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Principles of Infrared

W. R. Barron, Williamson Corporation

The fundamentals of IR thermometry Therefore:

are an important prerequisite for
specifying an accurate monitoring 0.8 El = 1 - tl - rl
system. Unfortunately, many users
do not take the time to understand This emissivity coefficient fits into Planck’s
the basic guidelines, and consequently equation as a variable describing the
reject the concept of noncontact object surface characteristics relative
temperature measurement as inaccurate. 0.6 to wavelength. The majority of targets
measured are opaque and the emissivity
THEORY AND FUNDAMENTALS coefficient can be simplified to:
Temperature measurement can be
divided into two categories: contact and 1000°F El = 1 - rl
noncontact. Contact thermocouples, 0.4
RTDs, and thermometers are the most Exceptions are materials like glass,
prevalent in temperature measurement plastics, and silicon, but through proper
applications. They must contact the 0.3 selective spectral filtering it is possible
target as they measure their own to measure these objects in their
temperature and they are relatively slow 0.2
opaque IR region.
responding, but they are inexpensive.

Noncontact temperature sensors 600°F

There is typically a lot of confusion
measure IR energy emitted by the 0.1 regarding emissivity error, but the user
target, have fast response, and are need remember only four things:
commonly used to measure moving and 0 – IR sensors are inherently colorblind.
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
intermittent targets, targets in a vacuum, – If the target is visually reflective (like a
and targets that are inaccessible due mirror), beware – you will measure not
to hostile environments, geometry BLACKBODY RADIATION only the emitted radiation, as desired,
limitations, or safety hazards. The cost CHARACTERISTICS but also reflected radiation.
is relatively high, although in some STEFAN-BOLTZMANN LAW Q = sT4
WIEN'S DISPLACEMENT LAW l M = K/T – If you can see through it, you need to
cases is comparable to contact devices. PLANCK'S LAW Ql = Cl -5 (ec2 / lT-1) -1 select IR filtering (e.g., glass is
opaque at 5µm).
Infrared radiation was discovered in Figure 1: As shown in curves representing the – Nine out of ten applications do not require
1666 by Sir Isaac Newton, when he distribution of energy emitted by blackbodies
ranging in temperature from 600°F to 1200°F, absolute temperature measurement.
separated the electromagnetic energy Repeatability and drift-free operation
from sunlight by passing white light the predominant radiation is in the IR region
of 0.5-14 µm, well beyond the visible region. yield close temperature control.
through a glass prism that broke up the
beam into colors of the rainbow. In If the surface is shiny, there is an
1800, Sir William Herschel took the next emissivity adjustment that can be made
step by measuring the relative energy of graybody (non-blackbody) to that of a
blackbody at the same temperature. either manually or automatically to correct
each color. He also discovered energy for emissivity error. It is a simple fix
beyond the visible. In the early 1900s, (A graybody refers to an object that has
the same spectral emissivity at every for most applications. In cases where
Planck, Stefan, Boltzmann, Wien, and emissivity varies and creates processing
Kirchhoff further defined the activity wavelength; a non-graybody is an object
whose emissivity changes with problems, consider dual- or multiwave-
of the electromagnetic spectrum and length radiometry to eliminate the
developed quantitative data and equations wavelength, e.g. aluminum.)
emissivity problem.
to identify IR energy. L
E = GB
This research makes it possible to define LBB DESIGN ELEMENTS
IR energy using the basic blackbody IR thermometers come in a wide variety
emittance curves (See Figure 1). From of configurations pertaining to optics,
The law of conservation of energy states electronics, technology, size, and
this plot it can be seen that objects (of a that the coefficient of transmission,
temperature greater than -273°C) emit protective enclosures. All, however,
reflection, and emission (absorption) have a common chain of IR energy in
radiant energy in an amount proportional of radiation must add up to 1:
to the fourth power of their temperature. and an electronic signal out. This basic
The concept of blackbody emittance chain consists of collecting optics, lenses,
tl + rl + al = 1 and/or fiber optics, spectral filtering, and
is the foundation for IR thermometry.
There is, however, the term “emissivity” a detector as the front end. Dynamic
and the emissivity equals absorptivity: processing comes in many forms, but
that adds a variable to the basic laws of
physics. Emissivity is a measure of the can be summarized as amplification,
El = al thermal stability, linearization, and
ratio of thermal radiation emitted by a
signal conditioning. Normal window

