The History of THERMAL TREND ®
Doing more through sales force automation was a mantra in the 1990’s. Today, service, installation, maintenance, diagnostics, repair and delivery businesses are scrambling to find ways and making a top priority of staying ahead of the game while keeping existing customers. Automation in data collection is the most effective way to get the job done the right way. It can also be a make or break selling point with new prospects. It is more critical than ever that companies integrate equipment field service operations with the right mobile computing solution that matches the needs of the technician in the field with the needs of the back office and the requirements of the customer.
Fred Colbert, a Certified Level III Thermographer / Instructor with over 25 years of experience in Infrared Thermography and President of Colbert Infrared Services, Inc. has been at the forefront of automating the workflow and data collection methods for Thermographers. Through Fred Colbert’s prior efforts in establishing professional accountability with regard to the quality of data that is gathered and reported, Thermal Trend has become the number one selling Infrared PdM inspection management software program worldwide.
“This technology is one of our best assets. Thermal Trend has allowed our consulting company to grow from just one thermographer to ten. Without it, there would be no way to manage the scale of work that we do and still provide the highest level of quality to our customers. It has reduced the amount of work for our thermographers while increasing their productivity.”
Thermal Trend’s underlying “business logic” of how Thermographers work, what data they need, when they need it, and how to automate the data collection retrieval, review, reconciliation, and entry started back in the late 1970’s when Fred Colbert was performing infrared inspections on Air Craft Carriers for the U.S. Navy. It was standard to meet with the Chief Engineer when arriving aboard the ship, as well a daily, to review the schedule of testing for the next two weeks.
The thermographer needed to have a complete list of all of the assets/equipment that was to be tested as well as the previous test histories of each piece of equipment and any associated problem conditions.
If the thermographer did not have the required information then the Chief Engineer would let them know that they had no business being onboard his ship. No exceptions.
An outline was established of what and when specific pieces of electro-mechanical equipment were to be tested and the status of any attempted repairs on past problems form previous inspections. In addition to establishing a route and timeline, all of the past problems from all of the previous inspections were to be re-inspected and the status of their condition was to be updated.
As the inspection was proceeding the Chief Engineer was to be constantly updated with any findings of problem conditions and at the end of each day a report would be prepared for review. The report included the status of the inspection schedule, problem conditions that where found (Prioritized list based on temperature rise phase to phase and a detailed problem report showing thermograms and photos), and a “Reconciliation Report” of the status of any problems that had been re-inspected.
At the completion of the inspection, 3 separate reports were generated which contained all of the above report criteria. One for the ship, one for the Navy, and one to be kept by the thermographer as a reference copy for the next inspection.
1970’s requirements for the inspection/program/report:
Report parameters to include:
Today the ability to provide the above detailed data to both the thermographer in the field and generate a report is easily accomplished with the use of low cost notebook computers, Pocket PC mobile devices and a database. However, in the late 1970’s none of these wonderful tools existed! We had to rely on what was “state of the art technology” at that time.
IR cameras were approximately 50 to 75 lbs. and cooled by pouring liquid nitrogen into them. Thermograms were Polaroid photographs of a black and white CRT screen. Electric typewriters were the standard method of generating a report from handwritten information that was written down in the field on paper forms. The days of cut and paste and drag and drop meant using a glue stick to paste the Polaroid photos of the thermogram and visual image onto the typed report and using a sheet protector to try to keep them from falling off the page.
All of this led to a great deal of work to have the professional accountability required to answer the questions of the Chief Engineer each day. Many long hours were spent during the evening, after working 8 to 12 hours of inspection time, typing up the report for the next day’s meeting with the Chief Engineer.
In the late 1980’s, technology finally make some great strides with the introduction of the Personal Computer and the ability of IR cameras to digitally store the IR image onto a floppy disk. This allowed for the ability to replace the cases of Polaroid film with a small box of floppy disks and replace the electric typewriter with a 286 Laptop computer. It became much easer to use Word Processing and Spreadsheet software programs to automate the data input since you could easily go back into the electronic document and correct spelling mistakes and insert the digital images and thermograms into the Word Perfect document. However, there was still data spread out in different places.
With a portable laptop 286 computer and MS DOS programs like Word Perfect and Lotus 123, the thermographer could go out into the field and start the report process. However, this just brought the office work into the field and though typing up the report in the field helped to reduce the about of time in the office, it did not help the thermographer do his job better while performing the inspection. The system was not really automating the data collection and was proving to be very inadequate.
The problem with that was that porting the office applications to mobile computers like the 286 computer just did not work. The work flow of a thermographer in the field does not match up with the work flow of how someone would type up a report in the home office. Thermographers have specific needs in the field regarding the way that the information needs to be structured so that they can gain quick and easy access to the data. A thermographer needs the ability to see what equipment is to be tested and where it is located, check off what has been tested, and review the past problem history of any piece of equipment to see if it has a chronic problem. The data entry needs to be in the same logical sequence as the information a thermographer records as he is performing the inspection in the field. We took the perspective of working it backwards, from the trenches up, as compared to the typical top down approach and designed from the thermographers’ point of view.
