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Using thermal imagery for process problems

December 2011

Tank Levels

Thermal Imager showing tank levels.

This article covering monitoring motors and other rotation equipment, and capturing process temperature readings, was first published on »

Advances over the last several years have transformed thermal imaging from a tool for the specialist to one that plant personnel can use for regular maintenance and troubleshooting process equipment. A thermal imager enables a technician to diagnose root cause more efficiently, while often identifying other potential problems during the same inspection.

Unlike regular digital cameras that capture images of visible light reflected by objects, thermal cameras create pictures of heat, essentially measuring infrared energy emitted from objects and then converting the data into corresponding images of temperature. In a “radiometric” imager, each pixel of color on screen represents an individual temperature.

Thermal imager shows bearings issue

Two bearings in the middle are hotter than those on either side, indicating a potential problem.

Thermal imagers read surface temperature of objects. However, all surfaces don’t emit thermal energy equally well. Emissivity describes, via a scale from 0 to 1, the efficiency with which an object radiates or emits heat. Shiny metals have low emissivity; non-metals and painted or heavily oxidized metals have a higher emissivity.

Specific applications for imagers include measuring operational temperatures in motors or other rotating equipment; identifying leaks, blockages and settling in sealed vessels, pipes, steam systems and heat exchangers; and capturing process temperature readings. Let’s now look at each of these.

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