Infrared Training Center

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Less Expensive Thermal Imagers Never Meant Less Training

Matt Schwoegler, ITC

When I first started training thermographers back in 2002, most infrared cameras at the time were $40,000-60,000 USD.  It was a significant investment for many organizations who were using thermography which they took very seriously.  They took training seriously too.  After all, if you’re spending that much money on a piece of hardware, the operator better know how to use it properly.

It was shortly after that the world’s first sub-$10,000 thermal imager made its debut with a price point that changed the industry.  Today you can buy an IR camera that fits on your phone for just a few hundred dollars and the variety and quality of what’s available for under $10,000 is simply astonishing.   

What hasn’t changed in that time is physics.  Heat still moves from hot to cold.  Unfortunately, just like the cost of equipment, the conversation between the employee and the employer about the need and expense of training has seemingly changed.

Fifteen years ago, after spending $50,000+ on a new camera, I’d bet most didn’t put too much thought into the additional cost of training.  There was absolutely no question…with an investment that large, you better know what you’re doing! The response from a supervisor when asked by a thermographer for approval to attend a class was often similar to this:

$1,600 for the class registration, you’re flying to Phoenix, renting a car, staying at a golf resort for four days and eating out every night?  What’s the question?  Book it!

Today, that same discussion over training for an infrared camera which costs less than some new smartphones probably ends a bit differently.

You want to travel WHERE and it’s going to cost HOW MUCH? Riiiiight…go find a free YouTube video.

To be honest, I find this logic a bit confusing.

How does the cost of the equipment relate in any way to the training required to operate it properly? We don’t do this with almost anything else.  

Take your typical hammer.  We all own one and, just like your low-cost infrared camera, it is quite easy to operate and is also considered a relatively inexpensive tool for its trade.  I know this because I have several and my seven-year-old uses one to pound nails very effectively into a board.

However, it still requires a skilled carpenter to properly frame a house using the same instrument.  And if I hire someone to build an addition on my home, I honestly couldn’t care less about how much they paid for the hammer in their tool box.  I am very concerned, however, with their qualifications and ability to swing one.

That’s not something you are going to learn (and more importantly master) by watching YouTube.  The same is absolutely true with thermography. Yet I still regularly experience this type of a reaction when discussing the importance of infrared training with certain new thermographers (and more importantly their managers) who doubt such a commitment of time and money is even necessary.

The class is four days long?! We have to pay for it and possibly travel?!

I’m guessing the carpenter, plumber or electrician working on your house has done a bit more prep than watch a few videos.  So why would it be any different for a thermographer?  I expect a similar level of competence from a professional who could potentially cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage (or worse) because they didn’t understand heat transfer and made the wrong call.

Proper training and certification is essential regardless of how much you may have paid for your infrared camera.  In fact, it has nothing to do with the cost of the device at all.  At the end of the day it’s still a tool, and just because the market is now flush with high quality thermal imagers that cost about as much as a decent table saw, they still require qualified personnel with the right knowledge and skill to operate successfully.

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