glass is usable at the short wavelength, A variety of detectors are used to On the average, IR thermometers have
quartz for the midrange, and germanium maximize the sensitivity of the sensor. a response time on the order of 300 ms,
or zinc sulfide for the 8-14 µm range. As shown in Figure 2, PbS has the although signal outputs on the order
Fiber optics are available to cover the greatest sensitivity, while the thermopile of 10 ms can be obtained with silicon
0.5-5.0 µm region. has the least sensitivity. Most detectors detectors. In the real world, many
are either photovoltaic, putting out instruments have an adjustable response
From an applications standpoint, the a voltage when energized, or capability that permits damping of noisy
primary characteristic of the optics is photoconductive, changing resistance incoming signals and field adjustment
the field of view (FOV), i.e., what is the when excited. These fast-responding, on sensitivity. It is not always necessary
target size at a prescribed distance? high sensitive detectors have a tradeoff to have the fastest response available.
A very common lens system, for example, thermal drift that can be overcome in There are cases involving induction
would be a 1 in. dia. target size at a many ways, including temperature heating and other types of applications,
15 in. working distance. Using the inverse compensation (thermistors) circuitry, however, where response times on the
square law, by doubling the distance temperature regulation, auto null order of 10-50 ms are required, and they
(30 in.) the target area theoretically circuitry, chopping (AC vs. DC output), are attainable through IR thermometry.
doubles (2 in. dia.). The actual definition and isothermal protection. Drift-free
of target size (area measured) will vary operation is available in varying degrees SINGLE-WAVELENGTH
depending upon the supplier, and it and is price dependent. THERMOMETRY
is price dependent. Other optical The basic single-wavelength design
configurations vary from small spot 106 measures total energy emitted from a
(0.030 in dia.) for close-up pinpoint surface at a prescribed wavelength.
measurement, to distant optics (3 in. PbS The configurations range from handheld
at 30 ft) for distant aiming. It is important 105
probes with a simple remote meter to
to note that working distance should not

Ge sophisticated portables with simultaneous

affect the accuracy if the FOV is filled by 104 viewing of target and temperature, plus
the target. In one technique for measuring InAs
memory and/or printout capabilities.
FOV, the variable is signal loss vs. InSb On-line, fixed-mount sensors range
diameter. A strict rule is a 1% energy 10
from simple small detectors with remote
reduction, although some data are THERMISTOR BOLOMETER
electronics (OEM designs) to rugged
presented at half power, or 63.2% 102 devices with remote PID control.
ELECTRIC Fiber optics, laser aiming, water cooling,
Alignment (aiming) is another optical DETECTOR)
THERMOPILE CRT display, and scanning systems are
factor. Many sensors lack that 101
among the options for process monitoring
capability; the lens is aligned to the and control applications. There are
surface and measures surface temperature. 1 many variations in size, performance,
This works with sizable targets, e.g., 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.5 0.7 1.0 2 3 5 7 10 20
ruggedness, adaptability, and signal
paper web, where pinpoint accuracy WAVELENGTH (mm) conditioning.
is not required. For small targets that
use small-spot optics, and for distant Process sensor configuration, IR
optics used in remote monitoring, there Figure 2: To optimize the respone of IR sensing spectral filtering, temperature range,
are options of visual aiming, aim lights, systems, the detector’s spectral response and optics, response time, and target
and laser alignment. modulation characteristics must be considered. emissivity are important engineering
elements that affect performance and
Selective spectral filtering typically In the IR thermometer’s electronics which must be given careful consideration
uses short-wavelength filters for high- package, the detector’s nonlinear output during the selection process.
temperature applications (>1000°F, signal, on the order of 100-1000 µV,
and long-wavelength filters for low is processed. The signal is amplified The sensor configuration can be a
temperatures –50°F). This obviously 1000 x, regulated, and linearized, and portable, a simple two-wire transmitter,
fits the blackbody distribution curves, the ultimate output is a linear mV or mA a sophisticated ruggedized sensing unit,
and there are some technological signal. The trend is toward 4-20 mA or a scanning device. Visual aiming,
advantages. For example, high output to minimize environmental laser alignment, non-aiming, fiber
temperature/short wavelength uses electrical noise interference. optics, water cooling, output signals,
a very thermally stable silicon detector, and remote displays represent an
and the short-wavelength design This signal can also be transposed to overview of the various options. These
minimizes temperature error due to RS 232 or fed to a PID controller, remote are somewhat subjective, but demand
emissivity variations. Other selective display, or recorder. Additional signal engineering review. In most cases, if
filtering is used for plastic films (3.43 µm conditioning options involve on/off alarms, it is a simple application, e.g., web
and 7.9 µm), glass (5.1 µm), and flame adjustable peak hold for intermittent temperature, a simple low-cost sensor
insensitivity (3.8 µm). targets, adjustable response time, would do the job; if the application is
and/or sample-and-hold circuitry.

