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Infrared Images Worth Thousands of Dollars in Saved Downtime

The saying: “What you can’t see can’t hurt you” may work in some situations, but it just doesn’t apply when it comes to plant maintenance. What you can’t see not only can hurt you, it can hurt your budget, your scheduling, your productivity, and sometimes even your personnel. Things you can’t see can cause everything from small intermittent problems that slow things down and impact quality, to major events that can take down your whole operation.

In reality, each day holds unknown risk:“What will break today and how big of a hassle will it be?” This photo essay gives you a window into an alternate reality—one where you can see the problems before they hurt you. The tool that enables this? A thermal imager, also called an infrared camera. As you’ll see, differences in temperature as seen on a thermal imager can immediately identify impending issues. You just have to know what to look for…

Variations in temperature

Variations in temperature are quite colorful, and they’re also quite useful in rooting out problems such as the equipment fuse problems shown here.

Improperly operating heating coils in a paper mill

This uneven thermal image highlights improperly operating heating coils in a paper mill. The obvious heat variation means they’ll have to scrap at least that whole roll of paper.

Abnormal heating on both motor and load side of motor

A coupling alignment issue causes abnormal heating on both the motor side and the load side. If you look really closely, the infrared image even picks up the wobble in the coupling.

A stcky roller bearing that has heated up

Sometimes problems lurk up high, where they are hard to detect. In this case the thermal imager shows a sticky roller bearing that has heated up and is creating drag on the conveyor belt and added load on the conveyor motors.

Color differences between the same components

Color differences between the same components— that are all on and doing the same job— are a sure indicator of trouble. Since two of these three compressors look the same, it’s a good bet that the problem lies with third compressor (in the back).

IR image shows tank level gauges are not working properly

Sometimes infrared images images can indirectly spot trouble. Here a plant engineer was expecting a full tank based on the tank level gauge readings and found instead that the tank’s only about two-thirds full. Obviously the tank level gauges are not working properly.

Signs of refractory breakdown for this cement kiln

Signs of refractory breakdown in a cement kiln (furnace) could mean that a catastrophic problem is brewing for this plant.

This annealing furnace appears to be overheating

The air circulation fan motor in the front of this annealing furnace appears to be overheating. If it goes out unexpectedly, the whole operation would go down, and probably stay down for two weeks.

IR image shows there could be a faulty valve

Hot water (indicated by the red color in this IR-Fusion color alarm-enabled image) is supposed to be going up the center pipe, but there appears to be a faulty valve—which will require a shutdown of this system to replace.