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To understand the importance of infrared thermography, we can simply look to the name itself. Intuitively, infrared thermography is the process of using infrared light to create a thermal graph. This method is extremely useful for two reasons- the graphical display, and the fact that measurements can be taken without physical contact.
The beauty of a graph is that it can display many orders of magnitude more data than a text-based record could, for a given visual area. This density of information lends itself perfectly to performing testing on critical components- it would not be preferable to lower the resolution of the data by using point readings, as this could risk failing to detect a small area that’s under critical stress. Infrared thermograph readings often take the form of a colored overlay, with colors applied on a gradient that correspond to temperature readings. This is incredibly intuitive, and allows the technician to pinpoint any trouble areas almost instantaneously without having to process hundreds of written numbers or stitch together point readings.
The second benefit of infrared thermography is that it does not require the measurement tool to be in physical contact with the item being subjected to the test, as other methods like classical thermometry do. This may seem like a convenience- and, indeed, it is- the use of infrared sensors allows the infrared thermograph to measure a broad area all at once, which makes the process more efficient. There is no risk of missing important hot-spots, as entire swaths of the subject can be tested at a time. However, the fact that this method does not require physical contact between the sensor and the test subject is more than just convenient. Bringing delicate sensors into contact with harsh testing conditions like high temperatures and hard surfaces creates a whole host of challenges, such as the need to prevent the sensor and its components from cracking, melting, softening, losing accuracy, or being destroyed. Additionally, some components may be formed into a geometry or assembly in which the areas in question are not reachable by a contact-based thermometry method, or would require labor-intensive disassembly. Using a tool that must make physical contact with a potentially hot surface can also bring workforce challenges, such as the possibility for injury and ensuring a higher grade of personal protective equipment (PPE) is used compliantly. With infrared thermography, the technician can maintain a safer distance from the subject of the test, use their valuable time efficiently, and have more freedom to move in ways that are ergonomically recommended.
Infrared thermography is a fascinating technology with a broad range of applications, one of which is in the testing of HVAC systems. Due to the complex nature of HVAC systems, which are expansive assemblies with many moving parts, the fact that infrared thermography can often take measurements without disassembly is incredibly valuable. The graphical overlay produced can help the technician scan large systems more quickly, and provide time-sensitive readings without having to post-process the data for visualization and interpretation. In HVAC testing, as in life, time is money- and Infrared thermography can help make the most of your technician’s time.