What’s next for thermal imaging?

Perhaps more than any other sector, the building industry has benefited the most from the introduction of thermal imaging. Its scope of application in this field is immense because a thermal imaging camera can identify problems early, allowing them to be documented and corrected before they become more serious and costly to repair.

 

The technology can be used to visualise energy loss, detect missing or defective insulation, source air leaks and find moisture.  It’s ideal for detecting pipe leaks, under floor heating problems or mould build-up and locating thermal bridges or leaks in flat roofs.  And even if the thermal imaging camera is primarily used for building science, it has even wider potential.

As well as being equally suited to inspecting electrical and mechanical systems, certain models can also be used to capture dynamic events. No other technology has the application flexibility of thermal imaging and of course the big benefit is the impact this has on return on investment.

So, thermal imaging has certainly proved its worth in the building services industry and the continuing high demand for cameras is testimony to that.  But where does the technology go from here?  Well an important area of development is related to how widely thermal imaging cameras are being used.

For most, a thermal imaging camera is an essential piece of kit that is used daily, not just housed in a cupboard for an occasional inspection. This means it must be fit for purpose and designed to withstand the rigors of industrial and building environments.  As a result new cameras are becoming much more robust than their forerunners and subjected to stringent drop tests to confirm their durability.

Upgrade path

The choice of models in terms of camera performance and dedicated applications features has never been greater.  There is now a model on the market to suit every level of sophistication and analysis and reporting need.  This is important because as users work with the technology they naturally discover new applications for it. 

So, for example, even though an engineer may start with a fixed lens model, the benefits of having interchangeable lenses for various applications will become apparent.  In addition there is a wealth of choice enabling users to upgrade their cameras in line with their evolving experience and expertise.

The parallel development of analysis and reporting software is also of significant importance.  Again the choice for the building industry is fulsome and starts with simple products that allow users to organise and analyse radiometric images on the camera and quickly present them in a report.  Intuitive and easy to use online tools are also available for the same purpose.

Further up the scale are systems that incorporate features such as fusion, trending and provide greater flexibility in report design and layout.  For the professional thermographer dedicated software allows advanced analysis of building structures and includes customised building report templates for applications such as air tightness testing and energy cost analysis.

Even more functions

Complementing the breadth of choice is the continuous development of various camera grades.  Even entry level models now incorporate some highly sophisticated features.  The cost of a basic troubleshooting model makes it affordable across all engineering disciplines and the performance of these cameras get better and better.

A good example is the inclusion of wireless technology in thermal imaging camera design. This provides significant application scope as it allows data from a WiFi enabled moisture meter or clamp meter to be transferred to the corresponding thermal image.  So, for example, the relationship between heat and power load can be seen, bringing more intelligence to the inspection process.

This technology also allows thermal imaging cameras to ‘talk’ to mobile devices such as an iPhone and iPad.  The result is far greater application flexibility as it allows images to be shared with colleagues so that swift decisions can be taken on the remedial action needed to prevent loss of production or minimise risk.

Important caveat

The entry cost to the technology continues to fall and this is attracting more potential users.  But whilst this is a positive development, it puts even more emphasis on the need for training.  Thermal imaging cameras may be getting smarter but that is no substitute for the user fully comprehending the science behind the technology. 

Knowing the principles of infrared is a vital part of getting the best return on the camera investment. So at the very least, attend a course that covers the basics and better still, become a Level 1 thermographer.

Extra rugged and better performance

If this has stirred your interest then have a look at the brand new FLIR i-Series cameras because they certainly pack a powerful punch.

They are built for use in harsh working environments and undergo a 2m drop test to prove their durability. The FLIR i5 and i7 respectively boast a 56% and 36% improvement in resolution and what’s more they carry the same affordable price as their predecessors providing a highly cost effective means of detecting building faults and failures.

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