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I'm not a trained electrician, but I got my hands on a thermal camera to play with. Its existing documentation didn't help me quite understand what's going on when I see a hotspot. What components can I ignore when they get hot? What components typically heat up on a PCB as soon as power goes on? I know that heat is caused by current, so I kind of expect anything current flows through is heating up. Should ground leads be hot (in the temperature sense) where they touch your chassis or whatever you're using as a ground?

Let me get more specific. A small amplifier (based on the TDA2003) I'm using has a very hot resistor (compared to the rest of the circuit) as soon as power is on, and eventually the main IC and pieces of the PCB nearby heat up too. Is this sort of a case-by-case basis where it depends on my circuit diagram, or are there general rules of thumb when looking at thermal imaging of circuits?

EDIT: Attaching some images as requested, first is visible circuit, second is immediately after power on, third is after 2 minutes on.

Visible spectrum image Immediately after power circuit after 2 minutes powered on

Circuit schematic from CanaKit:

kit instructions page 1

kit instructions page 2

(Original source of instructions above: Imgur)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I did it. Based on what TimWescott said it doesn't appear anything is too hot. I'm going to be looking at more components soon, so I think I'm just going to have to get smarter and figure out how to use this thing from experience. \$\endgroup\$ – RidleyPrime Aug 26 '19 at 18:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ The amp is working, yes. I'm more just curious on how to read thermal camera results - is this hot? Why? How hot? When does it become a problem? Reason I ask is because other amps of the same make & model have melted components, so I'm wondering if I'm better off getting a different or if there's a problem elsewhere (am I driving too much into the amp?). \$\endgroup\$ – RidleyPrime Aug 26 '19 at 19:03
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I know that heat is caused by current

Not really, no.

Temperature rises because of electrical power getting converted to heat. The amount of power converted determines the temperature rise, not the current alone. For example, a current of 0.1 A through a 1 MΩ resistor will cause 10 kW of heating – whereas a current of 10 A through a 1 Ω resistor will only lead to 0.1 kW of heating.

But that's only half of the story – heat alone doesn't mean a temperature increase; what counts is how much a specific material gets heated by a specific amount of heat power (i.e. a 1 kg piece of wood needs less heat to get 1°C hotter than 1 kg of water), and how hard it is for the component to get rid of the heat (i.e. you add a large heatsink, the temperature doesn't rise as much).

So, any component that wastes a lot of electrical power AND has a hard time getting rid of the heat is going to get hot.

A small amplifier chip I'm using has a very hot resistor (compared to the rest of the circuit) as soon as power is on, and eventually the main IC and pieces of the PCB nearby heat up too. Is this sort of a case-by-case basis where it depends on my circuit diagram, or are there general rules of thumb when looking at thermal imaging of circuits?

That resistor probably intentionally drops some voltage e.g. to supply the amplifier chip.

Yes, it's a case-by-case basis, because the same device (e.g. an amplifier) can be built with architectures of different efficiency, i.e. how much of the input power is converted to heat vs converted to output power. Generally, power electronics deal with lots of power, and thus, even that 1% waste heat of a 99% efficient device means a lot of heat.

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  • Yes it's case by case.
  • As a rule of thumb, if something catches on fire, desolders itself, or even just smokes, it's too hot.
  • Chips don't want to be over 55C on their surface, at least at ambient temperatures.
  • Resistors, probably the same unless they're obviously power resistors and are chosen to get hot on purpose.
  • Some variation within the above temperatures is normal for power supplies, amplifiers, super-high-performance digital electronics (GPUs, FPGAs, high powered processors, etc.), but would be suspicious elsewhere.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Good guidelines for commercial applications. \$\endgroup\$ – Mattman944 Aug 26 '19 at 18:15
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The highest temperature that your device shows is about 37 °C (set your camera to use Celsius; Fahrenheit is pretty much unused in engineering). That's pretty much "cold" for electronics. You'll be fine.

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