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Infrared Imaging in Engineering Applications

Emily M. Hunt
West Texas A&M University

Temperature variations that provide valuable information about heat transfer and fluid phenomena that occur
during a mechanical and chemical process stand out clearly in an infrared image. An overview is given for
three different mechanical engineering projects currently using infrared imaging to describe high-speed
thermal events and provide experimental data for computational models. The first project involves conducting
experimental measurements and numerical simulations to investigate the effect of mist on the spray heat
transfer and fluid dynamics in the cooling of a cylindrical surface heated to the nucleate boiling temperature
range. Infrared imaging (FLIR A40) is used to capture the effect of the spray flow conditions on the droplets
transportation process around the heated cylinder. As a comparison to laser ignition behaviors, the next
study focuses on impact ignition of nano and micron scale energetic material composites. An impact tester is
used to measure ignition of the energetic composites to drop-weight impact. Ignition is determined using high-
speed thermal imaging (FLIR SC6000). Results show that the difference in ignition sensitivity between
composites is greater with laser than with mechanical ignition and a diffusion mechanism controls mechanical
ignition. The overall goal of the third project is to use infrared imaging (FLIR SC6000) to examine the
initiation and propagation of heat in explosives. To achieve this goal, infrared imaging is used to accomplish
map the temperature field created by heating explosive crystal to observe “hot spot” peaks in the material.

Infrared thermal images quickly highlight problems and reveal conditions undetectable by any other sensor
technology. Infrared images can also provide useful data describing the ignition and combustion processes
that occur during a heat transfer process such as an explosion. The infrared cameras that will be used are a
FLIR SC6000 and a FLIR A40 that features an advanced, uncooled microbolometer focal plane array (FPA)
detector technology that allows viewing of temperature variations as small as 0.08˚C. The spectral range of
the camera is 7.5 to 13 µm, which corresponds to incremental temperature ranges between 0 and 2000°C.
Viewing of lower temperature ranges is critical in heat transfer processes because this is where the localized
energy develops and heat begins to generate. Spatial resolution of the IR camera is 2 µm, which is on the
order of or smaller than the explosive and/or energetic crystals and droplets that will be examined and will
allow for direct examination of the energy development. Real-time image acquisition can generate clear
images of dynamic objects and high-speed thermal events.


Cooling by air-assisted water sprays has been commercially used in many industrial applications because of
the heat transfer benefits it has shown over conventional forced air. These applications include thin strip
casting, glass tempering, electronic chip cooling, and air-mist cooling of agricultural products. Several
investigators have studied the heat transfer from a heated cylinder aligned normal to a flow stream of air and
water droplets [1-3]. In this study, experimental measurements and numerical simulations are conducted to
investigate the effect of mist on the spray heat transfer coefficient and fluid dynamics in the cooling of a
heated cylindrical surface. Tests are carried out using air-assisted water sprays in the cooling of a low-carbon
steel cylindrical surface heated to nucleate boiling temperature range. Multiple experiments are performed to
investigate the effect of the droplet size, air-to-liquid loading, and surface temperature on the air-mist Nusselt
Number along the circumference of the tube. The air jet velocities range from 18 to 43 m/s, the water flow
rate range from 15.78 to 126 ml/min, and the surface temperature is approximately 130°C. The median
droplet size of the spray ranges from 25 to 68 microns. A novel experimental technology is employed using
infrared imaging to capture the effect of the operating flow conditions on the droplets transportation process
around the heated cylinder. Real-time thermal image acquisition generates clear images of the dynamic flow
conditions surrounding the cylinder. Using these methods, Nusselt numbers have been found to increase
considerably with the slightest amount of water injected with the air stream [4].

InfraMation 2008 Proceedings ITC 126 A 2008-05-14

A computational fluid dynamics model using a two-phase flow composed of water droplets injected with air is
developed to simulate the spray transportation process, droplets impaction and evaporation over the heated
cylinder. The model takes into consideration droplet-to-surface interaction, water-film accumulation and
surface water runoff. Simulation results show the wetting of the cylinder depends on the droplet size and the
air-to-loading ratio. The smaller the droplets the closer to the surface the droplets remain. For low air-to-
liquid loadings and high air velocities, droplet wetting of the back surface of the cylinder dramatically increase
due to the increase in the flow turbulence. An overall good agreement is observed between the experimental
measurements, numerical simulations and the thermal images obtained using the infrared camera.

