Switchboard Components

REVIEW: Fluke Thermal Multimeter 279 FC/iFlex



The Fluke Thermal Multimeter 279 FC/iFlex is a thermal imaging camera combined with a multimeter. Shepparton-based electrical contractor Paul Riley took one for a test run and gives Electrical Connection the low-down.

The Fluke 279 FC with its companion device iFlex is essentially a troubleshooting tool that helps you find, repair and report electrical issues. The thermal camera allows users to quickly check for heat spots on high voltage equipment and transformers, and detect heating of fuses, wires, switches and the like. Issues can then be analysed further with the multimeter.

For current measurements you do need the iFlex: a flexible ammeter clamp that can be purchased as a package with the 279FC.  The iFlex clamp has a large opening (which allows you to get around larger cables and busbars etc.) with long leads made of high quality silicone as opposed to plastic. It does have to be connected manually though so can’t be  used too close to anything else live. It features a retracting protective cover on the probe which I think is a great idea. It’s a function that could minimise any possibility of shorting.

Combining a thermal imaging camera with a multimeter is a great idea but the 279 FC takes this device’s functionality  a step further by allowing the user to wirelessly transmit results to a smart phone (up to 20m away) using the companion app. This lets you monitor measurements live on a smart phone screen as well as create and email reports from the job. This feature would be handy in situations like a factory environment to send details to other staff members.

The unit has a large screen which makes thermal imaging easy but, like all coloured screens,  it can be a bit hard to see outside – especially in bright sunlight. That said, we used the thermal imaging function to check for hot spots over solar panels and switchboard connections without too much trouble.

The tester has a min/max function which is a really handy feature, particularly while measuring current, as it lets you capture the maximum start current of a motor. This can be helpful for monitoring fluctuating voltages if you’re observing volt drop in an installation. The meter also shows the frequency on the screen while you’re measuring voltage which is handy to know.

A big negative for me was the battery charging set up. I found it a bit cumbersome and not designed with practical applications in mind.  For one, you have to remove the battery and charge it separately from the unit which means you have to be organised enough to make sure the rechargeable lithium battery pack is charged before you’re on site.

I’m sure most sparkies would agree, charging your multimeter battery before you go onsite is the last thing you want to be thinking about. Most guys I know carry a spare 9v battery in their van for their traditional meters. The problem is compounded further by the fact the battery pack doesn’t fit in the same case as the multimeter.  So there’s a fair chance it could be lost or left behind – a spare battery would be good!

Overall, it’s great to have a multimeter and thermal imaging combination like this – it’s a handy little unit and I’m sure it will get a lot of use in many applications.

The Fluke Thermal Multimeter 279 FC has a nice robust design and feels very sturdy to hold and is not awkward at all. The iFlex clamp is also manufactured to a high standard. Both are typical of Fluke quality.

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