IR: In-camera training and certification

Ray Garvey
Tags: infrared thermography, condition monitoring

Do you ever wish that your thermography trainer would walk along with you and answer questions while you are in the field doing an infrared survey or route? Now that would be real on-the-job training! In a classroom situation, you have to imagine what the real world is like. Wouldn't it be better to take classroom training out to the field? What if there was a way to ask your infrared camera a question and it could tell you the answer? Let's go one step farther. What if the infrared camera could ask you, the thermographer, a question to see if you understand what you must know to do your job, and if there was something you didn't understand, the camera could tell you all about it?

Infrared imagers are more capable, less expensive and easier to use than ever. Technical advances over the past 20 years have enabled more people, having less training, to walk through plants doing infrared surveys. This article shows how very important it is for training and testing to be included in the firmware of the infrared imaging camera.1

"Operator proficiency application software" is a formal way to describe imbedded training inside your infrared camera. This is a must-have feature. It is especially important if you want a new guy to pick up the camera and get started using it. Even the experienced thermographer will find this useful if it teaches about parts of the plant that are new or applications and equipment with which he or she may not yet be familiar.

In 2004, Raytek (now Fluke) began shipping a 309-image presentation entitled, "Learning to use the ThermoView Ti30." This informative, personal-computer-based training was provided in five European languages and two Far Eastern languages. Wow! This was definitely a step in the right direction to get more people with less experience using infrared technology in their daily jobs.

The customer would be better served if the following portions of that particular course can be imbedded in the cameras for in-field reference:

  • Operation of the imager to get quality images and meaningful radiometric data.

  • Examples of thermal reflections and ways to interpret images with reflections.

  • Best uses of the imager considering perspective, angle of view, spatial resolution and measurement resolution.

  • Examples of techniques, findings and reports for various electrical inspections (or building or fire or mechanical or other type of inspections for which the particular camera is well-suited).

  • How to use the infrared imager in non-destructive testing applications.

  • Process monitoring methods, capabilities, limitations and reporting.

  • Safe operation.

There is even more that can and should be done to build training inside the infrared imagers. Within each plant or industry there are systematic problems. Those are the ones that come up over and over again. In-camera training can teach operators about those things for which to be on the lookout.


Figure 1. Example of in-camera training on a transformer cooling system.

Plants that never owned an infrared camera now have several of them, and each one may have two or three different operators. These cameras are entirely adjustable, and people using them can do surveys many different ways. This flexibility creates problems unless operators are trained to do their inspections following a standard practice.

Ideally, you should be able to send three of the operators into a switchyard, expecting each will come back with the same faults documented, without false positive or false negative findings. To achieve this result, it's critically important to define the inspection process as a survey or route or both (see "What's the difference between a survey and a route", Reliable Plant, November/December 2006 issue). It's also important to train the operators on how to perform the inspection. Finally, you will know that the training is done when each operator passes a test of some sort.

Figure 1 shows a sample graphic diagram for in-camera teaching about the operation and inspection of a transformer cooling system. Text or audio description accompanying this figure includes:

1) system function

2) unique characteristics

3) infrared inspection and analysis, and

4) relevant notes or warnings

In-camera training without in-camera testing may satisfy a requirement to "cover the material," but it may not achieve the desired operator understanding. After training (or before, if you want to "test out"), the operator proficiency application software can prompt the operator to respond to a relevant question. Since the objective is to achieve a level of proficiency, any wrong response should link back to the portion of training media containing the correct information.

Safety is the highest priority in nearly all plant situations. Many plants require newcomers, particularly visitors, to observe a short video and take a brief test covering selected hazardous operations and safety protocol. Imagers are carried directly into some of the most dangerous parts of the plant. The infrared operator often has both hands and both eyes fully engaged with imager operation. This creates a need for special safety instructions to the infrared camera operator. Relevant safety training and associated testing should be part of an in-camera operator proficiency application.

User interface is a serious limitation. Electronic training media developed for personal computers may not be directly suitable for imbedded, in-camera applications. Computers have hundreds of key selection and cursor movement options. Some infrared imagers only have an on/off switch. Most have other buttons and some kind of cursor control. Computer displays are also expansive compared to typical imagers. Computer speakers and microphones may also be more capable than one finds on infrared imagers. These things should all be considered when designing the imbedded training and testing applications.

Where do you find the content for in-camera training applications? You find it in the same places you find classroom training content. Google will turn up hundreds of selections on any given topic. By the way, this is an excellent next-generation feature for in-camera connectivity - wireless to the Internet. Not only does this open the way for finding and downloading training and certification applications, it paves the way for uploading survey results and reports.2

With operator proficiency application software, new people can quickly learn the basics and, when ready, move on to more challenging infrared inspection tasks. In-camera testing provides advantages as well, not the least of which is certification of operator awareness of lockout/tagout and other critically important safety issues.

Mark A. Lewis is the director of logistics solutions for Oracle Corporation. For more information, e-mail or visit


1) This article is based on findings found in Garvey, et al, U.S. Patent Application SN 10/872,041, "Method of automating a thermographic inspection process."

2) See U.S. Patent 6,078,874, Column 13, lines 33 to 58.

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