lobster Pot is protected against jets of water... and is completely dust-proof.
Lobster Pot - high above the streets of London.
Most of our cameras are installed at height. We have to maintain the safety of ourselves, of other people, and by extension, our equipment at all times. As well as the comprehensive safety training and experience our team has, we make sure that every camera we install at height has at least one, and often more, reserve safety systems in place.
Extract from a Structural Engineer’s report (four of about 50 pages)
We also use external fabricators to produce bespoke mounts for particularly complex projects, and use structural engineers to assess these designs, to ensure they can be placed safely in critical positions, anywhere.
Would you like to know more?
If the above has whet your appetite, find out more about our camera specification in our free technical spec sheet download here. Alternatively, if you're ready for a quote on a particular project - we'd love to help! Simply click the button below to fill out the form, and we'll do the rest.