Thermography (Thermal Imaging)

About thermography or thermal imaging

Thermography, or thermal imaging, involves scanning an infrared radiation detector across an object. The information gathered is then processed and an output in the form of the temperature distribution across the object is produced. Temperature measurement over the range from -20°C up to +1500°C is possible.

The radiation detector uses the same principles of operation as a radiation pyrometer in inferring the temperature of the point that the instrument is focused on from a measurement of the incoming infrared radiation. However, instead of providing a measurement of the temperature of a single point at the focal point of the instrument, the detector is scanned across a body or scene, and thus provides information about temperature distributions.

Because of the scanning mode of operation of the instrument, radiation detectors with a very fast response are required, and only photoconductive or photovoltaic sensors are suitable. These are sensitive to the portion of the infrared spectrum between the wavelengths of 2 µm and 14 µm.

Simpler versions of thermal imaging instruments consist of hand-held viewers which are pointed at the object of interest. The output from an array of infrared detectors is directed on to a matrix of red light-emitting diodes assembled behind a glass screen, and the output display thus consists of different intensities of red on a black background, with the different intensities corresponding to different temperatures. Measurement resolution is high, with temperature differences as small as 0.1°C being detectable. Such instruments are used in a wide variety of applications such as monitoring product flows through pipework, detecting insulation faults, and detecting hot spots in furnace linings, electrical transformers, machines, bearings, etc. The number of applications is extended still further if the instrument is carried in a helicopter, where uses include scanning electrical transmission lines for faults, searching for lost or injured people and detecting the source and spread pattern of forest fires.


More complex thermal imaging systems comprise a tripod-mounted detector connected to a desktop computer and display system. Multi-color displays are commonly used in such systems, where up to 16 different colors represent different bands of temperature across the measured range. The heat distribution across the measured body or scene is thus displayed graphically as a contoured set of colored bands representing the different temperature levels. Such color–thermography systems find many applications such as inspecting electronic circuit boards and monitoring production processes. There are also medical applications in body scanning.

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