Thermal Imaging

What is Thermal Imaging?

Thermal imaging (also sometimes referred to as thermography, infrared imaging or thermal scanning) is the means by which humans can see the infrared portion of the light spectrum.

To the left are two images of a Cummins diesel marine engine being operated during a sea trial. The thermal image is on the left and the Thermal MSX® image is on the right.
Left image is of a hull thermal image alone and the right image is the Thermal MSX® image.

As is evident from the images above the MSX® technology in the FLIR® camera provides a crisp clean image which enables us to better detect and locate potential problems.

What Does This Mean to Me and How Does it Help?

The use of thermal imaging in marine surveying enables the trained surveyor the ability to identify potential problems that may not be detectable using traditional surveying tools and equipment. Marine surveys are performed using “non destructive” methods meaning as a general rule we do not disassemble a component for inspection. We observe a bearing for example to detect any misalignment or excessive wear without removing the item and testing the equipment such as an alternator, power steering pump or an electrical panel. If any malfunction or potential problem cannot be seen by the naked eye or heard, a surveyor may not be aware a potential problem exists. The use of a thermal scan can identify potential problems such as bearings, heat exchangers for engine cooling systems or manifolds and/or risers as an example. Thermal scanning may identify a coolant blockage which may cause harm to the engine. This can be done without removing the item from the engine and inspecting it disassembled. An electrical panel powering the onboard electrical system is another area where the use of thermal scanning can identify potential problems that would not be detected without a qualified marine electrical technician checking each and every circuit. We are not suggesting that the need for mechanical or electrical technicians are now not required but it enables the surveyor too possibly identify potential problems prior to the purchase.

How Does Thermal Imaging Work?

Every object gives off some amount of thermal radiation so thermal imaging is ideal for observing temperature anomalies that are abnormal in machinery, electrical equipment, and even solids such as wood, fiberglass, aluminum, and steel. Thermal imaging does not require light to see thermal radiation (like you would see in night vision cameras which require some amount of light) so thermal cameras can see in absolute darkness. Thermal imaging is used widely in other industries for maintenance and pre-failure inspections of machinery. Although somewhat new technology in marine surveying, thermal imaging is used extensively in the surveying of commercial aircraft hulls and systems. At Sun Coast Marine Surveying we want to insure our surveyors have the best technology available for our customers.

The tool used for thermal imaging is the thermographic camera, which is similar in appearance and operation of a portable digital video camera. Our company uses FLIR® brand infrared cameras. We use specific FLIR® camera’s that utilize MSX® Thermal Image Enhancement. Not all FLIR® cameras have this MSX® technology and it is only available on FLIR® brand cameras. MSX® adds key details from the onboard visible light camera to the entire infrared image in real time. The result: an all-in-one thermal picture with numbers, labels, and other structural features intact so you’ll instantly recognize where the potential problem is and more easily recognize the object.

A special lens on the infrared camera focuses the infrared light emitted by all of the objects in view. With MSX® the camera has an additional lens which captures a digital picture and each image actually produces three images. Using the FLIR® software each image can be viewed in three different formats.

1. Digital Image 2. Thermal Image 3. Thermal MSX

The Thermal MSX image actually overlays the digital image over the thermal image to produce an image that is clear and easier to recognize.

So What Are the Benefits of Thermal Imaging?

There are numerous benefits to thermal imaging in many industries. In the marine industry there are many advantages to thermal imaging. Some of these advantages are

  1. No contact is needed. Keeps the surveyor out of danger and enables the ability to examine moving and high temperature components in an engine room with engines being operated. Enables the surveyor to examine high voltage electrical components without touching wires.
  2. It is real time. Allows fast scanning and recording of stationary targets.
  3. Thermal patterns can be seen. What this means to you the buyer is it significantly reduces time and money spent on a technician or mechanic. Because of thermal imaging, time is saved disassembling and troubleshooting a component or going through miles of wiring on a boat or yacht to find the problem. The thermographic image can find the temperature anomaly quickly.
  4. Enhances the marine survey report. Our company provides this service at no additional cost on all marine surveys. Thermal imaging on components such as engines, transmissions, tanks, electrical systems, electrical devices, hulls and decks can determine if malfunctioning components, leaks, or delamination may exist within the vessel prior to the purchase
Thermography and How It makes Your Vessel Safer

As you can see in the photos above, thermography can make your vessel (or prospective vessel) a safer investment. Thermography can sense the heat that may prevent an electrical fire. Thermal imaging can detect leaking fuel or water from tanks that may prevent an explosion or water damage to the interior of the vessel. Thermal imaging can detect temperature anomalies in the engines or transmissions that can prevent much more costly engine or transmission repairs later on.

The images to the right are issues of delamination that were identified by the use of thermal imaging. The use of thermal cameras in the marine surveying industry helps the trained surveyor to identify potential structural issues that may be missed by using traditional methods.

The marine surveying industry still uses the standard tried and true methods of surveying that have been taught for years. At Sun Coast Marine Surveying and Consulting we use many of these same techniques such as the use of a GRP33 moisture meter and percussion soundings. The additional use of the FLIR® thermal cameras with MSX® Imaging technology is what separates our company from the rest.

Thermal image of a onboard generator operating under a load.

Thermal image of a Cummins Diesel engine

Infrared thermal image of hull delamination on the lower right side of the image.

Infrared thermal image of a hull bottom with hidden delamination under the fiberglass