Introduction: Thermography Sensors (Cameras)
The quantity, quality, and affordability of infrared (thermography) cameras are proliferating. A thermal (infrared) camera detects infrared energy and converts it into an electronic signal, which is then processed to produce a thermal image and perform temperature calculations. There are variations of cameras dedicated to specific purposes such as near infrared cameras (NDVI) Normalized Difference Vegetation Index that quantifies vegetation by measuring the difference between near-infrared (which vegetation strongly reflects) and red light (which vegetation absorbs.) ALL of which can be very useful to specific applications and situations. If you did not pick up on it, these specialized sensors are expanding their capabilities and as well as their complexity.
What is a Certified Thermographer?
As defined to me: “Certification is formal recognition that an individual has demonstrated proficiency within and comprehension of a specified body of knowledge at a point in time. It is peer recognition and not registration or licensure. Simply put: Certification is a written testimony of qualification. ” To take it down one more level, be qualified “comprises demonstrated skill, demonstrated knowledge, documented training, and documented experience.” 
What are Certification Requirements?
Obtaining a “Certification” from a reputable company is not a natural process. It takes a dedicated amount of classroom (4 days in my case,) registration expenses, and the not so insignificant travel expenses, depending on where you live. Then you must pay attention to digest and understand the principals of the science and the nuances of the art of thermography. You’re required to pass written tests, learn to use equipment (that can be very complex,) practice applications and then finally complete a full homework assignment, using your tools. Fortunately for clients of a Certified Thermographer, it does not stop there. To remain to be Certified, periodic re-certification is required. Re-certification requires continued employment as a Thermographer, meeting continuing education credits & courses, or advance Certification to a higher level.
What Equipment is required to operate a Certified Thermography Business?
There is an encyclopedia of information that could be provided to answer this question, so I am going to keep it simple and stick to what I have and its practical applications. First and most importantly, I am a Part 107 UAS Pilot that was Certified as a sUAS Level I Thermographer. By the way, as a Level 1 Thermographer, I am qualified to operate my infrared cameras and software to identify and measure thermal anomalies based on thermal patterns, comparisons with similar equipment, and my own experiences. 
My infrared camera is attached to a DJI M100 Industrial Grade UAS. While it is not the latest and greatest it is a proven and robust platform, minimal software upgrades (only 1 in the last two years.) The drone can operate on one or two batteries depending on mission requirements, one or two controllers, giving an optional controller (or a functional spare) to a camera operator or a client to view the operation. With adequate batteries and charging to operate for a full day in the field with minimal delays.
My current infrared cameras are two (2:) My UAS infrared camera is a Zenmuse XTR. The R (adds $000s to the cost) refers to radiometric that enables pixel temperatures to be defined within the each photo’s Metadata. Also, its increased functionality and costs increase due to its industry-high sensor resolution of 640 X 512 @ 30 fps. My camera lens is 19 mm that provides a better definition of images, but at a reduced field of view. I have to fly higher, to get a field of view equal to a 13 mm lens or take more photos at higher overlaps for higher quality images. My other infrared camera is a FLIR C2, fundamental yet functional, with some distinct capabilities such as overlaying a thermal image over a standard photograph for distinct, well defined, results. This capability is now available in sUAS Thermal Cameras, but I can’t justify one of these, yet.
What Software Support is needed to Operate a Thermography Business?
More tools are required. Now that you can gather images, and in many cases, lots of them, what can and should be the resulting products? We have to generate useful information (reports) for the client. We can start with a simple qualitative analysis that only shows the temperature anomalies, to more complicated quantitative analyses that gets deeper into the specific temperatures, ranges, and analyses to pinpoint potential problem areas, define additional inspections or corrective actions. An excellent example: and a preferred product is using an airborne thermal camera to inspect solar panels. Reports can show a small set of panels on a single family dwelling to a significant solar farm used to generate electricity for a large electric utility, a school, corporate headquarters or municipality. My specific software is PC based FLIR Tools + for smaller jobs. For large tasks, one of several companies can generate original reports that map solar farms to identify and depict a single faulty cell (as shown here: http://www.aerialvisionspro.com/inspections/utility-inspections/.) maps of solar farms that might show: major electrical issues (inverter, combiner box failure, reversed polarity,) tilt tracker issues, defect identification at the string and module level, detailed diode and cell-level issues, shattered and soiled modules and other site issues including: vegetation, flooding, security risks, and more. Some samples are shown here: https://raptormaps.com/technology.
Why work with a Certified Thermographer
An individual that has gone to the lengths required to become Certified in Thermography has invested significant amounts of time and money (equipment & training) to assure both him/herself and his/her clients of professional results. That would include:
- A qualified operator of the required sensors (Thermal Cameras
- A qualified FAA Part 107 licensed sUAS Pilot
- A qualified Thermographer that understands the nuances of gathering meaningful and useful information/data to assure a high degree of client satisfaction and results.
- A qualified Professional with demonstrated skill sets and tools to deliver results cost-effectively.
- A qualified Professional with the confidence to guarantee results that meet or exceeds client expectations.
The final decision is up to the client that should expect to pay more to select a Certified Thermographer. As the saying goes: “Quality a direct correlation to Price.”