To provide a professional and accountable service, there was specific information that the thermographer needs to know while he is performing the inspection in the field.
Unfortunately, at this time, using a portable 286 computer in the field for automating the data entry did not fill this critical need. Though it reduced the turn around time on report generation and allowed the thermographer to embed the digital images. It did not address his questions and needs in the field. In 1991…The Thermographers needs are answered with Thermal Trend.
Thermal Trend Database 1.0 (1989) - DataEase
In 1989, Fred Colbert and Rick Brown of Colbert Infrared Services, Inc. took the “Business Logic” that Fred Colbert had developed 10 years earlier while performing and managing the IR inspection programs on the U.S. Navy Air Craft carriers and incorporated it into a database system that worked the way a Thermographer did his work in the field. The design perspective allowed the thermographer to work in a natural manner while still collecting all of the necessary information that would be used in generating reports.
A professional software design company in Seattle by the name of Work Group Solutions (Bill Serrahn and Rodney Bridges) were contracted by Fred Colbert to develop a relational database system that would allow for quick and easy data input, reconceleation, review and report generation. By using a relational database system, this would eliminate the problem of redundant data entry that is associated with conventional flat file report generation software programs and provide an intuitive platform for the thermographer to work with in the field. The first version of the Thermal Trend database 1.0 was developed using a database program called Data Ease at the recommendation of Bill Martin, former V.P. of FLIR Systems while Bill was the sales representative for AGEMA Infrared Systems.
The MS DOS / Data Ease version of Thermal Trend comprised a server version (called Master) of the database that contained all of the data for all of the clients and all of their inspections and a stand alone version (called a Slave) today that relationship would be called a server / client, that would allow for the export of a specific set of data for a client site that contained all of their inspection data to be used in the field on a portable 286 computer by a Thermographer. This helped the thermographer to easily review, reconcile, and enter data on the fly, and eliminated the typical redundant data entry that leads to clerical mistakes in reports. Assets/equipment could be easily grouped into a logical route-based structure that permitted the thermographer to see what needed to be tested and review any past problems. At any time during or at the completion of the inspection, queries/reports could be run against the database and the results could be printed immediately without the necessity of having to go back to the office and type up the report.
Benefits using a database solution included:
The system was so successful that it became the underlying backbone of ensuring quality services to Colbert Infrared Services’ customers. The ability to pass information from one thermographer to the next, over multiple inspections, and eliminating the necessity of having to come back to the office or spend late nights in a hotel room typing up reports allowed Colbert Infrared Services to manage its growing client list.
Thermal Trend 2.0 Professional (1991) - Microsoft Access 1.0
Times change and Microsoft Windows enters the marketplace.
The MS DOS version of Thermal Trend worked great but the one sure thing is that everything will change, and change it did. Microsoft developed a new operating system for the PC called Windows and software that ran in DOS needed to step up to the plate as well. Microsoft had also developed a database program called Access that soon became the most widely sold/installed database system worldwide.
With the need for a database system that would work from within the new Windows operating system, Fred Colbert again contracted Work Group Solutions to develop a new Windows version of Thermal Trend based on Microsoft Access. The new Access version took advantage of all of the Window’s operating system features and continued to build upon the field-proven business logic platform for the conduction of infrared inspections that had been so successful in the MS DOS version.
Thermal Trend 3.0 - (1993) Microsoft Access 2.0
The new Windows/Access version of Thermal Trend provided an enhanced user interface that was more intuitive to the thermographer in the field by providing the ability to “drill down” to necessary data when needed. The Windows platform also provided a more user friendly operating system that help new thermographers become proficient with the system in a shorter time since they did not have to develop any of the file handling skills associated with DOS.
All these factors added up to a winning solution that integrated proven business logic, designed from the perspective of the thermographer, running on “Pen Computers” and incorporating bar codes for fast identification of equipment, with a user friendly Windows user interface that could fill the needs of thermographers in the field and management back in the office.
1997 - As new features in the design were required, Fred Colbert contracted Scott Cawlfield of Logos Computer Solutions (Scott was a former intern for Bill Serrahn of Workgroup Solutions while attending the University of Washington studing computer science), to add additional reporting details to Thermal Trend 3.0. Logos Computer Solutions was contracted by Fred Colbert to continue development through/up until Thermal Trend 5.0.
Thermal Trend 4.0 (1998) (Beta test platform for SQL)
This version did not replace 3.0 but provided a test platform in SQL to add more imporvements that Fred Colbert saw a nessary for continues imporvment to the business work flow of thermographic inspections. This version did not get used in the field but did prove to be of some value in understand the scema that would be used on the next version.
