IR Thermography: Hot for New Apps

This Month in Industrial Automation

IR is big and getting bigger, if you hadn't noticed. Like handheld spot IR thermometers, IR thermography cameras have been undergoing a quiet revolution in recent years. Today thermal imagers deliver much more bang for the buck, which is likely part of the reason they are increasingly popular for a greater range of applications.

Some of these applications seen recently include temperature monitoring and heat-distribution gauging for web processes such as

  • paper coating and drying
  • flat glass annealing
  • steel slab and billet rolling and coating
  • adhesive bonding of laminates

In the manufacturing realm, IR for nondestructive testing (NDT) has made the leap from lab to standard use. Applications for it include

  • automotive and aircraft brakes
  • the whole new discipline of flaw detection in semiconductors and precision parts

"Sonic IR," or thermosonic imaging, is an interesting new methodology that involves applying ultrasonic power to objects. When the sound waves enter an object, they produce localized heat in the region of a crack or void which thermal imagers readily detect. (See "Progress in Thermosonic Crack Detection for Nondestructive Evaluation" (PDF) or review SPIE ThermoSense Conference Proceedings from recent years to learn more.)

Traditional and new suppliers
All four of the world's major IR thermometer companies—Raytek, Ircon, Land Instruments and Mikron Infrared—are now also deeply entrenched in IR thermography, but with imager models that look significantly different than those of the traditional players. The "Big Four" initially shaped themselves around the monitoring and control markets with spot-measuring devices. For the past few years they have been digging into new applications-with both line-scanning IR imagers and ruggedized IR thermal imagers-in new ways.

Now, even the traditional thermal imager makers are expanding to offer ruggedized units for industrial uses. And as dependable measurements become increasingly essential, the issues surrounding blackbodies, calibrations, and standards are being discussed in more venues.

The next big thing: Web-enabled IR
My first IR thermography meeting of the year, IRINFO 2006, showcased even newer, commercial IR uses in building inspections and pest detection & control.

Some of the buzz at IRINFO 2006 surrounded the Web-enabled IR cameras Ann Arbor Systems has introduced. With networks gaining ground in automation, the Web-enabled IR image sensor was bound to materialize. But I don't think anyone expected it just yet—especially not at this price: these new IR imagers, while only low-res, are approximately $5k each—about half the price of those available a year or so ago.

Soon, no doubt, IR imagers will be installed at many monitoring and control locations where spot IR thermometers used to sit. They'll be easy to configure, easy to maintain and simpler by far to install.

Speaking of the Web
Unlike past years, in which I taught on temperature calibration, IR application, or the effect of thermal standards at IRINFO, this time I was asked to discuss the importance of Web sites and aspects of Web marketing for small business. No business today should be without at least a placeholder site. Then, too, why not endow all measurement devices with Web capability, a unique IP address, and connectivity? This only makes sense for the people who must use and maintain them. (Do you agree? Have you implemented this feature?)

On my way home from IRINFO I stopped at our favorite local deli, which now offers an online E-Club so customers can "preorder" bagels and more. Lox, anyone?

The host of Sensors Industrial Automation, G. Raymond (Ray) Peacock is an industrial physicist with many years of instrumentation experience on both sides of industry. He maintains the websites,, and He is a contributing writer to Sensors Online and author of the January 2006 article, "Temperature Sensors: Contact or Noncontact?"

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