Over 60 Unexpected Uses of Infrared Thermal Imaging Camera Images

Thermal imaging or infrared camera images are often used in news coverage for good reason: thermal vision is pretty damn impressive.

The technology doesn't quite allow you to "see through" walls, but it's about as close as you can get to x-ray vision.

But once the novelty of the idea has worn off, you might be left wondering: what else can I actually do with a thermal camera?

As it turns out - quite a lot. In fact, we've just come up with over 60 different uses.

Feel free to add any extra ideas in the comments section below, or contact us if you'd like some advice on which thermal imaging camera is right for you.

Safety & Law Enforcement

1. Surveillance - see hiding burglars or track someone fleeing a crime scene.

Police helicopter thermal image

Infrared camera vision from a Massachusetts State Police helicopter helped to find traces of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect's heat signature as he lay in a tarp-covered boat.

2. Firefighting - quickly identify if a spot fire or camp fire is actually out, or just about to reignite.

3. Search & rescue - find out where people are in darkened or smoke-filled rooms.

4. Maritime navigation - clearly see other vessels or people in the water at night-time.

Sydney ferries FLIR infrared

Thermal camera display screen on a Sydney ferry.

5. Road safety - see people or animals beyond the reach of vehicle headlights or streetlights.

BMW infrared night vision display

BMW 7 series incorporates infrared camera night vision.

6. Drug busts - find households or buildings with suspiciously high temperatures (indicating the potential presence of grow-lights for illegal purposes).

7. Air quality - monitor which industrial smoke-stacks or household chimneys are in use.

8. Gas detection - specially calibrated thermal cameras can be used to detect the presence of specific gases at industrial sites or around pipelines.

9. Preventative maintenance - all kinds of safety checks to reduce the risk of fire or product failure (see electrical and mechanical sections below for specific examples).

10. Disease control - quickly scan all incoming passengers at airports and other locations for elevated temperature (as seen during the SARS, Bird Flu, Ebola and other recent outbreaks).

Airport FLIR thermal scanning

FLIR infrared camera system used to scan passengers for elevated temperature at an airport.

11. Military & defense applications - thermal imaging is of course also used in a wide range of military hardware, including aerial drones. Although now just one use of thermal imaging, military applications are what originally drove much of the initial R&D.

12. Counter-surveillance - covert surveillance equipment such as listening devices or hidden cameras all consume some energy which gives off waste heat that is clearly visible on a thermal camera (even if hidden inside or behind an object).

Counter surveillance with a thermal camera

Thermal image of a listening device (or other energy consuming device) hidden in roof space


13. Unwanted pests - find out exactly where possums, rats or other animals are camping out in a roof space (without having to crawl through the roof).

14. Animal rescue - find stranded wildlife (such as birds or pets) in hard-to-access areas.

15. Termite detection - detect areas of potential termite activity in buildings.

Termite packing in wall thermal image

Potential presence of termites detected with thermal imaging.

16. Wildlife surveys - conduct night-time wildlife surveys and other animal research without the use of trapping or more invasive methods.

17. Hunting - similar to military applications, thermal imaging can also be used for hunting (infrared camera rifle scopes, monoculars, etc). I should add, we don't sell these!

Healthcare & Veterinary

18. Skin temperature - a non-invasive way to detect variations in skin temperature (which can be symptomatic of other underlying issues).

19. Musculoskeletal problems - thermal imaging cameras can be used to diagnose a variety of disorders associated with neck, back and limbs.

20. Circulation problems - may help to detect the presence of deep vein thromboses and other circulatory disorders.

Infrared camera circulation issues in legs

Image showing leg blood flow circulation issues.

21. Cancer detection - whilst infrared cameras have been shown to clearly indicate the presence of breast and other cancers this is not recommended as an early stage diagnostic tool.

22. Infection - quickly locate potential areas of infection (indicated by abnormal temperature profile).

23. Horse treatment - for diagnosis of tendon, hoof and saddle problems.

Thermal image of horse hooves

As animals can't tell you "where it hurts" thermal cameras are a particularly useful diagnostic tool in animals.


24. PCB defects - check for electrical defects on printed circuit boards (PCB's).

25. Power usage - quickly see which circuits on a switchboard are consuming the most power.

Electricity switch board thermal camera image - FLIR C2

During a recent business energy audit we were able to quickly identify the problem circuits with a thermal camera (shown here in positions 41 to 43 with elevated temperature indicative of high current draw).

26. Hot or loose connectors - find defective connections or 'hot joints' before they cause long term irreversible damage to equipment or stock. We regularly rent out the FLIR E5 to electricians for this purpose.

27. Phase supply - check for unbalanced phase supply (electrical load).

28. Underfloor heating - find out if electric underfloor heating is working properly and/or where a defect has occurred.

29. Overheated components - find overheated substations, transformers and other electrical components. Higher-end thermal cameras with adjustable lenses such as the FLIR Exx Series are often used by electricity utilities and others to quickly check overhead power lines and transformers for issues.