Infrared Thermometry Principles Cont’d

complicated, e.g., vacuum chamber or DUAL-WAVELENGTH

small target, then a more sophisticated
T = 1.1 =+++++++
sensor is a better choice. t12 + t22 ....tn2 For more sophisticated applications
where absolute accuracy is critical,
The selection of IR spectral response and where the product is undergoing a
and temperature range is related to a physical or chemical change, dual- and
specific application. Short wavelengths where:
multi-wavelength radiometry should be
are for high temperature and long considered. The concept of the ratioing
wavelengths are for low temperature, to T = total response radiometer has been around since
coincide with the blackbody distribution the early 1950s, but recent design
curves. If transparent-type targets and hardware changes are yielding
are involved, e.g., plastics and glass, t1,t2= individual elements of the loop higher performance, low-temperature
then selective narrow-band filtering is capabilities, and reduced cost.
required. For example, polyethylene film Considering the element of time, there
has a CH absorption band of 3.43 µm, are two types of process dynamics: Dual-wavelength (ratio) thermometry
where it becomes opaque. By filtering steady state variations, where there is a involves measuring the spectral energy
in this region, the emissivity factor is fast-moving product that requires close at two different wavelengths (spectral
simplified. Likewise, most glass-type temperature control due to the dynamics bands). The target temperature can be
materials become opaque at 4.6 µm and of the process, e.g., induction heating read directly from the instrument if the
narrow-band filtering at 5.1 µm permits of wire. Step changes or ramp response emissivity has the same value at both
accurate measurement of glass surface pertains to the very quick heating of a wavelengths. This type of instrument
temperature. On the other hand, to look product in a batch process, e.g., rapid can also indicate the correct temperature
through a glass window, a sensor filtered thermal annealing of silicon wafers. of a target when the FOV is partially
in the 1-4 µm region would allow easy In these dynamic applications, system occluded by relatively cold materials
access via viewing ports into vacuum responsivity and sensor FOV are critical such as dust, wire screens, and gray
and pressure chambers. Another option, parameters. translucent windows in the sight path.
in the case of chambers, is to use a
fiber-optic cable with a vacuum or In many cases, target emissivity is The theory of this design is quite simple
pressure bushing. not a significant factor. With the proper and straightforward, and is illustrated by
selection of narrow-band spectral filtering, the following equations, where we take
Optics and response time are two most materials have a constant emissivity Planck’s equation for one wavelength
sensor characteristics that are, in most in the 0.90 ±0.05 range. Setting the and ratio it to the energy at a second
applications, nonissues, in that the emissivity at 0.9 µm, the sensor will tend wavelength.
standard FOV of approximately 1 in. at to read within ±5° or 10° of absolute
15 in. is acceptable, and response time L e • C1 • l1 -5 • e-C2 / l1T
R = l1 = l1
temperature. This application error
of <1 s is adequate. If the application
Ll2 el2 • C1 • l2 -5 • e-C2 / l2T
represents an accuracy variation of about
requires a small target or a fast-moving 1% or 2% but, in the real world of IR
intermittent target, however, then small thermometry, repeatability is critical
spot (0.125 in dia.) and very small spot for control. If, for example, a product is
(0.030 in. dia.) may be applicable at a heated to 410°F and the sensor reads
premium. Likewise, distant sighting 400°F, and you make quality product e -5
(10-1000 ft away from the target) will
also require an optical adjustment, as
when the sensor indicates 390-410°F,
use the 400 setpoint for control. Most
—– •
[ ll21]
—– • e
T l1 l2
the standard FOV will become very large. applications do not require NIST calibration
In some instances, dual-wavelength standards to produce quality product.
radiometry is used for these applications, -5
.e.g., wire and distant sighting. The
fiber-optic front-end offers engineering
If an application requires accurate,
absolute temperature measurement
R= [ ll21]
—– • e
Tr l1 l2
flexibility by remoting the electronics and documentation, the instruments can
from hostile environments, eliminating be calibrated and certified to referenced
electrical noise interference and resolving NIST standards. In addition, there is the 1 = 1 + 1n (el1/el2)
accessibility concerns. It is an intriguing need to fully define the application error — — ——————–
engineering tool that helps solve some due to surface emissivity. If a shiny T Tr 1 1
unique application problems. roll must be measured, e.g., the first C2 (l–1 - l–2 )
recommendation is to measure the
Most sensors have adjustable response product passing on the shiny roll. If el1 = el2, then T = Tr
in the 0.2-5.0 s range, and typical Second, the emissivity adjustment
settings are in the midrange. Fast can be made on the sensor using static where:
response can expose application noise, testing conditions to determine the
while slow response affects sensitivity. proper setting. Third, dual-wavelength R = spectral radiance ratio
Induction heating requires fast response, radiometry may be a viable option. Tr = ratio temperature of the surface
while conveyor or web monitoring el = spectral emissivity
requires a slower response to reduce Single-wavelength IR thermometry
application noise. A fast-responding represents a very diversified, yet simple, In this process, if the emissivity at both
sensor requires a fast-responding selection technique used in thousands wavelengths is equal (graybody condition),
controller, SCR power pack, and other of applications where product temperature the emissivity factor cancels out of the
regulators. Integrated system dynamics control is vital for consistent, high-quality equation and we find the ratio is directly
can be defined by the following equation: products. proportional to temperature.

