After most folks attend a Level I Thermography course, they’re pretty excited to go out and find problems and practice what they’ve learned. Obviously from the standpoint of their employer, this is a good thing but it’s also imperative for one’s continuing education. Like any other skill, if you don’t use your imager often enough, you’ll lose your edge. Spending time inspecting equipment is something to be encouraged.
The reality is sometimes it just isn’t possible to stay on top of your camera skills. Often, Thermography is a “sub-skill” of the reliability professional, a tool in the proverbial toolbox if you will. When this is the case, the new thermographer might do PMs, repairs, or whatever else for the lion’s share of their time, and then get to pick up their camera maybe a few times a week…at most! It’s tough to stay sharp when the skill you’re trying to develop is an afterthought.
So what do you do? Let’s assume for a moment that you have unfettered access to your thermal imager. Some folks don’t. Shoot, I’ve even had people show up for a Level I Thermographic Applications course I was instructing without their camera because it wasn’t allowed to leave their plant. If you’re among those who can only use your camera at work, what I’m about to suggest won’t work for you, but I’ve got something in mind for you too.
We use a thermal imager to locate anomalies. Things that are thermally not like what they’re supposed to be. We can practice that craft, though, by examining everyday objects and analyzing the thermal signatures detected. The objects we choose to look at don’t have to be electrical components or mechanical equipment. They can be everyday items that you may find, surprisingly, are quite interesting to look at thermally, such as pets.
Pets make an excellent subject for a thermal image and I have taken dozens of images over the years of cats for example. Kittens, adult cats, mother cats nursing kittens, you name it. I’ve taken images of my dog too. I also routinely take images of wildlife around my home. Deer, squirrels, whatever critter happens by. I also like to practice taking images of inanimate objects like my motorcycle, my espresso maker, or my neighbor’s house.
It doesn’t matter what the subject is, when I point my thermal imager at everyday household items I still have to adjust level, span, and focus to get the best possible image. If I want to look at the image on my computer or send it to a family member or friend, I can then export it from the software, allowing me to practice with report writing too. I treat an image of Pugsley the same way as one from MCC Bucket #4 at XYZ Textiles. Practicing with the camera and software helps me get better at it, regardless of whether the images are useful or not to anyone.
If you can’t take the camera home with you there is still an opportunity to practice at your plant or office even if it’s not an assigned task. Conduct a functionality, tear duct, test on folks in the shop. At break time and lunch take images of food as it comes out of the microwave. Place a hot cup of coffee or a cold soda or both on a break room table and work on adjusting focus as well as your span and level. Consider lighted exit signs, computer monitors or battery chargers too. You get the idea.
Time with an infrared camera in your hand is always valuable, no matter what you are looking at.