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Technician calls on thermal imager to ensure that free dental clinic opens on time

Benco Dental is the largest independent, family owned dental distributor in the United States, with more than 1,200 associates serving over 30,000 customers with locations across the U.S. It distributes equipment and supplies from all major dental equipment manufacturers, and provides design and maintenance services. One of its core values is to give back to the communities it serves to help make dental care available to those who could not otherwise afford it.

Among its notable charitable activities, Benco supports the annual Connecticut Mission of Mercy Free Dental Clinic, which is held in a different location around the state each year. The clinic provides a full range of dental services to Connecticut residents, who cannot afford dental care. Benco joins with other vendors in loaning and donating equipment and setup expertise for the two-day clinic.

Fluke recently heard from Charlie Lenart, a master technician for Benco’s Hartford, office who has worked on several free dental clinics over the years. He relayed a particularly interesting story on how a Fluke thermal imager played a major role in ensuring that the 2014 free clinic in in Hartford, Connecticut started on time.

The event was to open at 6:00 a.m. on Friday April 25. The set up started about noon the day before with dozens of technicians scrambling to set up the hundreds of lights, dental chairs, tables, vacuum systems, and yards of PVC pipe in Hartford’s XL Center. As you can imagine all of that equipment required a lot of power, which was provided by several of portable electrical panels on large wooden stands located in the hallways outside the arena.

At about 5:00 a.m. the day of the show it was time to start up the system. “We had an hour before the doors opened to turn everything on and make sure it was working. Patients were already lined up around the block,” says Lenart.

Vacuum system sets teeth on edge
A few minutes into the startup process Lenart got word from one of the electrical engineers that the main vacuum system came on and went right back down before reaching full power. That was a big problem because the vacuum system provided suction for all of the more than 100 dental stations in the clinic.

Lenart picked up his tool bag and followed the engineer to the two large turbine pumps powering the vacuum system. “My first thought was phase rotation. These were three-phase systems, so rotation was important. If the phases were backwards, then the unit would run backwards,” said Lenart. The electrical engineer had already checked the phase rotation and it was correct.

“Even though the electricians had already done it, I checked the amp draw on the pumps,” says Lenart. “I set up the i400 amp clamp connected to my 289 on the top system and connected my 87V inline on the second phase and turned it on.” The amperage draw starting up was normal but the pump went down as before. The main breaker wasn’t actually tripping because there wasn’t an overabundance of amperage. “That’s why the electricians didn’t think it was the breaker,” he adds.

Thermal imager pinpoints the problem fast
Time was running out, so Lenart decided to bring out his Fluke Ti32 thermal imager (Ti32) to scan the panel for hot spots. “It is so much faster to look through the imager and see if any wires are hot than to take out my meter,” says Lenart. “I had used the thermal imager before to find electrical issues that weren’t supposed to be there, but were.”

Lenart didn’t know which panel was connected to the vacuum system so he turned on the imager and started walking down the row of panels. The engineer opened each panel as he scanned, to match the breaker number to the circuit that it was plugged into. Voltage to the panels was under 300V so he didn’t have to put on extra personal protective equipment.

“When we got to the fourth panel I saw a very large bright white breaker and I told him ‘that’s it’,” says Lenart. The engineer compared the breaker number with that of the circuit for the vacuum systems and they matched. He replaced the breaker and switched on the pumps once again. This time the pumps reached full power a few minutes before the doors opened… on time at 6 a.m.

“I left my meters on both pumps to monitor them for a few hours and everything was perfect,” says Lenart. “That Fluke thermal imager helped us find the issue faster than we could have done any other way. The facility bought one that day online, and one of the electricians who was there that day also bought one.”