From The Editor | July 20, 2023

7 Unique Applications Of Infrared Thermography

John Oncea

By John Oncea, Editor

GettyImages-508160564

Although infrared thermography has been in use for a while, its popularity has surged in the past five decades, particularly in commercial and industrial settings. In this article, we highlight seven ways in which it is being utilized to enhance safety and efficiency.

According to Science Direct, infrared (IR) thermography is the process of collecting and examining thermal data using non-contact thermal imaging devices. It works by detecting radiation emitted in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, which has longer wavelengths than visible light.

Thermographic cameras can detect radiation in the long-infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum and generate images of this radiation, known as thermograms, making it possible to view one's surroundings even without visible illumination. using a thermal imaging camera, we can easily spot warm objects against cooler backgrounds, making it possible to detect humans and other warm-blooded animals during the day or at night. This feature makes thermography an extremely valuable tool to the military and other users of surveillance cameras.

Put in simpler terms, IR thermography is an imaging technique that goes beyond just showing the shape of objects. It is like a super camera that also can detect temperature, which is useful because it can give us insights into things that are hidden underground. For instance, IR thermography can reveal that electrical lines are hotter than the surrounding ground due to the electricity flowing through them. In contrast, sewer lines are cooler and bigger.

IR thermography is possible because of the unique properties of different types of wavelengths including:

  • Short-wave infrared (SWIR), covering wavelengths ranging from 1,400 and 3,000 nanometers (nm).
  • Medium-wave infrared (MWIR), covering wavelengths ranging from 3,000 to 5,000nm.
  • Long-wave infrared (LWIR), covering wavelengths ranging from 8,000 to 14,000nm.

With that understanding, let’s take a look at seven ways IR thermography is being used, from the early detection of pressure injuries to plant disease management and more.

IR Thermography And Automation

ULIRVISION notes that for applications such as production in the automotive or electronic industries, thermal data is crucial. “Although machine vision software can identify production issues, it cannot detect thermal anomalies. Thermal imaging provides production professionals and decision makers with more information. In fact, nothing can match infrared thermography cameras in non-contact accurate temperature measurement. It adds a new dimension to machine vision and is a perfect solution for non-contact accurate temperature measurement and non-destructive testing.”

Process control and condition monitoring are two other tasks benefiting from IR thermography. Process control in production includes measuring temperature or inspecting the appearance of specific products on the production line. These parameters are utilized to enhance the process and ensure that the product's temperature or appearance meets the technical requirements. This is necessary to guarantee quality control and determine if the product has undergone 100% inspection. Additionally, IR thermography cameras can provide valuable data during the production process, which production engineers can use to increase the entire production process's efficiency.

By monitoring the condition of equipment such as high-voltage and low-voltage equipment, turbines, compressors, and other electromechanical devices, potential problems can be identified before they occur. This helps to prevent unexpected downtime which can be costly. In some cases, it may also be necessary to monitor the entire production process to ensure that any abnormalities are detected before they lead to dangerous situations.

ULIRVISION also identifies fire prevention and detection and continuous gas imaging as two additional processes aided by IR thermography.

Avoiding The Spread Of Crop Disease

“Fungal diseases cause significant losses in crop production, yields, and quality worldwide,” writes Springer Nature. “Early and precise diagnosis and measurement of plant diseases are critical for crop production and agricultural yield reduction, both qualitatively and quantitatively.”

Traditional methods of detecting plant diseases involve scouting for pests and visually inspecting crops, which often results in identifying the disease after it's too late for effective control. However, hyperspectral and multispectral visualization techniques can help visualize fields for plant disease protection by detecting diagnostic disease symptoms such as changes in leaf color, structure, and moisture levels. Infrared thermography is another technology that can detect plant stress caused by biotic and abiotic factors by capturing thermal images. Temperature fluctuations have already been found to indicate pathogen attacks in certain cases.

“In this way, infrared thermography in plant pathology allows for early and quick disease measurement,” Springer Nature writes. “This technique is a non-destructive, non-invasive, and non-contact approach to determining the thermal characteristics of any material of concern, and it may be used in a wide range of applications where heat is produced or lost over time.”

Detecting Pressure Injuries Earlier

It is challenging to detect pressure injuries at an early stage of their development, notes the National Library of Medicine in its reporting of a study on the ability of an IR thermography-based model, constructed using a convolution neural network, to reliably detect pressure injuries. NLM further reports that an IRT-based model can help, serving as a useful and reliable method for clinical dermatologists and nurses to detect pressure injuries.

“It can objectively and accurately detect pressure injuries one day before visual detection and is, therefore, able to guide prevention earlier than would otherwise be possible,” NLM reports. “IR thermography can be used for the physiological and anatomical evaluation of subcutaneous tissue abnormalities.”

Maintenance, Science, Industry, And Emergency Services

Four more applications of IR thermography, as reported by Lynred, are the maintenance of buildings, measuring and managing temperatures by the scientific community, pinpointing overheating issues or weak spots in a mechanical or electrical installation, and shielding emergency responders and rescue services from harm. Some highlights:

  • Thermal imaging technology has been extensively adopted in the building sector for assessing a building's energy performance. It offers an overview of the entire building, and users can detect thermal anomalies in the walls or roof from both inside and outside. This helps to identify heat leaks or insulation flaws. Additionally, thermal imaging is useful for quality control inspections during insulation retrofits.
  • Thermal imaging is a useful tool in the medical industry for identifying various conditions such as inflamed tissue, muscle injuries, diabetes, peripheral circulation disorders, and tumors. Additionally, there has been an increase in the use of thermal sensors to remotely detect elevated skin temperatures (EST) in groups of people due to the recent health crisis. These sensors can measure skin temperature in real-time without contact and can detect cases where body temperatures are rising above normal. By using thermal sensors, high footfall areas can maintain safe and healthy working conditions in a non-intrusive manner.
  • Thermal imaging technology can be utilized by industries to diagnose overheating issues or weak spots in mechanical or electrical installations. Additionally, professionals can use thermal imaging to analyze sensitive components in petrochemical facilities or high-risk installations that must meet Seveso requirements. This technology is highly efficient and effective in identifying potential problems and monitoring equipment.
  • Emergency responders and rescue services rely on thermal imaging to protect the public from harm. Thermography systems are crucial for detecting fire outbreaks, which can quickly destroy buildings and facilities. Thermal cameras are useful for performing contactless temperature measurements and can detect hotspots before they become a full-blown blaze, helping to prevent fires.