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February 9, 2018

Every infrared picture tells a story

As organizations seek increased visibility into how their equipment performs, they have yet to take full advantage of a useful group of monitoring tools — wireless thermal imaging devices. These contactless infrared cameras can effectively become your eyes inside assets without requiring direct access by maintenance professionals or any disruption to functioning machinery.

The broad range of use cases for infrared cameras extend beyond identifying areas of unusual temperatures within equipment or building envelopes. You can also use thermal imaging to monitor the level of water or other fluids inside tanks and other machinery as well as to establish the location of obstructions such as clogs within pipes and valves.

You don’t need to be a specialist to use infrared cameras since because — whether handheld or wireless — they’re straightforward and easy to set up and use. The devices are point-and-click and then the images are uploaded directly to the cloud where they can be securely shared with other personnel who may be offsite.

Thermal imaging is monitoring maintenance professionals can carry out at a safe distance from machinery, which may be hard to reach or dangerous to access because of high voltage or temperature extremes.

Experiment more broadly

Tour your facility with a thermal imaging device at your side and take pictures of as many of your assets as you can. You may be surprised by how many pieces of machinery — from electric motors to hydraulic pumps to transformers to misaligned conveyor belts and roller bearings — start to reveal more of their maintenance and reliability stories through one or more thermal pictures.

From construction to electrical distribution to manufacturing, there’s no limit to the industry sectors in which thermal imaging can used in preventive and proactive asset maintenance. For example, a contactless technology like infrared cameras can be particularly beneficial when monitoring food and beverage processing equipment.

Wireless versus handheld

Companies already experimenting with infrared cameras typically use handheld devices rather than wireless alternatives. If you want to engage in condition monitoring of one or more pieces of equipment, then mount a wireless thermal imaging sensor to ensure precision both about the location from which images are captured and the focus point of the camera. You can preselect the frequency of image capture, whether once per minute, hour or day. You can also set thresholds for push alarm notifications to be sent to you and your colleagues any time those temperatures are reached.

You have the flexibility to move a wireless thermal imaging device around your facility, if needed, or have it monitoring a heat map of several nearby pieces of equipment rather than focusing on a single center point on an individual asset.

Add thermal imaging to your reliability program

The semi-fixed, wireless thermal imager can be mounted in one location or easily moved if another asset needs monitoring.

There are three stages to move through to advance from experimentation to making thermal imaging a regular part of your reliability routine. First, establish a baseline reference for each asset you’re measuring (For example, is this thermal imaging parameter good or bad? Is it within spec for the piece of machinery being assessed?). You can also use the devices to conduct basic troubleshooting on your equipment through the capture of any spot abnormalities.

The second stage is collecting data on a regular basis so that you can start to identify trends and anticipate likely machinery failure.

The third stage is analysis, which means reviewing graphically the historical data you’ve gathered alongside the individual thermal images through graphs. You may be comparing the thermal patterns of identical assets to determine why one is running hotter or colder than the other.

You should also think about how best to combine multiple parameters from different monitoring devices. For example, adding thermal imaging to an existing vibration-focused maintenance program examining the performance of chilled water motors and pumps was recommended to for a facility. While the vibration analysis indicated a problem with a particular motor, the infrared picture revealed a far worse situation that was not vibration-related but electrical.

Become more proactive

In conclusion, wireless thermal imaging can help maintenance professionals safely and quickly figure out issues in equipment that may be hazardous or hard for them to access and view directly. Infrared cameras help advance an existing reliability program further to deliver actionable data for proactive rather than reactive maintenance activities. In the case of wireless thermal imaging, a picture truly is worth a thousand words.

Discover more about monitoring with thermal imaging sensors by tuning into this best practices webinar.


About the author: Frederic Baudart, CMRP, is lead product application specialist for Accelix, a Fluke Corporation division, focusing on the company’s process, electrical and mechanical product lines. He has 20 years of experience in field service engineering work and the preventive maintenance industry. He has held field services and technical positions with responsibility for installation and commissioning as well as service management roles. Baudart is Thermal/Infrared Thermography Level I certified and holds technical degrees in electrical and instrumentation engineering from Chome-Wynz technical college in Brussels, Belgium. Click here to learn more.