A FLIR ThermoVision A40 was used to take thermal images of the air-mist spray around the heated cylinder.
Figure 1 corresponds to a weak spray with liquid-to-air loading ratio of 1.6 and water flow rate of 0.25 gph.
With this dilute spray, water droplets are seen to evaporate on contact with the hot surface and steam engulfs
the forward part of the cylinder, while the rear part remains un-wetted. The colors in the infrared image
represent the following: the air-mist jet and the nozzle body are shown in black color corresponding to an
ambient temperature of 21°C, the generated vapor is shown in light yellow corresponding to temperatures
close to the water saturation temperature, and the cylinder is shown in the brightest yellow color
corresponding to a surface temperature of 130°C. A portion of the generated vapor is shown to be pushed
downstream by the incoming air-mist flow. Figure 2 is a case where the water flow rate is increased to 0.5
gph and the liquid-to-air loading ratio is 3.6. The infrared image shows a film of water accumulating at the
forward part of the cylinder surface. The water-film layer in this region has a temperature much lower than
the surface temperature and is shown by the slightly dark color in the infrared image. The spray for this case
is still relatively weak and a lot of vapor is being generated from the droplets impaction. Figure 3 shows a
much denser spray, and the thermal image shows more water engulfing the cylinder at the forward and the
rear parts. The thermal images presented here support the results of the numerical findings shown in the
previous section for the flow behavior of the spray over the cylinder surface. The results of this study shall
lead to a better understanding of the multiphase heat transfer enhancement that plays an important role in the
design of commercial heat exchangers.

Figure 1. Water flow over a heated cylindrical surface Ts=130ºC, P=5 psi, mw=2.63x10-4 kg/s

InfraMation 2008 Proceedings ITC 126 A 2008-05-14

Figure 2. Water flow over a heated cylindrical surface Ts=130ºC, P=5 psi, mw=5.26x10-4 kg/s

Figure 3. Water flow over a heated cylindrical surface Ts=130ºC, P=30 psi, mw=21.04x10-4 kg/s


The initiation of an energetic material can occur by a thermal, optical, electrical, chemical, acoustic or
mechanical impulse. Each ignition scenario introduces unique dynamics that influence the material’s ignition
and reaction behavior [5-6]. For aluminum particle thermites, the ignition mechanism is a strong function of
the heating rate. For slow heating rates and micron scale Al particles, ignition is described by a diffusion
process [7-8]. Mechanical initiation is the focus of this work using a drop weight apparatus to ignite various
Al-based thermites (Figure 4 A-C).

InfraMation 2008 Proceedings ITC 126 A 2008-05-14



MoO3 Al

600 nm

A. Al/MoO3 B. Al/Ni C. Al-Teflon

Figure 4. Aluminum-based thermites

The goal of this study is to understand the role of Al particle size and influence of the Al core-shell interaction
relevant to mechanical impact ignition. The goal will be accomplished via experimental drop weight
measurements of ignition energy on various Al composites. Specifically, the interactions between Al particles
with metal, metal oxide and fluoropolymer oxidizers are examined. The results are compared to published
literature values for ignition energy for similar thermites resulting from thermal initiation. The impact sensitivity
of nine different thermite composites was investigated using a modified type 12 impact tester (Fig. 5) in
conjunction with a FLIR SC6000 thermal imaging camera and R-tools data acquisition software. The impact
tester has a drop mass of 1 kg with an intermediate mass of 1.5 kg. Each test was conducted with 30 ± 5 mg
powder sample placed in a loose pile on the anvil. The intermediate mass is rested on the specimen, and the
drop mass makes contact with the top of the intermediate mass. (See Fig. 6)

Figure 5. Experimental set-up

InfraMation 2008 Proceedings ITC 126 A 2008-05-14

The drop mass is released from a variable height and the infrared camera is used to determine ignition based
on a go/no-go determination. Once an optimal range is found in which there are positive and negative
reactions, tests are conducted on 1 cm intervals. Using an abbreviated Bruceton method [16], the lowest
drop height that produces a greater than 50% reaction is used to calculate ignition energy using a standard
equation for potential energy (1),
PE = mgh (1)
where PE is the potential energy, m is the mass of the drop mass, and h is the optimal height for reaction.
The infrared camera is used to determine the velocity of the drop mass as it travels to the sample. The
velocity is then used to calculate the kinetic energy of the sample (2). The high-speed capability of the
SC6000 is also an effective tool to measure the time between initial contact and ignition of the sample,
1 2
KE = mv (2)
where KE is the kinetic energy and v is the velocity of the drop mass. This test provides a means by which
the visible signs of reaction such as emission of heat by the infrared camera (Fig. 6) can be related to impact
properties, such as impact speed or impact stress.

Figure 6.Thermogram of isotherms generated from reaction

Drop weight impact tests were performed on thermites composed of Al mixed with Ni, MoO3 or Teflon. The
influence of Al particle size and Al synthesis and passivation were assessed. Unlike laser ignition studies that
showed three orders of magnitude decrease in ignition energy as Al particle size is reduced from micron to
nano-scale, impact ignition energy measurements indicate an order of magnitude difference as a function of
Al particle size. Impact tests reveal that for Al mixed with Ni or MoO3 ignition energies ranged between 0.2 to
1.7 + 0.04 J and generally increase with increasing Al particle size, consistent with diffusion controlled
reactions. Measurements also revealed that the presence of Teflon or replacing the alumina shell with SAM
of C13F27COOH cushions the impact slightly such that ignition energies on the order of 3-4 J are required.
Overall, the reaction mechanism of nanocomposite energetic materials when initiated by impact appears to be
a diffusion-controlled process. Infrared imaging provides a valuable method for reaction and reaction height


