The quality of images generated during an infrared thermal inspection depends on many system variables, settings, and parameters to include the focal length setting of the IR camera lens. If any relevant parameter is incorrect or sub-optimal, the resulting IR images will usually exhibit inherent unsharpness and lack of resolution.

Traditional reference standards and image quality indicators (IQIs) are made of representative hardware samples and contain representative flaws of concern. These standards are used to verify that representative flaws can be detected with the current IR system settings. However, these traditional standards do not enable the operator to quantify the quality limitations of the resulting images, i.e. determine the inherent maximum image sensitivity and image resolution. As a result, the operator does not have the ability to optimize the IR inspection system prior to data acquisition.

The innovative IQI described here eliminates this limitation and enables the operator to objectively quantify and optimize the relevant variables of the IR inspection system, resulting in enhanced image quality with consistency and repeatability in the inspection application.

The IR IQI consists of various copper foil features of known sizes that are printed on a dielectric non-conductive board. The significant difference in thermal conductivity between the two materials ensures that each appears with a distinct grayscale or brightness in the resulting IR image. Therefore, the IR image of the IQI exhibits high contrast between the copper features and the underlying dielectric board, which is required to detect the edges of the various copper features.

The copper features consist of individual elements of various shapes and sizes, or of element-pairs of known shapes and sizes and with known spacing between the elements creating the pair. For example, filled copper circles with various diameters can be used as individual elements to quantify the image sensitivity limit. Copper line-pairs of various sizes where the line width is equivalent to the spacing between the lines can be used as element-pairs to quantify the image resolution limit.

This work was done by Eric Burke of the United Space Alliance, Ground Operations Division, for Kennedy Space Center. KSC-13484

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the July, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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