Application Fields of Infrared Thermography
There is more to this world than can be seen with the naked eye. The human eye is only capable of capturing certain light ranges and is also limited in its ability to capture certain high-speed movements or invisible forces. From the heat of a human body to invisible gases, human sight has limitations that can be solved by infrared and thermal imaging technology.
Below you can learn more about the basics of infrared cameras and thermal imaging. In addition to reading more about the basic tenets of the field, you'll learn more about some of the exciting and commonplace applications of infrared cameras in the world today.
What is Infrared and Thermal Imaging?
The human eye, as mentioned above, is only capable of capturing a very small portion of the greater electromagnetic spectrum. Short, intense wavelengths of light and long, slow wavelengths are outside the capability of the human eye. This is where infrared cameras and thermal imaging can fill in the gaps in human sight. Thermal energy has a much longer wavelength than visible light. It is so long in fact that the human eye can't even see it.
Thermal imaging with infrared cameras expands the "visible" spectrum of the human eye by doing the work an eye cannot. It perceives these longer wavelengths and captures them in a color-coded world that the human eye can understand. Everything in the world with a temperature above that of absolute zero emits some level of heat which can be detected and measured.
Also known as Forward Looking Infrared, these cameras are very common in police helicopters, military aircraft to spot heat sources and displayed via video output. FLIR cameras are very different from other night-vision devices and conventional infrared cameras however, since these only display a certain infrared range.
InfraTec offers a flexible thermography software for every application field, stationary or mobile, thus satisfying the most specific of customer demands.
Active Thermography for Non-Destructive Material Testing
Active thermography is mostly referred to as induction of a heat flow by energetically exciting a test object. Heat flow is influenced by interior material layers and defects, which can be captured by high-precision infrared cameras. This makes different evaluation of algorithms and improves the signal-to-noise-ratio which detects even the smallest defect. The uses in this field include:
- Non-destructive and contact-free material testing, for both automated in-line and off-line solutions
- Detection of layer structures, delamination and inserts in plastics
- Detection in CFRPs of the automotive and aerospace industry
- Investigation of interior structures or impacts on honeycomb lightweight constructions
- Recognition of deeper material deficiencies, such as blowholes in plastic parts or ruptured laser welding seams
Map of heat signatures in a town.
Aerial Thermography’s history begins with military applications starting as early as the Korean war, used to detect enemy forces and resources on the ground. High geometrical resolution of the infrared camera system allows detection of even the smallest detail from a great height, which can then be used for both observation and monitoring. While this is always being developed by the US military for continuous improvement, these are some examples of its varied usage within other fields:
- Enhance the visual clarity of small items on the ground
- Assess the extent of environmental damages without risking human lives
- Fast infrared camera systems offer low smearing
- Integration of GPS data and visual images
- Wide range of accessories like gimbal systems
- Monitor large geologic properties for changes
- Inspect the thermal storage capabilities of biotops on industrial complexes
Thermography in Aerospace Industry
Take-off of an Airbus A400M.
Aerospace sets the greatest demands on Infrared camera systems due to the high safety and material requirements presented. Often, high thermal resolutions of 20 mk and/or high frame rate of 100 Hz and more are necessary. Aerospace firms can use thermography to test active heat flows on new composite materials to ensure the next generation of lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft remain as safe as today's models.
Thermography in Automotive Industry
Thermal analysis looking for defects in an airbag.
Deconstructing parts of the car can be cumbersome, and thermography offers a non-invasive and non-destructive approach testing which saves time and effort. Tight competition and the chase for better performing, fuel-saving, and lighter automobiles inspires thermography to provide the needed efficiency through doing quality checks on every electrical system, motor assemblies and window heating elements. It provides detection of defects and deficiencies of multiple products for the automotive industry only detected through temperature changes and allows reconciliation of thermal behavior of components with their standard behavior.
High-speed thermal image of a flying bird.
High speed image capturing opened doors to new possibilities in thermal imaging, allowing observation of high-speed thermal processes. This allows for minute observation of parts and systems and helps in understanding rapid acting chemical processes and combined with powerful measurement and reporting software provides a vast wealth of information. These cameras utilize special detectors and acquisition units called snapshot detectors, and their ability to acquire and display data in parallel provides precise thermographic measurements down to the millisecond range.
Thermography in Chemical Industry
Thermal Analysis of a Flare Stack.