The same concept can be viewed also in Dual-wavelength thermometers have SUMMARY
a graphic presentation by taking a small many applications throughout industry A review of the basic application
segment of the blackbody distribution and research as simple, unique sensor elements is outlined in Figure 5. The
curve and measuring some ratios at that can reduce application error surface of a target to be measured is
various emissivities (see Figure 3). involving graybody surfaces. Figure 4 the prime concern. When selecting the
Using 0.7 µm and 0.8 µm as the narrow- illustrates examples of total emissivity instrument, the user must take into
band filters, the ratio factor remains for a variety of products that have account target size, temperature limits,
constant at 1.428 for the range of
emissivities down to 0.1.
temperature-related varying emissivity.
For example, most users would consider
emissivity, and process dynamics as
they relate to FOV, spectral response,
graphite to have a high constant emissivity. and response time. It is also essential

e = 1.0
The fact is, however, that graphite’s to characterize the surroundings, e.g.,
7 emissivity varies from 0.4 to 0.65 flames, IR heaters, induction coils, and
over the temperature range of ambient the atmosphere (dust, dirty windows,
to 2000°F. For accurate product flames, excessive heat) in order to
e = 0.7 temperature measurement and control,
5 select the optimum instrument for
dual-wavelength thermometers should
be used when these types of graybody
3 e = 0.5 materials are being processed at high SURROUNDINGS, Tsur
e = 0.1
0 0.8
0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0 1.1
S.T l
Figure 3: The dual-wavelength system 0.7
automatically eliminates measurement errors TARGET, EMISSION AND
by computing the ratio of the radiant energies TS, el ABSORPTION
emitted by the target in two adjacent 0.6
wavebands, e.g., 0.7 µm and 0.8 µm. Figure 5: When selecting noncontact

temperature measurement instruments, it

Similarly, any other changes that 0.5 GRAPHITE is necessary to take into account not only
are gray in nature will not affect the INCONEL X
the target and its emissivity, but also the
temperature determined by the dual- POLISHED surroundings and the invtervening atmosphere.
wavelength thermometer. These 0.4
variations include changes in target IRON, ARMCO this application.
size such as a wire or a stream of POLISHED
molten glass whose diameters vary 0.3 With regard to performance specifications,
during measurement, even in the case calibration accuracy will typically be in
of targets smaller than the thermometer’s the 0.5-0.1% range, while the repeatability
FOV. For instance, suppose that a 0.2 COBALT ALLOY of most sensors will be in the 0.25-0.75%
blackbody target fills only half the DOW N-155 range. Pricing on the basic sensor will
thermometer’s FOV; instead of a 50% METAL
COPPER start at $500 and could go as high as
reduction in emittance, this analysis is 0.1 POLISHED $5000-$6000. In the majority of the
unchanged. Another example is a case POLISHED GOLD applications, price is not an issue; when
where a target is obscured with smoke POLISHED the sensor is properly installed and
or dust, or where an intervening window 0 used, payback typically is on the order
(e.g., of a vacuum chamber) becomes 0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500 of one or two months.
clouded. As long as the obscured TEMPERATURE. F
medium is not spectrally selective in Figure 4: Many materials have emissivity levels
its attenuation of radiation, at least in that vary with temperature. Several of the most
the wavelength region used by the commonly used are compared here. Reproduced from
thermometer, the analysis remains the Sensors Magazine with permission of
same. The temperature inferred by the There are also multi-wavelength HELMERS PUBLISHING, INC.
dual-wavelength radiometer remains thermometers available for non-graybody 174 Concord St.
unaffected. materials where the emissivity varies Peterborough, NH 03458
with wavelength. In these applications
Nonetheless, there are always limits there is a detailed analysis of the product’s
that must be recognized. The dual- surface characteristics regarding emissivity
wavelength does not perform on vs. wavelength vs. temperature vs.
non-graybodies, e.g., aluminum; it surface chemistry. With these data,
has difficulty looking through non-gray algorithms can be generated relating
windows or heated Pyrex; and it tends to spectral emittance at various wavelengths
measure background temperatures where to temperature.
the background is hotter than the target.

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