Infrared - Today's technology

Wednesday, 08 November, 2000

Laboratory scientists have for many years used infrared (Infrared Spectrometers Near, Mid and Far) to quantitatively and qualitatively analyse solid, liquid and gaseous samples.

However, today, the full scope to which infrared is being used includes medicine, sports medicine, veterinary diagnosis, building design and maintenance, engineering, semiconductors, research, plant maintenance and safety, the military, emergency services, the motor vehicle industry and manufacturing.

In medicine the use of this technology is still very new and the possibilities have not yet been fully explored. But one area, which is receiving a lot of attention, is in the early diagnoses of cancer, breast cancer in women. This is because infrared is a quick, safe and painless non-contact, non-invasive technique. As in sports medicine, it can also be used to diagnose muscle strains, nerve and tendon soreness, as well as soreness associated with the joints and bones including rheumatic, orthopaedic, diabetic or skin diseases, vascular diseases, pain research and research into wound healing.

In sports medicine the technology is being used to monitor athletes before and after training to discover if they have any minor or major lingering injury or if they have aggravated a previous injury or if they have obtained a new injury during training. This analysis helps the coach/trainer and the medical staff to evaluate the injury(s) and to have treatment applied before the injury becomes serious.

In veterinary science the use of this technology is akin to human medicine in that it can be used to diagnose the animal's physical wellbeing (body) for injury or soreness.

This is especially true when it comes to prized animals. With thoroughbred horses and greyhounds the diagnosis is very much akin to that applied in sports medicine.

In the building and construction industry infrared technology can be used to help redesign or improve the environmental efficiency of buildings, detect poor insulation and heat losses, detect rising damp, localise water pipes and floor heating and to locate where a building has been anchored or reinforced.

In the various fields of engineering infrared technology is used to monitor heat losses and heat generated (overheating) by electrical and electronic systems, engines, braking systems, furnaces, distillation and feed systems, examining different thermal insulation, ovens and melting crucibles, engines and heat generated by low and high powered lighting. It is also used in the electronics industry to optimise electronic assembly units and conductors. In addition, this technology is ideally suited for low-temperature applications like that required when measuring the efficiency of cool rooms and refrigeration systems.

In manufacturing there are similar applications to those associated with plant maintenance/safety and engineering, as well as some specific and unique manufacturing applications. For example, monitoring the glue temperature on milk cartons during assembly. The heat generated by the headlights and braking systems in motor vehicles and the performance of engines, air conditioning units and exhaust systems can be monitored.

With plant maintenance and safety surveys infrared technology is used to monitor the on-going performance of the plants equipment and electrical systems so that any signs of a possible malfunction and or compromise to operator safety can be attended to immediately.

The police and emergency services use infrared to locate people lost in all terrains, at sea and land, and in all weather conditions both in daylight hours and at night. Similarly, it is used to monitor any intrusions in to restricted areas.

What is Infrared Technology?

Answer, it is in the form of a camera, an infrared or thermographic camera. Infrared cameras produce single shot photographs or streaming videos about the subject being photographed, except in this instance, the photographs or videos are referred to as thermographs and unlike normal coloured photographs or videos, which show the subject in true clear living colour, a thermograph is a photograph of the temperature distribution associated with the subject. These temperature distributions in a thermograph can be accurately measured and compared to other thermographs to confirm analysis/diagnosis.

The major advantage of this technology is that it is a non-contact, non-invasive and operator safe technique. A second major advantage is its operational range. The infrared camera can comfortably and accurately operate anywhere from ½ a metre up to hundreds of metres away from the subject. Thus, making it suited for both internal and external applications.

Typical specifications for a thermographic (infrared) camera are : Operational frequency 8 to 12 µm, temperature measuring range -40 to +1200°C, thermal resolution (30°C black-body radiator) ±0.03 K, detector MCT, A/D conversion 16-bit, thermographic resolution is approximately 86,400 pixel points, date display available in a choice of three colours 256, 32 and 16 and two black and white ranges and the thermographs/images/data can be collected and stored in the camera's internal memory, or to an external PCMCIA memory card on to a computer. To complete the package there is the obligatory software.

The images (thermographs) shown were all obtained using a VarioScan compact 3011-ST infrared camera from Jenoptik Laser Optik Systeme GmbH.

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