Industries dealing with hazardous and non-hazardous chemical materials can benefit from infrared cameras helping to detect the resulting heat flow from chemical processes. Thermal imaging makes it easier to capture and measure the temperature distribution with greater accuracy, and also enable the analysis of chemical reactions through the entire process chain. Best of all, the non-invasive and contactless nature of thermal imaging means people are kept at a safe distance while thermal imaging cameras do all the legwork to collect relevant data.
Thermography in Electronics and Electrical Industry
Thermal analysis of heat dissipation for a microchip.
Electrical systems and electrical distribution equipment can benefit from the application of infrared cameras and thermography technology. Not only does it prevent humans from having direct contact with these systems and circuits, testing and detection can be conducted without interrupting the flow of power. Common problems that can be detected in the electrical field courtesy of infrared imaging include:
- Loose connections
- Poor contacts
- Overheated bushings
- Blocked cooling passages
Manufacturing industries can also benefit from electrical thermography to monitor possible overheating, keep a close eye on tank levels, process line inspections, and even assess the condition of circuit boards.
Inspections of Mechanical Components
Fuel-injection of an internal-combustion engine.
Infrared cameras can safely inspect mechanical systems from various industries to detect issues before they become major problems. Thermal imaging applications as it pertains to mechanical inspections are diverse and include, but are not limited to:
- Detecting blocked air coolers and radiator tubes in internal combustion engines
- Finding air leaks and clogged condenser tubes in refrigeration systems
- Locate and identify overheating bearings, increased discharge temperatures, and excessive oil temperatures in pumps, compressors, fans, and blowers
Thermography for Material Testing
Thermal analysis of a turning process.
Infrared thermography cameras offer a powerful alternative when studying structural situations or testing materials in a non-destructive manner. Since everything in this world emits infrared as long as its temperature is above absolute zero, non-destructive material testing is possible with infrared because it can capture measurements and readings from any surface upon which heating or cooling takes place. Using infrared cameras for thermal imaging in these settings is not only non-destructive, it is non-invasive as well.
For example, building inspections can be completed using infrared testing. When looking to improve upon energy efficiency and lead the world forward in the fight against climate change, improving building structure to combat energy loss and resource wasting is greatly aided with the use of infrared cameras.
Thermography in Medicine
Thermal image of hands before and after regulation therapy.
Thermal imaging applications abound in the field of healthcare, both for humans and animals. Infrared thermography in thermography is being used to help detect cancer earlier, locate the source of arthritis, and even catch circulation issues before they become too problematic. Doctors and veterinarians alike can use infrared cameras to discover muscular and skeletal problems early on. One example of thermal imaging in this field is the growing use of infrared cameras to fit horses with safer saddles.
Thermography in Metallurgy
Thermal image of smelting pans.
The field of metallurgy is entirely dependent upon the right materials heated to the right temperature to ensure a proper outcome. In this case, infrared cameras and thermal imaging offer a number of benefits. First and foremost, infrared thermography in metallurgy can help reduce energy consumption by detecting defects in the insulation of heating chambers, cracks in pans, or issues with similar devices. The speed and precision of thermal imaging make it easy for metallurgy to benefit from infrared cameras.
High resolution thermal image of circuitry.
Many of the thermal imaging applications discussed on our site focus on large-scale operations. Given that infrared cameras can not only show mankind things it cannot see with the naked eye, it can also examine processes that cannot be seen or analyzed properly by the naked eye. There are many microthermography applications, which is to say, those which take place on microscopic scales.
A common example comes from the field of mobile technology as circuit boards and processors continue to shrink to fit modern devices. However, there are other popular thermal imaging applications at the microscopic level. For example, it can be used to visualize and detect the latent heat of freezing for a cluster of biological cells, aiding in cryopreservation and the advancement of biotechnology. Microthermography can also be used to observe the crystallization of organic materials.
Infrared Cameras for Plant Inspections
Inspection of a transformer.
Plant inspections require the highest quality in monitoring to check all possible faults that may cause accidents or pose a threat to safety of its employees. Using thermography in predictive maintenance is often used to find faults in both electronics ad manufacturing companies. Infrared systems provide efficient inspection without contact or interfering with the normal / daily operations or risking maintenance personnel. Infrared cameras provides overview and initial results and makes the process safer and efficient.
Infrared Cameras for Security
Surveillance of a garden.
Infrared cameras deliver more to the field of security than simple threat detection and enemy movements on the field of battle. Thermal imaging applications in security can be used to detect smoke-filled rooms, provide effective home security, or even to locate weapons and chemicals being smuggled into prisons or county jails.