Improvements in tool technology from one generation to the next are typically marginal simply because leaps and bounds can’t happen every day. But every so often a tool receives a significant innovation and, if it happens to be a tool of your trade, you consider yourself fortunate. Your job gets easier, your workflow more efficient, and your ability to add value increases. That’s what Danny Carey found last summer with FLIR’s CM174 Imaging Clamp Meter. Now I had the opportunity to review the FLIR DM284 Thermal Imaging Multimeter – an 18-function, true-RMS meter with FLIR’s Infrared Guided Measurement (IGM). The IGM is unlike anything I’ve used in my 30 years as an electrician and even with what little I understood of it at first, I saw its potential to greatly improve my work.
You don’t have to be a Pro electrician to see a lineup of the FLIR Thermal Imaging Multimeter next to several other models and realize one of these things is not like the others. The FLIR’s large size is mostly a function of the 2.8-inch, 160×120 resolution screen which produces remarkably sharp, large numbers and characters. Except for the face, the meter is covered in a rubberized material that makes it easy to grip and protects it from drops. In fact, it’s rated for a 3-meter drop, which is likely higher than it would fall from a ladder. Just as good, it’s IP54 rated to resist water and dust. The company believes in its product – the meter is backed by FLIR’s 10-year warranty.
A handy kickstand allows the FLIR DM284 to stand up on a surface and provides a better vantage point. An optional holder for the leads screws into the back of the meter and contains a magnet that can stick to the inside of an open service panel. That’s a really nice touch since you can use both hands for testing while having the meter in a convenient, visible spot.
As I mentioned above, the FLIR is an 18-function, true-RMS meter with some helpful features like non-contact volts and a bright LED work light. It boasts two power source options. Four AAA batteries can power it for about 12 hours and the rechargeable TA04 lithium-polymer pack can power it for 30. Included in the package with the test probes is a type K thermocouple input which allows you to view both thermal and electrical measurements simultaneously.
All of those features are excellent but by far and away the standout one is the thermal imaging. Just like the CM174, the FLIR DM284 allows the user to spot potentially dangerous hotspots and troubleshoot problems without even touching the circuitry. The laser pinpoints areas to take temperature readings and the sliding lens cover offers protection when the function isn’t in use. As with many thermal cameras, there are 3 color palettes to choose from.
The Only Prescription Is More FLIR
I maintain the electric service at 5 schools in the county, many of which haven’t been updated in decades and is evident in some of the photos. But that’s really the perfect testing grounds for the FLIR Thermal Imaging Multimeter because I can easily head off the inevitable problems in such an old grid before they become dangerous.
Thermal Imaging: The Game Changer
Even without IGM, the DM284 is a high-quality meter. The high-contrast, large display and wide range of functions are really beneficial. But having never used thermal imaging for this application before now, I can’t underscore enough how useful it is. I can stand several feet away and see what’s hot. Of course, high levels of heat in an electrical panel isn’t good news, so without being in harm’s way I can identify and diagnose problems in a panel. Just look at how clearly the FLIR shows a hot area! I can troubleshoot exact areas of loose or otherwise poor connections in wires or breakers and bad busbars like I never could before.
In extreme cases, heat could cause an electrical fire. Even in less extreme cases, it could cause enough damage that significant time and money must be spent for repair where an ounce of preventative maintenance – greatly simplified with the FLIR Thermal Imaging Multimeter – would have been the better course. I’ve seen cases where heat caused so much damage that new lines had to be pulled in old buildings since the old wire was encased in the conduit that was under the slab.
It quickly struck me that electricians aren’t the only ones who will benefit from FLIR’s innovation. You’ll probably find yourself walking around your work area, pointing the FLIR at everything. Mechanical/HVAC guys can troubleshoot and diagnose problems, as could roofers who could quickly see bad spots in the roof, and even plumbers might like to know what the IGM reveals. I even saw another reviewer check the efficiency of windows and doors with it. While a multimeter isn’t the best tool for each of these trades, it’s easy to see how thermal imaging can change the game for them.