Thermal Trend 5.0 (1998) SQL verson
Built on the solid foundation of Thermal Trend 3.0 and learning from the lessions of 4.0 the next version, Thermall Trend 5.0 was built on MS SQL with a VB front end. This version had everything including the "kitchen sink" throughen in to the database. As screen sizes became larger on the pen tablets, from 640 by 480 to 800 by 600 and beyone, the ability to add more to the explorer/route screen became easer because of more relastate on the screen. This version was based on the concept of using a server version that you would check out/in a site from the server and use it on a large Pen Tablet. It took full advantage of the larger screen size and the processing power of the pentimum chips that were now being bullt into the tablets. The system provide what would be a complete desktop solution on a portalble pen tablet that could be used in the filed. The thermographer would have to "check out" a site file, edit it, and then returen it to the server to be "checked in". As long as only one thermographer was working with one site at a time, and they did not mix up or loose the Check Out / Check In files they were safe.
A Web-based ordering system was developed that would allow access to the server for data retrieval by field technicians and customers wherever in the world they were. This gave the thermographer the ability to view and upload and download data from remote locations via the internet.
Thermal Trend - Lite (2001) Microsoft Access
Complete automation in the palm of your hand - The Pocket PC becomes the platform of choice!
Thermal Trend - Lite started development in 2001 and was introduced in the fall of 2002. Fred Colbert contracted Pacific Northwest Software to develop the “Next Generation” of Thermal Trend utilizing the Pocket PC in the field. The Pocket PC is smaller, lighter, more durable and is much less expensive than the Pen Computer. The product was labeled as Thermal Trend Lite to represent the fact that the program now used on a much lighter Pocket PC. Thermal Trend Lite also allowed for the ability to automatically synchronize (no more check-out/check-in file transfering) the database on the Pocket PC with a standard Notebook computer. (a real server/client synchronizaton).
Focus first on Data flow for the Pocket PC (Or why you dont put 10 pounds of chocolate in a 5 pound box)
A key consideration is optimization of the user interface based on the smaller screen size. By analyzing the way that an end user interacts with the “flow” of data on the smaller screen, it allows us to develop a system based on delivering just the right information at just the right time in the work flow model (as compaired to the shotgun method in Thermal Trend 5.0). It is very important not to overwhelm the thermographer with information, or information that they don’t need at that moment that distracts them from being able to intuitively access the information that they need, when they need it.
Thermal Trend light was actually two programs in one, an enterprise database on a desktop computer in the office (or notebook/Pen tablet) and one on the Pocket PC that is in the field. Thermographers can create and distribute as many databases and inspections as they wish without the necessity of having to go online to order and retrieve their data.
New features included:
Thermal Trend is able to export all of the data to a standard ASCI file that can be imported directly into most CMMS programs as well as Word, Excel, etc. In addition, Thermal Trend is a standard MS Access database that is ODBC compliant and can be accessed by other ODBC compliant programs as well.
Thermal Trend - Lite came with a complete portfolio of reports that could meet the most demanding requirements of any IR Program.
Create your own report!
User defined and customizable reports in Thermal Trend were very simple since the database was a "non encripted" standard Misrosoft Access MDB file. Thermal Trend 5.0 was encripted. Anyone using MS Access could easily create or customize any of the reports that were provided in Thermal Trend - Lite.
Thermal Trend - Lean (2005) Microsoft SQL
Today Thermal Trend - Lean's success is based on commitment of continues improvements and maturity of software development. The lates version takes Lean Thinking even further in the commitment to eliminating the waste (everything that takes away from the flow of information to the thermographer as in Thermal Trend 5.0) and takes advantage of the latest versions and strengths of Microsoft SQL, and even adds the ability to open edit and analyze your infrared image files from all of the camera manufactures directly inside of the database (not possible in 5.0). It continues to build on all of the Knowledge based library and even adds the ability for the end user to customize the database with their own database fields to store key information. Route sets can be established to create your own customized routes depending on your needs. And Thermal Trend - Lean has a new XML report generation engine that can handle printing/saving reports of any size. Reports are saved as HTML files that can be viewed on in any web browser or opened up in Microsoft Word or Excel, or saved as Adobe PDF files.
Summing it all up
Today Thermal Trend - Lean is used internal by World Class company's like, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Harley-Davidson, Wisconsin Energy, BP and many others world wide as the foundation of their Infrared programs. When you look at the evolution of Thermal Trend starting back in 1989, and our commitment to continuous improvement - It is easy to see why they have make Thermal Trend - Lean the number one database program world wide. The ROI on reduced overtime, increased productivity, professional accountability and flexible and scalable growth for managing an infrared program can not be overlooked.
Decateated to....Continuous Improvement since 1989!