Using a Thermal Imager for Electronics Design and Troubleshooting

Using a Thermal Imager for Electronics Design and Troubleshooting
Keysight Technologies
Using a Thermal Imager for
Electronics Design and Troubleshooting
Application Note
As thermal imaging technology has advanced, an alternative to using traditional cooled thermal
imagers has emerged. Today, imagers using un-cooled microbolometer detectors have improved
upon the performance of their cooled counterparts. They are also more affordable, which has
created new application possibilities, including their use in electronics applications.
The rapid miniaturization of components used in the electronics industry makes circuit design
challenging. As electronic equipment gets smaller, these miniaturized components increase
circuit board density, which in turn increases power density.
R&D engineers need to optimize circuitry and ensure that their designs do not have unexpected
hotspots attributed to speciic components since high temperatures affect overall functionality,
performance, and instrument design reliability. In production, process engineers need to ensure
that circuit boards are manufactured with good components, verify soldering quality, ensure
product components work together as expected, and track product and process continuity.
One of the fastest ways to troubleshoot design and manufacturing quality issues on circuit board
is through physical inspection. Traditionally, this is done by touching the surface of the circuit
board to check for hotspots. However, this technique is dangerous if high voltage circuits are
checked without proper safety precautions.
03 | Keysight | Using a Thermal Imager for Electronics Design and Troubleshooting – Application Note
One solution is to use a thermocouple to determine the temperature of the circuit board.
However with this method, only temperatures at certain points can be measured and
some hot spots might go undetected.
Using an un-cooled thermal imager is a safer alternative for testing electronics. With
the ability to measure temperature distribution over the whole circuit board, R&D and
process engineers can quickly inspect the circuit board to ind thermal anomalies using
non-contact temperature measurement.
Figure 1. Thermal image of PCB board and its corresponding image zoomed into the hottest point
Today, there is a vast variety of thermal imagers on the market. However, one that is
suitable for electronics applications needs to have good resolution to view dense circuits.
It also has to have the focusing capabilities required to obtain clear infrared (IR) images
at a close distance.
The handheld Keysight Technologies, Inc. TrueIR thermal imager is equipped with ine
resolution capability that is able to effectively quadruple its resolution, from 160 x 120
pixels to 320 x 240 pixels at no extra cost. Fine resolution is achieved using complex
algorithm on a lower resolution detector, which in this case is 160 x 120 pixels.
The algorithm works by irst acquiring multiple image frames, while assuming that each
frame is slightly shifted due to natural hand movement when capturing the image. Next,
these frames are aligned through a process called super-position. In this step, the software aligns the images based on common feature points on each frame before putting
them together to form a higher resolution image. The higher resolution image is then
reconstructed to enhance and sharpen the image further. This process also effectively
improves the Instantaneous Field of View (iFOV) by 1.5 times.
Other useful features of the TrueIR thermal imager are the ability take thermal images as
close as 10 cm from the surface, provide 4 x digital zoom, and image logging capability,
which allows IR images to be automatically taken over time as the circuit board powers
up and run. Collectively these features simplify the design and inspection of circuit
boards with miniaturized components, while enhancing operator safety.
Figure 2. U5855A TrueIR thermal imager
04 | Keysight | Using a Thermal Imager for Electronics Design and Troubleshooting – Application Note
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© Keysight Technologies, 2014
Published in USA, September 5, 2014
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