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Thermal imaging detects equipment issues

July 2013

Portable thermography in automated process environments

Automation often provides significant advantages in today’s competitive environment; in some industries, it’s practically a requirement to stay in business. Unfortunately, human beings have yet to create a machine or system that operates perfectly at all times. All automated systems will need maintenance at one time or another. The saying “the weakest link can break even the strongest chain” is nowhere more true than in highly complex, highly engineered automation systems. This weakest link could be a part of the operation perceived to be so minor that it has no fixed monitoring sensor.

Murphy’s Law dictates that “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” With all of the components that go into an automated system, this can certainly seem to be the case. Once you enter into an automated process environment, the stakes around possible failure become high.

Fortunately, there is a tool that can help prevent Murphy’s Law from becoming a reality: the portable thermal imager.

Portable thermography can help you and your team maintain your automated systems, and proactively keep your motors, controls, conveyors, bearings, chain drives, and other electromechanical automation equipment in top operating condition. For automated process environments in particular, handheld thermal images can be used to identify leaks, blockages, and settling in sealed vessels, pipes, steam systems, or heat exchanges; and to capture process temperature readings. The price point for this technology is just a fraction of what it was even a few years ago. The newest portable thermal imagers are more rugged, more reliable, and easier to use than ever.

Measurement best practices:

  • Verify that electro-mechanical equipment targets are operating at a minimum of 40 percent of load. Lighter loads do not produce as much heat, making it harder to detect problems.
  • Within the safe zone, get as close to the target as you can. (While thermal imaging is non-contact, if you measure live electricity with enclosure doors removed, NFAP 70E safety standards still apply. Wear appropriate PPE, try to stay four feet (1.2 meters) away from the target, and minimize time spent in the arc-flash zone.)
  • Do not try to shoot through doors; thermal gradients within an electrical cabinet make it impossible to understand the thermal impact inside the cabinet. Infrared does not penetrate glass or plastic safety shields, so you will need to work around those.
  • If inspecting outside, take wind and air currents into consideration - as they could cool any abnormal hot spots - account for ambient temperatures, and watch out for thermal loading (heat from the sun).
  • Remember that not all problems are indicated by excessive heat. Restricted flow in a cooling system could be indicated by a cooler-than-normal reading.
  • When working with low-emissivity assets, consider sources of reflective infrared radiation.
  • When trending assets, it is important to have consistent loads for capturing accurate temperature data over time.

Find more information about portable thermography in automated process environments in the InTech article »