4 point guide to implementing thermal imaging inspections at a substation

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4 point guide to implementing thermal imaging inspections at a substation

When operating and maintaining a substation, failure is not an option. Unplanned downtime can cost thousands of dollars for both utility customers and personnel. Within the substation environment, heat--too much or too little--can be the first sign of a problem. Malfunctioning components can appear warmer than others, while failed components will be cooler or cold by comparison. Regular inspection can reveal over and under heating conditions with transformers, regulators, switches, circuit breakers, etc.

Routine Analysis

A thermal imager provides a safe and easy way to inspect the surface temperature of an electrical component. More importantly, thermal imagers can show the variance in temperature in small increments across the length and width of the component. This two-dimensional representation can be an instant reading or when charted over time can be used to identify and predict maintenance and repair needs, reducing the potential for failure.

To best execute infrared (IR) inspections, establish a route through the substation. Following the same routine during each inspection can provide time and data advantages as each piece of equipment in the yard is viewed, photos captured and anomalies recorded. Associated software provides the mechanism to record, compare and possibly trend a specific component or multiple components and then generate a report regarding findings.

Best Conditions

Ambient temperature, wind conditions and time of day will all effect an infrared scan. Cooler temperatures and calm winds are optimal, but should be balanced by equipment load. The best view into the health of equipment is often at the point of normal load and ultimately compared to baseline images. Scheduling IR inspections early morning or late afternoon/evening during winter and early spring can make the process easier and the results clearer. The larger the delta in temperature between ambient air and the components under test, the more likely you’ll find early indications of failing components when repairs can be completed before the high demand summer season when maintenance is more difficult.

Data Mining

The goal is to trend the data, capturing regular results over time–and catch irregular results quickly and early. Measuring the same equipment types, operating under the same conditions but showing different temperature levels can provide benchmark measurements and variants to track. By establishing a baseline reading on equipment that operates at high temperatures, a range can be established that represents a normal state for that particular asset. Any deviation from that range gives a clear indication of change and the potential for component failure.

Alert Stages

During the inspection, issues may be discovered that are potential safety hazards. These demand a “correct immediately” work order. The ability to scan on an optimized schedule and identify issues early helps keep assets from reaching that red alert stage. However, the real benefit to periodic thermal inspections is to make the repair during routine maintenance or planned downtime. However, you can recognize an actionable issue when you follow these suggested perimeters:

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