Thermal ignition of explosive materials (PBX 9501) was evaluated using two thermal imaging cameras (FLIR
SC6000 and A40) and their corresponding data acquisition software. The advantage of the thermal imaging
camera is to examine and map the temperature field by locating hot spots in the field. A hot spot is defined as
a localized region of elevated temperature. Observation of hot spot development is critical in understanding
the heat transfer mechanisms occurring during reaction. Due to the strong temperature dependence of
explosives, the overall reaction rate is dominated physically by hot spots. Once formed, these hot spots
either fail to react chemically due to thermal diffusion or react exothermically thus creating an ignition site in
the solid explosive. The slightest difference of physical properties can change the positioning of hot spot
development, creating an argument that the differences in material properties delegate the formation of hot

InfraMation 2008 Proceedings ITC 126 A 2008-05-14

spots, which produce an exothermic reaction thereof. Hot spot formation can be observed once the material
reaches 300°C. In Figures 7 A-C the explosive material is pressed to approximately 25% TMD. Original
ignition appears to be localized to a small region (Fig. 7A), from which it spreads out to form a moving and
relatively planar reaction front (Fig. 7B-D).



A. 0s B. 1.75s

C. 6.25 s D. 16 s
Figure 7. Thermal images of PBX 9501 (pressed to 25% TMD) undergoing cook-off

In Figures 8 A-D the explosive material is arranged in a loose pile of powder. Multiple hot spot ignition sites
are initially formed (Fig. 8A) and join to create the reaction front (Fig. 8 B-D). Various methods can be used to
create hot spots (i.e. impact, electricity, laser), but each of these produces a localized region of the material at
a higher temperature than the bulk material. Because of this, hot spot formation can be considered
thermal rather than mechanical. However, the response of PBX 9501 to thermal cook-off and the spread of
the reaction front when varying physical properties such as density, suggest an intimate relationship between
the thermal and mechanical behavior of the material during thermal ignition.

InfraMation 2008 Proceedings ITC 126 A 2008-05-14



A. 0s B. 0.83 s

C. 6.25 s D. 11.8 s
Figure 8. Thermal images of PBX 9501 (loose powder, uniform layer) undergoing cook-off

Hot spot development begins to occur at 300°C, but does not reach a critical size to actually ignite the
material until 341°C. The research conducted by Bowden and co-workers (1952 and 1958) suggest that the
critical size for ignition of a hot spot is around 10 µm in diameter with temperatures in excess of 500°C. There
is no experimentally verified explanation for different ignition temperatures, but one possibility is that in a
relatively small sample the ignition process may be controlled by the presence or absence of large crystals of
HMX, which would cook off earlier than small crystals. PBX 9501 has a bimodal crystal size distribution
centered at 25 and 130 µm (Peterson & Lee 2004). The samples that ignite differently may have lacked or
gained large particles. Infrared imaging helps to understand the dynamic mechanical and thermal properties
of the explosive and how these properties interact with the reaction chemistry if accurate predictions of
explosive behavior during cook off events can be made.

[1] Hodgson, J.W., et al., 1968, “An experimental investigation of heat transfer from a spray cooled
isothermal cylinder,” Journal of Heat Transfer, 90(4), pp. 457-463.

[2] Mednick, R.L., and Colver, C.P., 1969, “Heat transfer from a cylinder in an air-water spray flow stream,”
A.I.Ch.E. Journal, 15(3), pp. 357-361.

[3] Kosky, P.G., 1976, “Heat transfer to saturated mist flowing normally to a heated cylinder,” Int. J. Heat
Mass Transfer, 19(5), pp. 539-543.

[4] Issa, R.J., Hunt, E.M., and Davis, F.J., 2008 “Experimental measurements and numerical modeling for the
air-mist cooling of a heated cylinder,” Proceedings of ASME HT2008-56003, Jacksonville, FL.

InfraMation 2008 Proceedings ITC 126 A 2008-05-14

[5] Granier, J.G., Mullen, T., and M. L. Pantoya, 2003, “Non-Uniform Laser Ignition in Energetic Materials,”
Combustion Science and Technology 175(11), 1929-1951.

[6] Yang, Y., Shufeng, W., Sun, Z., Dlott, D.D., 2003, Propagation of shock induced chemistry in
nanoenergetic materials: the first micrometer, J. Appl. Phys.

[7] Rai, A., Lee, D., Park, K., Zachariah, M. R., 2004, Importance of Phase Change of Aluminum in oxidation
of aluminum nanoparticles, J. Phys. Chem B 108, 14793-14795.

[8 Trunov, M. Schoenitz, M., Zhu, X., E. L. Dreizin, Effect of polymorphic phase transformations in Al2O3 film
on oxidation kinetics of aluminum powders, Combustion and Flame.

The author wishes to thank B&W Pantex and WTAMU Killgore Research Center for providing the resources
to make this work possible. I am also grateful for the support of Dr. Roy Issa, Alex Hunt, and Alex Purl who
provided additional data and information for this paper.


Emily Hunt is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at West Texas A&M University in Canyon,

InfraMation 2008 Proceedings ITC 126 A 2008-05-14