Camera Pre-Installation / Bench Testing

Author: Brian Rhodes, Published on May 04, 2012

There is a fine line between profit and loss on many surveillance projects. If just a few unexpected problems arise, the integrator may as well be paying to perform the work. Checking against 'Dead on Arrival' conditions and pre-installation configuration of cameras are ways integrators can 'hedge their bets' against losing money. In this note, we examine these pre-installation processes and how they are used to keep installations profitable.

3 Steps

These 'pre-installation' efforts can be divided into 3 progressive steps:

  1. "Dead On Arrival" test: confirms device receives power
  2. Device Updating and Preconfiguration: setting up devices for install
  3. Function Testing: pre-install validation of important camera functions

Performing these tests require scarce resources during a project: labor and time. As a result, the installer might decide that certain cameras are 'triaged' for in-depth testing based on several factors, including how difficult servicing will be after final installation, how critical its delivered surveillance images are, and how many moving pieces it may contain. (ie Pan-Tilt-Zoom controls, Wipers, Heaters/Blower, Cutfilters, etc)

"Dead On Arrival" Testing

In this stage, each camera is unboxed and booted up. This minimum testing stage confirms that the device works and should power up as expected during final installation.

Documenting device MAC addresses or serial numbers is a prudent step to take here, for future reference. Making note of this information is especially valuable for warranty reference, for both the installer and end-user. The device MAC address information may also be valuable for camera licensing in the VMS software. Keeping an accurate record of the installed devices is best accomplished by documenting MAC addresses at this stage.

Device Updating and Preconfiguration

The next deeper step of pre-installation testing includes updating device firmware and pre-configuration of IP addresses/ network settings. Updating firmware should not be performed by untrained technicians, and adding UPS or other sources of 'backup power' to the test bench equipment is necessary should a power failure occur mid-flash.

If device IP addresses are being configured at this time, tying together the IP address and physical installation location is vitally important. Keeping track of this information on a floorplan or spreadsheet will clarify where the installers should hang the camera, and will also significantly aid future surveillance system troubleshooting and maintenance efforts.

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Function Testing

Pre-installation function testing is helpful if enough benchtime is available. At this stage, advanced functionality like IR cutfilter switching, IR LED function, motion and zoom checking for PTZ cameras, and heater/blower function should all be checked. Confirming the IR cutfilter operates and the LEDs light up can be achieved a number of different ways depending on the camera type, but the best test method approximates field conditions. Instead of using firmware buttons to trigger these functions, consider placing the camera in darkness and allow the sensor on the camera to switch into night functions. In many devices, the IR cutfilter is a moving part whose alignment and movement should be confirmed as fully operational.

PTZs cameras include many moving parts. The full function of travel and zoom should be confirmed during this step. Some PTZ have a 'selftest' feature built into firmware that automates this movement. If the camera does not include this feature, it may require setting up a continuous patrol while working the tilt and zoom functions to the full extents of their ranges. Especially because PTZ cameras are expensive, catching operational glitches as soon as possible under warranty is vital.

Depending on camera type, the installer should confirm that 'edge' functions, like SD storage is writing/reading at this point. I/O events can be preprogrammed, greatly enhancing installation efficiency in the field. Additional I/O components can be 'kitted up' and packaged together to follow the camera in the field for install.

Value Added Services

Performing this type of work for large installs with high camera counts can be logistically challenging, and not every installer will have the time nor facilities to accomplish the work quickly enough. However, it is vital that installers check equipment before install or money and time will be wasted. No manufacturer will admit to shipping faulty or broken equipment, but it frequently happens. The risk is higher when buying budget line or 'flavor-of-the-month' cameras.

Some installers may be able to negotiate this work as a 'value-add' service performed by distributors and manufacturers, since it does consume time and resources. However, the scope of these services should be carefully considered. Communicating pre-configuration details must be done very accurately, and nothing may be gained by failing to confirm operation firsthand if devices break during transit.

Conclusion

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." It may seem like a quaint adage, but it certainly rings true for installers battling equipment failures during field installation. Investing time to ensure and preconfigure camera before install may cost money up front, but can quickly prove to save profits when put into practice.

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