Thermal imaging is a method of using infrared radiation and thermal energy to gather information about objects, in order to formulate images of them, even in low visibility environments. It’s a type of technology that has built up a broad range of uses over the years. In particular, it’s an effective form of night-vision technology, with the capability to work in the total absence of any light (since it doesn’t rely on visible light), and can even work in smoke, fog, smog and haze.
How does thermal imaging work?
Thermal imaging is based upon the science of infrared energy (otherwise known as “heat”), which is emitted from all objects. This energy from an object is also referred to as the “heat signature”, and the quantity of radiation emitted tends to be proportional to the overall heat of the object.
Thermal cameras or thermal imagers are sophisticated devices comprised of a sensitive heat sensor with the capacity to pick up minute differences in temperature. As they gather the infrared radiation from objects in a particular environment, they can start to map out an image based on the differences and inflexions of the temperature measurements.
In general, thermal images are grayscale: with white representing heat, black representing colder regions, and various shades of grey indicating gradients of temperatures between the two. However, newer models of thermal imaging cameras actually add colour to the images they produce, in order to help users better identify distinct objects more clearly – using colours such as orange, blue, yellow, red and purple.
Applications of thermal imaging
Tracing the origins of thermal imaging, it’s believed to have its beginnings in the Korean War, being used for military purposes such as scouting and night combat missions. Since then, its uses have expanded far and wide, across different disciplines and for a variety of practical applications.
Electrical maintenance uses for thermal imaging are extensive. For example, power line technicians use thermal imaging to locate and pinpoint joints and parts that are at risk of overheating as they’re already emitting more heat than the stronger sections. They can also help spot loose connections or devices that are starting to fail.
Plumbers use thermal imagers to inspect sites of possible leaks, mainly through walls and pipes. Since the devices can be used at a distance, they’re ideal for finding potential problems in equipment that is either hard to reach or might otherwise pose safety issues to workers.
Mechanical and building construction technicians who work with thermal insulation use imaging to quickly identify leaks, which is important to maintain efficient temperature regulation in a building. At a glance, they can analyse a building’s structure and spot faults. Heat loss from walls, HVAC equipment, doors and windows are common thermal performance issues that are easily picked up by a thermal imager.
Animal and Pest management is a field which has a surprising number of uses for thermal imagers. They can help spot pests or animals in dark roof areas without having to climb up into them, and they can detect potential termite activity. Also, they’re commonly used to more easily conduct wildlife surveys in a totally non-invasive, non-intrusive manner.
Transport navigation gets significant benefits from thermal imaging, particularly when travelling at night. For example, maritime navigation uses it for clearly seeing other vessels, people and obstructions during the night while out at sea. In recent years, cars have begun incorporating infrared cameras to alert drivers of people or animals beyond streetlights or the reach of their headlights.
Healthcare and medicine also have practical uses, such as to spot fevers and temperature anomalies. This has proven to be especially important in airports where these thermal imaging cameras can quickly and accurately scan all incoming or outgoing passengers for higher temperatures, which was crucial during recent outbreaks of diseases like SARS and Ebola. Additionally, thermal imagers have been proven to help diagnose a range of disorders associated with the neck, back and limbs, as well as circulatory problems.
Fire-fighters use thermal imaging to help them see through smoke, particularly in rescue missions when they’re searching for people in an otherwise obscured and dangerous environment. They also use thermal cameras for rapid identification of spot fires, so they can intervene before they spread.
Police and law enforcement agencies incorporate thermal imagers into their surveillance equipment, used for locating suspects especially at night, as well as to investigate crime scenes and also for search and rescue operations. They’re superior to night-vision devices, as they don’t require any ambient light and are unaffected by bright lights, which is essential for tactical missions.
Science and research are undoubtedly sectors that draw significant benefits from using thermal imagers, for accurate and precise visualisations of heat patterns.
Other applications which use a thermal imaging camera include heating, ventilation and air conditioning installations, mould detection, quality assurance in processes such as glass manufacturing and many more.
Money saving is something you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a thermal imaging device, but when you think about everything it can do, it definitely makes sense. After the upfront cost of purchasing the device, they can undoubtedly save your business or home thousands of dollars or more in potential maintenance and repair costs that might incur if faults, leaks or weaknesses were not identified earlier.
Fun uses are available as well! There are a plethora of enjoyable, hobby-related things you can do with a handheld thermal imager, from finding birds and other fauna when out on hikes, to comparing relative temperatures of drinks, to even picking out cooler spots in a room!
However, it’s important to recognise that while thermal imaging has all these applications, it’s often best to use additional instruments or tools when appropriate to confirm what you’re seeing. Additionally, it’s worth noting that thermal imaging cameras are unable to see through walls and objects, but rather, they only pick up what’s reflected off them.
Choosing and purchasing a high-quality thermal imaging
It’s crucial to use a high-quality product to ensure that you detect and record accurate measurements. A big difference between different types of thermal imagers are the resolution and clarity of the images they provide.
Here at Pyrosales we are proud to offer a wide range of thermal imaging cameras suitable for all kinds of applications, whether they be professional or hobbyist. Our suite of top-range thermal imagers are made by Testo, a globally active, high-tech company with an expertise in innovative measurement solutions that are guaranteed to meet your needs.
Thermal imaging is an impressive and compact method of identifying, measuring and visualising heat patterns, particularly in environments where there’s a lack of visible light. Armed with an effective and high-quality thermal imaging camera, there are a broad range of applications available, from industrial to health to research and science and so much more.