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FLIR thermal imaging cameras help preserve Italy’s cultural heritage

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article image This thermal image reveals the underlying texture of the walls and pillars of the apse in which Michelangelo's David is placed
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Historical architecture, an important part of Italy’s rich cultural heritage is in good hands, thanks to thermographic surveys being carried out on the structures using a FLIR thermal imaging camera.

The findings from the thermographic surveys of historical buildings help detect cracks, water damage and other defects so that timely maintenance can be accomplished for their preservation.

The Altamura, Italy-based survey company, IR HotSpot investigates historical buildings with a FLIR thermal imaging camera. Rosario Piergianni, thermography expert at IR HotSpot explains that thermal imaging cameras are a great tool for detecting defects in historical buildings as thermal imaging technology not only detects multiple building issues but does so using a non-invasive method avoiding any kind of risk to the structure.

Thermography is preferred over conventional building inspection techniques as the latter can cause fragile frescoes and sculptures to deteriorate. Thermal imaging cameras record electromagnetic radiation in the infrared spectrum, which is emitted by all matter as a function of its temperature. The onboard electronics use the recorded intensity of infrared radiation to generate a thermal image and calculate temperatures.

According to Piergianni, the camera has to be extremely sensitive since the temperature differences can be very small. He chose a FLIR SC660 thermal imaging camera for the application on the basis of its superior image quality.

This advanced thermal imaging camera model contains an uncooled microbolometer detector that provides crisp thermal images with a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels and a thermal sensitivity of 30 mK (0.03ºC).

In addition to the camera’s ability to detect, visualise and quantify really small thermal differences, the FLIR SC660 also facilitates voice recording during inspection and has GPS coordinates automatically embedded in the metadata of each image for easy sorting. Features such as Thermal Fusion and Picture-in-Picture allow users to better determine the location of defects during post processing of data, making for more compelling reports.

Piergianni adds that the FLIR thermal imaging camera’s diagnostic technique helps them to better direct renovations and improve the efficiency of renovation projects from start to finish.

Key capabilities of the FLIR SC660 thermal imaging camera:

  • Detects the presence of moisture due to condensation or capillary rise, which can damage the plaster or fresco
  • Detects mould below the surface
  • Checks the state of adhesion between plaster and the underlying structure
  • Detects hidden cracks and the presence of infill
  • Spots previous renovations and hidden structures
  • Detects damage caused by earthquakes
  • Helps investigate convective airflows around works of art that can cause the art to deteriorate if left unchecked
  • Assists in the study of the process of disintegration of building materials, particularly calcarenite or dune limestone often used in historical buildings
  • Checks for the build-up of anthropogenic surface deposits caused by pollution on building exterior
  • Intuitive FLIR software includes FLIR BuildIR to study and compare thermal images, FLIR Reporter to produce reports and FLIR ResearchIR to analyse thermal video footage
Piergianni and his colleague, Vito Basile have both completed training courses at the Infrared Training Center (ITC) to help them perform inspections better. FLIR Systems provides the training in cooperation with ITC.

The thermal imaging cameras are available in Australia from FLIR Systems Australia .

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