Nearly every piece of equipment that has any type of power running to, through or around it has one characteristic that is 100-percent guaranteed to present itself. Before the machine, the component, the bearing, the motor, the transformer, the connection, the fuse or anything fails, that item will display a definite pattern of rising temperature. This temperature change is where infrared provides reliability-based maintenance professionals a chance to proactively identify, quantify, track and address issues before they create unscheduled downtime.
What an Infrared Camera Can and Cannot Show You
Most who know nothing about infrared incorrectly believe that an IR camera allows you to see into and through walls. This misconception is widespread today. Even with the proliferation of thermal imagers over decades into the reliability-based maintenance arsenal of tools. No, you cannot see into or through walls, floors, ceilings, roofs, windows, mirrors, motor casings, equipment shielding, covers, electrical panels, corrugate, paper, people or animals. Below is what you can see with an IR camera:
· A thermal imager shows you the temperature patterns emitted from your target. It is passive and only reads temperature (non-invasive).
· Normal color palettes can show images in black and white as well as several color variations such as iron, rainbow, lava, etc.
· Higher temperatures normally show lighter, while lower temperatures show as darker on an IR image.
The Basics of How and Infrared Cameras Works
Thermal images are a consolidated visual representation of thousands of grayscale temperature measurements which create the “picture.”
IR cameras have a thermal detector or engine which determines down to what granularity of temperature measurement the camera can resolve.
The better an IR camera’s thermal sensitivity, the better its ability to identify small Delta T situations, which present as “thermal anomalies” to the user.
Images are a visual representation of the thermal detector’s resolution pixels, which can range from 5,000 to more than 1million pixels for high-end IR cameras.
Images are saved as jpeg or other format and can be easily saved, copied, emailed, cut and pasted, and edited.
The Importance of Reliability-Based Maintenance and Hands-on IR training to PDM Success
Today more than ever there is a belief that you can learn about anything and how to use just about everything, regardless of the tool, technology or application. Though truly amazing how much information can be garnered from the now coined expressions “College of Google” and YouTube, there are still many skills-based and experience-focused professions and applications that succeed more because of face-to-face, hands-on training, demonstration, reinforcement and support.
Would you give your teenaged son or daughter the keys to the company car after they learned how to drive online or in a video game? Of course not. You go through the white-knuckle process of teaching your kids to drive while you sit next to them providing insights, guidance, feedback and hopefully tons of support, too.
The effective and efficient use of a thermal imager or IR camera comes best and lasts longest when taught by an experienced professional who can explain, demonstrate and address questions and provide first-person feedback and stories. People learn much more quickly and comprehend more fully when they are engaged in the training process, focus without distraction, are given tasks to practice and are evaluated on their progress as well as given guidance to improve their results.
Hands-on thermography (infrared) certification training has proven over the past two decades to be the best path to effective use of the technology in all environments through increasing operator/inspector confidence and competence with the technology.
Onsite thermography training adds an even better option for improved results by fostering a training environment within the operator’s own plants and facilities, conducting demonstrations, labs and hands-on practice with the plant’s manufacturing, quality control, process engineering, warehouse operations, finished goods inventory, steam systems, and every other process within the facility. The positives of getting on-the-job training practice and support within your own facility is significant.
Onsite thermography training also allows for the maximizing of training consistency across the spectrum of all plant/facility personnel who attend. All personnel who may touch and utilize thermal imagers should attend onsite training. Onsite classes are more affordable because they minimize travel requirements and related costs and increase flexibility to allow all technicians, or at least many more of them, to attend and be available if they are needed to provide production or other support.
Proactive and Predictive Issue Identification
Now that you understand the value of IR, let’s look at some typical examples of how IR is utilized in plant and manufacturing environments.
Viewing and capturing the thermal signature of a piece of equipment allows for the comparison to the same piece operating normally, instant troubleshooting evaluation and decision-making. Determining if further non-destructive, non-invasive or non-operating testing should take place can be done immediately.
Even without a full interpretation by a trained thermographer of what is happening in the IR image, you can decide if an electrician or mechanical technician should be contacted to evaluate irregularities in alignment, lubrication, voltage, etc.
Infrared Affordability and ROI Considerations
When fully and effectively deployed within a manufacturing or other production facility, thermography and the use of thermal imagers provide tremendous benefits to an organization. When used for troubleshooting and normal reliability-based maintenance, these advantages include reduction in equipment outages and increased equipment consistency and operating time.
Thermography creates real savings in reduced work hours for reliability-based maintenance as well as plant manufacturing, quality control, engineering, warehouse, finished goods inventory, steam systems and every other process within the facility.
Contracting for onsite thermography professionals to conduct infrared inspections and surveys of your facility may make sense. Purchasing a good IR camera and investing in multiple days of professional training might not be feasible for your operation. Your organization may also need to satisfy insurance requirements for a third-party IR inspection of the electrical system annually. If you prefer to outsource some or all of the responsibility and liability, be sure to look for IR certification (including at least Level II ASNT thermographers with a minimum of five years of onsite inspection experience), a professional-grade, high-resolution thermal camera and detailed reports with analysis that supports ease of information sharing.
Purchasing thermal imaging equipment, providing onsite or offsite certification training, developing a program or integrating thermography into an existing predictive maintenance program makes sense if:
• Your operation has multiple reliability-based maintenance personnel who could all be trained to effectively use an IR camera to maximize the ROI potential;
• QA/QC personnel could be trained to use the IR camera for process, raw material, WIP and FG inventory evaluation;
• Manufacturing technicians could be trained to use the camera throughout the production line to proactively identify possible quality, raw material or equipment issues;
• Facilities personnel could be trained to use the camera for building envelope inspections as well as roof moisture surveys.
The effective use of thermal imaging by reliability-based maintenance and manufacturing personnel provides increased equipment reliability, greater equipment life, confirmation of process control, reduced outages, man hours and headaches. All of these are achieved in near real time with a non-contact, non-destructive and non-invasive technology that allows for a safe standoff even as excellent data capture is taking place. Every reliability-based maintenance operation should evaluate either purchasing thermal imagers and training employees to use them or to outsource all or some of the ongoing responsibility to a professional thermal imaging organization that will provide many of the same benefits at what may be a reduced overall cost.
This article was previously published in the Reliable Plant 2016 Conference Proceedings.
By Christopher Casey, Monroe Infrared Technology