Thermal imaging, at its most basic, gives you the ability to spot problems early from a safe distance, simply by scanning the area with an infrared camera (also called a thermal imager). Thanks to the evolution of the technology, thermal imagers today are compact, ergonomic, easy and fast to use, and much more affordable than the large expensive imagers of the past. With the proper camera and lens, you can detect problems in targets as small as 25 microns or up to several hundred feet tall.

If yours is an organization incorporating preventive maintenance into their operations, you may be the one tasked with conducting inspections with a thermal imager. To become proficient, you’ll need hands-on professional training, but in the meantime, here are just a few examples of things you’ll need to know: An electrician looks for hot and cold spots in an electrical panel with a Fluke infrared camera

Beware of shiny objects

Infrared cameras see radiation and present it as temperature. With high emissivity surfaces like conductor insulation or a motor housing, temperature scans are very accurate and thus you can be confident in the results. However, with low emissivity surfaces—such as shiny metals—you’re more likely getting a reading of the reflection of that shiny surface rather than the temperature of the surface itself. Luckily, there are many workarounds, like using electrical tape or paint spots, which you’ll learn about in your training sessions.

Don’t pass up all the bells and whistles

Thermal imagers can range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. If you’re just starting out in thermography you may be prone to make your decision strictly on price. But don’t be too hasty. While budget limitations are real, you might keep in mind that higher detector resolution and features like autofocus can save you time and increase accuracy, which can help justify the price difference over time.