Thermography isn't a household word. But most people are actually
familiar with the concept. Using infrared light, which is emitted from all
objects, thermographers create images that show patterns of light and dark.
The whiter an object appears when captured by an infrared camera, the hotter
it is. Cooler objects appear black.
Thermography is often used in electrical inspections in buildings, factories
"In this work, you need to go around and make sure that everything is going
through evenly," says Tricia Alexander. She is the training coordinator of
an infrared thermography academy.
Thermography is also used to detect leaks and temperature changes in roofing
and floors. It can be used to find cold storage cooling loss, inspect furnaces
and evaluate automotive cooling efficiencies.
It's helpful for electrical motor inspections, medical injury examinations,
search and rescue operations and surveillance. It's also used in dentistry
and veterinary medicine.
A large manufacturing company may have its own thermography department.
Many other thermographers work for small companies specializing in infrared
work. "This is definitely something where people can branch out on their own,"
That's exactly what Mike Perry has done. Four years ago, he started
a thermography inspection business.
"Basically, I was tired of working for someone else....[I] was looking
for a good field to get into," he says.
He read a few articles about thermography and thought that the use of infrared
cameras and computer software suited his tastes. "I've always been interested
in gadgets, so I decided to go out and do some research."
By reading articles, researching schools that offered certification and
talking to others already in the business, he was convinced.
"I only found a handful of people doing this work," he says.
But he found that the small number of thermographers didn't translate
into a lack of opportunity. "There is more than enough work to go around."
The Professional Thermographers Association, based in Seattle, currently
has 100 member thermographers across the United States.
Perry specializes in home inspection. By evaluating temperature contrasts,
he can inspect homes for air and water leakage. In the winter months, cold
outdoor temperatures make this work easy. "In the summer, I need more contrast
and so I do other work," he says.
Because thermography is flexible work, Perry goes indoors during warm months.
He does electrical inspections in all types of industrial facilities. "I get
to see what goes on behind all those closed doors and see all different kinds
of fields at work. It's very interesting."
There are more and more areas where thermography can be applied. "This
is an up-and-coming field," adds Alexander. She notes that infrared use in
health care, such as using thermography for breast cancer detection, is still
in its infancy.
According to the American Cancer Society, thermography has been approved
by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But it is not yet approved as a
stand-alone screening test for breast cancer.
In other areas, the National Institute of Justice is currently developing
infrared cameras that will be able to detect weapons concealed on individuals
up to 40 feet away.
An organization in Canada is also currently researching the use of thermography
for early diagnoses of disease or joint injury in livestock. With this technology,
injured or diseased areas will appear hotter or colder than healthy areas.
The start-up costs for a new business aren't prohibitive. "It's
relatively easy to go out and start up an infrared consulting company," says
Jennifer Maychrzak. She is a volunteer at the Professional Thermographers
Association and an employee at an infrared company in Seattle.
"But to succeed, you need the proper technology and training."
"My first camera cost $100,000, which is no small amount," says Perry.
"But when you compare that to what you need to start up a restaurant or other
business, it looks better."
In addition to purchasing a camera, thermographers need software. The software
needs to be updated occasionally, but Perry says the rate of technology change
isn't too fast.
One of the more difficult aspects of starting up a thermography business
is simply getting people aware of thermography and how it could benefit them.
"Certainly, selling it can be difficult," says Perry. "Some people aren't
into new technology, and others view it as a pseudo-science, which it definitely
He says that people are becoming more aware of the technology. Alexander
agrees. "The technology has been around for 25 years," she says. "Word is
getting around and it's sparking interest."
Thermographers have to take certification courses, which are currently
offered at three different levels. Those wanting to branch out on their own
generally need about six months of experience before they're prepared
to go alone.
"There are also safety concerns," says Alexander. "You can be working in
the electrical field. If you get too close, you can get zapped. It has happened.
You need proper training."
Some fields have more opportunities than others. Thermography in electrical
and industrial inspections is far more common than in health care.
"The main application for thermography has been electrical applications,"
says Maychrzak. "But more and more, there have been people looking at different
With certification, some experience, financial backing and self-promotion,
thermographic consultants are able to earn a living working on their own.
"More thermographers are definitely needed," says Perry. "I see a very bright
future ahead in this field."
Professional Thermographers Association
All about infrared technology: how to choose a business, buy
a camera and get training
Academy of Infrared Training
Includes information on training
Back to Career Cluster
Find out about this conference for anyone involved in infrared