Infrared Certification Comparison: Importance of Proper Training

About a decade ago, thermal imagers (necessary for infrared thermography) were out of reach for most contractors due to the high cost to purchase. Infrared technology is now more affordable. Paired with great training to ensure proper use of the technology, the use of infrared cameras can become a huge asset for many businesses.

Questions that should be raised when performing infrared thermography include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. What does a thermal imager actually show?
  2. What is IFOV/MFOV and what are the consequences of not knowing what they mean?
  3. What are the emissivity, reflectivity, and tranmissivity of materials and the effects they can have on the thermal survey?
  4. What is infrared radiation, and how is it detected by the thermal imager?

Due to these complicated questions, cost-effective thermal imagers need to be used by trained and qualified personnel in order to obtain accurate qualitative and quantitative data. There are many false positive and false negative indicators that can easily cause the thermal image to be misdiagnosed.

How does one become qualified or certified to operate a thermal imager? There are two basic ways to attempt this process. A person can attend a third-party infrared training school. There are numerous companies that can provide this training. Most third-party vendors also offer "certification," but this can differ from one company to the next.

The second way to become qualified AND certified is by the process set forth by the American Society of Non-Destructive Testing (ASNT). This process is highlighted in most of the third-party vendor trainings as the best practice when discussing certification options.

To make things easier to understand, qualification is what is intended when a person becomes certified in a technology. Qualification cannot easily be demonstrated through a vendor's course alone, but these courses are mandatory in order to start the qualification process. According to the ASNT recommended practice for personnel qualification and certification, the ultimate responsibility for a person's certification rests with the employer.

Below is a side-by-side comparison of what it usually takes to become either third-party certified or certified to the ASNT recommended practice.

Definitions taken from ASNT SNT-TC-1A, the recommended practice for personnel qualification and certification in nondestructive testing: 

  1. Certification: written testimony of qualification.
  2. Certifying Authority: the person or persons properly designated in the written practice to sign certifications on behalf of the employer.
  3. Certifying Agency: the employer of the personnel being certified.
  4. Qualification: demonstrated skill, demonstrated knowledge, documented training, and documented experience required for personnel to properly perform the duties of a specific job.
  5. Recommended Practice: a set of guidelines to assist the employer in developing uniform procedures for the qualification and certification of personnel to satisfy the employer's specific requirements (example: SNT-TC-1A).
  6. Training: an organized program developed to impart the knowledge and skills necessary for qualification.
  7. Written Practice: a written procedure developed by the employer that details the requirements for qualification and certification of their employees.

Frequently asked questions about certification:

  1. Who can certify a person to infrared level 1 or 2? According to SNT-TC-1A, only the employer with a written practice (SNT-TC-1A section 9.0). 
  2. How do I develop a written practice? The employer's written practice shall be reviewed and approved by the employers NDT Level III (SNT-TC-1A section 5.4).
  3. Who can certify a person to be infrared level 3? The employer with a valid written practice or through ASN