Science Cameras Bring Thermal Imaging to PCB and Hypersonic Research Alike

January 26, 2022 by Jake Hertz

A flagship generation of scientific cameras from Teledyne FLIR may open up worlds of new use cases, from crop analysis to lock-in thermography in PCB testing.

One of the most important (yet least talked about) aspects of R&D is test engineering. All electronic systems, be it consumer, industrial, or scientific, require thorough testing and characterization to ensure proper behavior, functionality, and safety.

To this end, a crucial test engineering tool is a thermal camera, a device that accurately reads even the most granular temperature changes to characterize a device’s thermal performance. Today, Teledyne FLIR has released what it claims are its most advanced thermal scientific cameras yet.

All About Circuits had the chance to talk with Desmond Lamont, global business development manager at Teledyne FLIR, to hear about the new cameras firsthand.


Teledyne FLIR Unveils Flagship Science Cameras

Teledyne FLIR calls this flagship line of high-speed, high-resolution scientific cameras the X-Series, made up of the X858x and X698x


A new FLIR X-series camera

A new FLIR X-series camera. Image used courtesy of Teledyne FLIR


Built for scientific research and engineering applications, the new series of cameras operate in the mid-wave infrared (MWIR) and long-wave infrared (LWIR) spectrum. The new products feature a cooled thermal camera core with a resolution of 1280 x 1084 and a 180 Hz frame rate, along with a 640 x 512 thermal resolution and a frame rate of more than 1 kHz.

“You can have one camera system targeting the 3–5 micron range and another camera system targeting the 7.5–12 micron range. We have the exact same interface for those cameras,” Lamont says. “Meanwhile, you'll be collecting different in-band radiance and temperature measurements.”

On the rear panel of each camera are a dedicated trigger input and a tri-level sync input, which can help users record and synchronize across different cameras.  

These high-speed scientific cameras can yield massive amounts of data; every pixel of a high-resolution camera can be considered a data point—and with HD cameras like the X858x and X698x, that can mean over 1.3 million data points.  


Motorized Lens

The new camera series offers new motorized lens functionality, which allows the camera lens to remotely focus. This way, if a user has a camera system deployed remotely in a field or a wind tunnel, for example, they can remotely adjust its focus over time; they won't have to coordinate with someone on-site to make adjustments to the manual focus lens. The cameras can also apply factory calibrations from the selection options within the software.


Thermal image of a PCB

Thermal image of a PCB using Teledyne FLIR's new science camera operating in the mid-wave infrared spectrum. Image used courtesy of Teledyne FLIR


Another boon to remote recording is the integrated, four-position filter wheel included on each camera. According to the press release, the wheel can be loaded with spectral filters or neutral density to enhance recording quality. 

The motorized lens on the X-Series cameras can make these devices more usable in electronic design and testing, where users can remotely access this camera system over the network and monitor a chipset from home.


Direct SSD to Computer Data Transfer

Previous generations of these cameras only offered a RAM buffer capable of holding about 30 seconds' worth of data. The new X-Series, however, leverages a Camera Link interface to bypass this buffer and write up 512 GB data directly into an SSD, allowing for up to 15 minutes of stored data at once—a 30x improvement. 

Camera Link is an official standard from the Automated Imaging Association (AIA) that defines real-time, high-speed communication between high-speed cameras and frame grabbers. This interface offers a high bandwidth of 255 Mbytes/s for one cable and up to 850 Mbytes/s for two cables. By comparison, Ethernet offers a bandwidth of up to 10 Mbits/s.


A functional diagram of the high-speed Camera Link protocol

A functional diagram of the high-speed Camera Link protocol. Image from Stemmer Imaging


“Our 30-second RAM buffer has been used by a lot of our defense test range customers who are capturing very fast events, like missile strikes. By bypassing the onboard RAM and recording directly to the hot swappable SSD, a user with the standard drive can record 15 minutes at full frame and full speed, which should be plenty for many applications.”

By recording directly to the SSD for those extended recordings, users can save integration and costs—especially compared to older methods of leveraging data recorders and frame grabbers. Once data is transferred from the SSD to a connected computer, data processing can be executed through FLIR Research Studio or the FLIR Science Camera SDK


Lock-in Thermography

The X-Series cameras can be a useful asset in electronic design and testing—providing thermal data for PCB research, component failure identification, and board analysis. The cameras can be electronically triggered and synchronized and offer a high sensitivity of 20 millikelvins or higher. 

They also feature a small pixel pitch of 12 microns. This entails that when the camera is paired with a microscope optic, users can capture data imagery down to four microns per pixel. This allows designers to identify hot spots on small components and perform something called lock-in thermography. 


A researcher uses the new X-Series camera to analyze a circuit

A researcher uses the new X-Series camera to analyze a circuit. Image used courtesy of Teledyne FLIR

In contrast to passive thermography, where users simply point an infrared camera at a circuit board to identify hot spots, lock-in thermography synchronizes the phase of an excitation pulse and the capture of the frame. As a result, all other signals drop away, increasing sensitivity. Using the X-Series cameras, users can highlight minuscule failures in areas of circuitry that are typically too small to visualize at even four-micron pixel resolutions. 


From Hypersonic Research to Crop Analysis

Beyond lock-in thermography, Lamont also reports seeing customers use the new X-Series cameras in aerothermal applications—specifically in wind tunnels and shock tunnels for hypersonic research at various universities and defense sites.


Image capture of an aircraft

Image capture of an aircraft using an X-Series camera. Image used courtesy of Teledyne FLIR

“We've also seen these cameras mounted on aircraft for crop research because, again, you're working in the infrared,” Lamont comments. “So, you can look at crop health and things of that nature.” Another researcher even reported using 3D stereoscopic capture of 3D printing projects. 

Lamont concludes, “The X-Series cameras are the flagship and highest-level scientific products that we have. They're the most flexible, they've got the most connectivity, the highest frame rates, and the best levels of command and control out of our scientific camera models.”