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Thermal Imaging

object to determine that value rather than detecting the actual temperature

This phenomenon may become clearer upon consideration of the formula:

Incident Radiant Power = Emitted Radiant Power + Transmitted Radiant Power + Reflected Radiant Power; where incident radiant power is the radiant power profile when viewed through a thermal imaging camera. Emitted radiant power is generally what is intended to be measured; transmitted radiant power is the radiant power that passes through the subject from a remote thermal source, and; reflected radiant power is the amount of radiant power that reflects off the surface of the object from a remote thermal source.

This phenomenon occurs everywhere, all the time. It is a process known as radiant heat exchange, since radiant power × time equals radiant energy. However, in the case of infrared thermography, the above equation is used to describe the radiant power within the spectral wavelength passband of the thermal imaging camera in use. The radiant heat exchange requirements described in the equation apply equally at every wavelength in the electromagnetic spectrum.

If the object is radiating at a higher temperature than its surroundings, then power transfer will be taking place and power will be radiating from warm to cold following the principle stated in the second law of thermodynamics. So if there is a cool area in the thermogram, that object will be absorbing the radiation emitted by the warm object.

The ability of objects to emit is called emissivity, to absorb radiation is called absorptivity. Under outdoor environments, convective cooling from wind may also need to be considered when trying to get an accurate temperature reading.

The thermal imaging camera would next employ a series of mathematical algorithms. Since the camera is only able to see the electromagnetic radiation that is impossible to detect with the human eye, it will build a picture in the viewer and record a visible picture, usually in a JPG format.

In order to perform the role of non-contact temperature recorder, the camera will change the temperature of the object being viewed with its emissivity setting.

Other algorithms can be used to affect the measurement, including the transmission ability of the transmitting medium (usually air) and the temperature of that transmitting medium. All these settings will affect the ultimate output for the temperature of the object being viewed.

This functionality makes the thermal imaging camera an excellent tool for the maintenance of electrical and mechanical systems in industry and commerce. By using the proper camera settings and by being careful when capturing the image, electrical systems can be scanned and problems can be found. Faults with steam traps in steam heating systems are easy to locate.

In the energy savings area, the thermal imaging camera can do more. Because it can see the effective radiation temperature of an object as well as what that object is radiating towards, it can help locate sources of thermal leaks and overheated regions as well.


Emissivity is a term that is often misunderstood and misused. It represents a material's ability to emit thermal radiation and is an optical property of matter.

Each material has a different emissivity, which may vary by temperature and infrared wavelength.[5] For example, clean metal surfaces have emissivity that decreases at longer wavelengths; many dielectric materials, such as quartz (SiO2), sapphire (Al2O3), calcium fluoride (CaF2), etc. have emissivity that increases at longer wavelength; simple oxides, such as iron oxide (Fe2O3) display relatively flat emissivity in the infrared spectrum.

A material's emissivity can range from a theoretical 0.00 (completely not-emitting) to an equally theoretical 1.00 (completely emitting). An example of a substance with low emissivity would be silver, with an emissivity coefficient of .02. An example of a substance with high emissivity would be asphalt, with an emissivity coefficient of .98.

A black body is a theoretical object with an emissivity of 1 that radiates thermal radiation characteristic of its contact temperature. That is, if the contact temperature of a thermally uniform black body radiator were 50 °C (122 °F), the black body would emit thermal radiation characteristic of 50 °C (122 °F).

Thermogram of a snake held by a human

An ordinary object emits less infrared radiation than a theoretical black body. The fraction of its actual emission to the theoretical emission (of the black body) is its emissivity (or emissivity coefficient).

In order to make a temperature measurement of an object using an infrared imager, it is necessary to estimate or determine the object's emissivity. For quick work, a thermographer may refer to an emissivity table for a given type of object, and enter that value into the imager. The imager would then calculate the object's contact temperature based on the value entered from the table and the object's emission of infrared radiation as detected by the imager.

In order to get a more accurate temperature measurement, a thermographer may apply a standard material of known, high emissivity to the surface of the object. The standard material might be as complex as industrial emissivity spray produced specifically for the purpose, or as simple as standard black insulation tape, with an emissivity of about 0.97. The object's known temperature can then be measured using the standard emissivity. If desired, the object's actual emissivity (on a part of the object that is not covered by the standard material) can then be determined by adjusting the imager's setting to the known temperature. There are situations, however, when such an emissivity test is not possible due to dangerous or inaccessible conditions. In these situations, the thermographer must rely on tables.

Passive vs. active thermography

All objects above the absolute zero temperature (0 K) emit infrared radiation. Hence, an excellent way to measure thermal variations is to use an infrared vision device, usually a focal plane array (FPA) infrared camera capable of detecting radiation in the mid (3 to 5 μm) and long (7 to 14 μm) wave infrared bands, denoted as MWIR and LWIR, corresponding to two of the high transmittance infrared windows. Abnormal temperature profiles at the surface of an object are an indication of a potential problem.

In passive thermography, the features of interest are naturally at a higher or lower temperature than the background. Passive thermography has many applications such as surveillance of people on a scene and medical diagnosis (specifically thermology).

In active thermography, an energy source is required to produce a thermal contrast between the feature of interest and the background. The active approach is necessary in many cases given that the inspected parts are usually in equilibrium with the surroundings. Given the super-linearities of the black-body radiation, active thermography can also be used to enhance the resolution of imaging systems beyond their diffraction limit or to achieve super-resolution microscopy.

Product Range:

We have a number of thermal imaging cameras to suit your needs, type (Thermal) into the search bar to see the range.

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