A profile of FLIR Systems, the world’s largest commercial company specialising in the design and production of thermal imaging cameras, components and imaging sensors.
US-based FLIR (Forward Looking InfraRed) Systems was first established in 1978 as a developer of thermal imaging systems for airborne applications. It has since grown into a US$1.6bn company, expanding its operations through a series of acquisitions which included the industrial infrared imaging group from Hughes Aircraft Co. in 1990, Agema Infrared System in 1997 and Inframetrics (US$48m) in 1998.
After a period of financial irregularities that led the company to restate its accounts for the years 1995 to 2000 FLIR was back on the acquisition trail, buying portable meter specialist Extech Instruments for US$40m and sensor network firm Ifara Tecnologias (US$11m) in 2007. Further expansion included buyouts of security hardware manufacturer Directed Perception ($20m, 2009), Raymarine (US$180m, 2010), video surveillance specialist DVTEL (US$92m, 2015) and nano-drone manufacturer Prox Dynamics ($134m, 2016).
FLIR is dominant market force, employing over 3,000 people worldwide with manufacturing and research and development facilities in the US, Israel, Estonia, Sweden and the UK. Revenue of US$1.6bn in FY15 was up 6% year on year with net income growing 17% to US$242m. Target markets for FLIR products are law enforcement, defence and aerospace, marine, emergency services, commercial surveillance, utilities, research and development, test and measurement, transportation and veterinary.
The company began to supply imaging technology to BMW in 2005, and won a seven year contract worth US$250m to install cameras in US Army helicopters in the same year. Other customers include CAN insurance which uses infrared thermography to assess the safety of in-building electrical systems.
FLIR also manufactures components for integration into third-party OEM products. Whilst it does work with a small number of preferred distributors, particularly for IP surveillance cameras, most of its engagements are handled direct by its own sales teams.
FLIR remains at the cutting edge of security and surveillance technology with a huge product and component portfolio. Its recent focus has centred on producing high-resolution thermal optics for the tactical and outdoor enthusiast markets, including thermal handhelds, helmet/goggle/rifle-mounted weapon sights and clip-ons.
The company also produces optical gas imaging (OGI) cameras designed to detect potentially hazardous atmospheres such as methane emissions for the oil and gas industry and emergency services (firefighting). Pocket-sized thermal cameras are aimed at real estate professionals, contractors and other tradesmen involved in building inspection and diagnostics.
High-definition (HD) capable drone cameras represent a big market opportunity for FLIR. It is collaborating with DJI Innovations to combine its thermal imaging cameras with DJI’s micro-gimbal aerial cinematography components into small drones intended for use in the search and rescue, agriculture and wildlife protection applications.
Consumer-focussed low cost thermal camera attachments for smartphones are another evolving market that FLIR is seeking to capitalise on. 2016 saw the company partner Bullitt Group, a maker of ruggedised smartphones for industrial environments, to integrate thermal imaging directly into its Android=based Cat S60 device hardware.