At first, I powered the FLIR with 4 AAA batteries but found it to be a bit of an energy hog. FLIR claims about 12 hours of use from these traditional cells but that might be stretching it. But that’s really ok, there’s really no reason to avoid use the lithium-polymer battery pack, which extends the power to about 30 hours. By unscrewing the back panel, you can easily insert the pack. I suggest you go ahead and do this at the beginning. Twelve hours on traditional cells (at best) is not a long time, and it might not even make it through one long day. Keep the charger in your bag.
The FLIR DM284 Thermal Imaging Multimeter is spectacular in a lot of ways but at just 400 milliamps, I think the measurement capacity is low for a meter of this quality and price. At the equivalent of just 0.4 amps, it nearly guarantees that you have to carry an amp probe with you, as well. Sure, you probably have one in your toolbag or toolbox and no, you’re not always measuring current. But for some perspective, competitive meters on the market can run up to 10 amps. Moving to clamp meters, you’ll see FLIR’s CM174 Imaging Clamp Meter measures up to 600 amps! So while multimeters, in general, won’t get you the kind of current reading clamp meters can, there’s still some room to move up for this model.
The Bottom Line
The FLIR DM284 Thermal Imaging Multimeter – an 18-function, true-RMS meter – is truly an impressive tool of the electrical trade with it’s 2.8-inch, 160×120 resolution high-contrast screen. Even before considering the thermal imaging capabilities, the readability of the numbers and characters is attractive.
It can run on 4 AAA batteries for what FLIR claims is 12 hours, but I found to be less than that. It’s best to install the included lithium-polymer battery pack and carry the charger with you for around 30 hours of use between charges.
Handy features include a kickstand, an LED work light, and an optional lead holder that screws into the back which also contains a magnet for sticking the meter to the inside of a service panel. That’s really a nice touch.
It’s ruggedized with a rubber overmold for up to 3 meters of drop resistance. An IP54 rating against water and dust ain’t too shabby, either!
The Infrared Guided Measurement (IGM) is really a big leap forward in electrical diagnostics and preventative maintenance. By simply holding the FLIR DM284 Thermal Imaging Multimeter up to a service panel at a distance of several feet, you can quickly see hot spots caused by loose connections, bad buses, and other potential problems. Not only will this reduce the time spent finding problems and heading off future ones, it keeps electricians out of harm’s way.
The largest drawback I see is the low current measurement capacity – just 0.4 amps. That’s in contrast to multimeters from companies like Klein that measure up to 10 amps. Still, it’s not unique and doesn’t dissuade me from heartily recommending the FLIR DM284 Thermal Imaging Multimeter. Even at $749, the potential savings in time, money, and health that it confers far exceeds any measurement capacity drawbacks.
FLIR DM284 Thermal Imaging Multimeter Features
- Infrared Guided Measurement (IGM)
- 18 measurement functions
- Thermocouple input + test probe
- 2.8-inch screen, 160×120 resolution screen
FLIR DM284 Thermal Imaging Multimeter Specifications
- Model number: FLIR DM284
- Sensitivity: ≤ 150 mK
- Emissivity: 4 Presets with Custom Adjustment
- Accuracy: 3°C or 3.5%
- Range: 14°F to 302°F (-10°C to 150°C)
- FOV (w x h): 46° x 35°
- Laser pointer: Yes
- Focus: Fixed
- Palette: Iron, Rainbow, Greyscale
- Level & Span: Auto
- AC / DC Volts: 1000V, 1% / 0.09%
- AC / DC mVolt: 600.0mV, 1% / 0.5%
- VFD: 1000V, ±1.0%
- AC / DC LoZ V: 1000V, ±1.5%
- AC / DC mAmps: 400.0mA, ±1.5%
- AC / DC μAmps: 4,000μA, ±1.0%
- Resistance: 50 MΩ, 0.9%
- Continuity: Yes
- Capacitance: 10.00mF, 1.9%
- Diode: Yes
- Min/Max/Avg: Yes
- Flex Clamp Range: 3000A AC (Optional TA72/74): ±3.0% + 5 digits
- Frequency Range: 99.99kHz, 0.1%
- Thermocouple: Type K -40°F to 752°F (-40°C to 400°C), ±1.0% + 5.4°F (DMM) ±1.0% + 9°F (IGM)
- Warranty: 10 years
- Price: $446.98