30. Solar panels - check for electrical defects, micro-fractures or 'hot spots' in solar PV panels.

Solar array problem   Solar cell problem

Aerial drone thermal image of a solar farm showing a defective panel (left) and a similar test done close-up on an individual solar module showing a problematic solar cell (right).

    Mechanical & Maintenance

    31. HVAC maintenance - check issues with heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment such us the coils and compressors on refrigeration and air conditioning systems.

    32. HVAC performance - check how much heat is being generated by equipment inside a building and how the air conditioning ducting cold be improved to deal with this, for example, in server rooms and around comms racks.

    33. Pumps and motors - overheated motors can be spotted before they burn-out.

    FLIR T640 Motor Check

    34. Bearings - bearings and conveyor belts in factories can be easily monitored with a thermal camera to identify potential issues.

    35. Welding - welding requires the metal to be heated uniformly to melting temperature. By looking at the thermal image of a weld, it is possible to see how the temperature varies across and along the weld. 

    36. Motor vehicles - demonstrate specific vehicle mechanical issues such as overheated bearings, engine parts with uneven temperatures, and exhaust leaks.

    37. Hydraulic systems - identify potential failure points within hydraulic systems.

    Mining Equipment Hydraulics

    Thermal inspection of hydraulics on mining equipment.

    38. Aircraft maintenance - conduct fuselage inspection for de-bonding, cracks or loose components.

    39. Pipes & ducts - identify blockages in ventilation systems and pipe work.

    40. Non-destructive testing - infrared non-destructive testing (IR NDT) is a valuable process for detecting voids, delaminations, and water inclusion in composite materials. 

    41. Hydronic heating - check the performance of in-slab or wall-panel hydronic heating systems.

    42. Greenhouses - review issues in commercial greenhouses (eg. plant and flower nurseries)

    43. Leak detection - it is not always obvious where the sources of a leak is located, or it may be expensive and/or destructive to find out. For this reason many plumbers have purchased our FLIR thermal cameras to make their job a whole lot easier.

    Water Leak in an Apartment Thermal

    Thermal image showing a water leak (likely from neighbour above) in an apartment kitchen.

    44. Moisture, mold & rising damp - infrared cameras can be used to find the extent and source of damage caused to a property by moisture related issues (including rising and lateral damp, and mold).

    45. Restoration & rectification - related to the above moisture detection issues is one of restoration: to determine if restoration works have effectively solved the initial problem.

    46. Insurance claims - thermal camera inspections are often used as an evidence base for insurance claims (including the various mechanical, electrical and safety issues outlined above).

    Energy Efficiency

    47. Insulation defects - review the effectiveness of and find gaps in ceiling and wall insulation.

    FLIR E8 Missing Ceiling Insulation

    Missing ceiling insulation as seen with a FLIR E8 thermal camera.

    48. Air leakage - check for air leakage in air conditioning and heater ducting as well as around window and door frames and other building elements.

    49. Hot water - see how much energy hot water pipes and tanks are losing to their surroundings.

    50. Refrigeration - use an infrared camera to find defects in refrigeration and cool room insulation.

    Freezer Room Insulation Infrared FLIR E5

    An image we took during an energy audit with a FLIR E5 showing defective insulation in a freezer room.

    51. Heater performance - analyses the performance of heating systems including boilers, wood fires, and electric heaters.

    52. Glazing - evaluate the relative performance of window films and double glazing.

    53. Heat loss - see which areas of a particular room or building are loosing the most heat.

    54. Heat transfer - review the effectiveness of heat transfer, such as in solar hot water systems.

    55. Waste heat - find out which appliances are generating the most heat and therefore wasting the most energy.

    Fun & Creative

    With the advent of ever lower-cost thermal cameras such as the FLIR TG165 and FLIR C2 - you no longer need to use them exclusively for the professional purposes outlined above.

    56. Show-off - and impress your geeky friends.

    57. Create - use an infrared camera to create unique artworks.

    Lucy Bleach's 'Radiant Heat' Installation

    Lucy Bleach's 'Radiant Heat' installation art work in Hobart.

    58. Cheat - at hide and seek.

    59. Search - for Bigfoot, The Yeti, Lithgow Panther or some other as yet unproven monster.

    60. Camping - check out the night-life when camping.

    61. Hot Air - see how much hot air people really generate.

    62. Selfies - take awesome thermal camera 'selfies' and get more Instagram followers.

    63. Barbecuing - optimise the performance of the BBQ in an unnecessarily high-tech fashion.

    64. Pets - take predator style images of pets, or find out exactly where they have been sleeping around the home.

    For more information see our complete range of Thermal Imaging Cameras.

      By Ryan McCarthy |

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