What is infrared thermography?

Infrared thermography is the detection of heat emitted by objects to identify signs of potential equipment failures before they occur. This innovative form of non-destructive testing involves imaging cameras that capture radiation invisible to the naked eye. The cameras translate heat into thermograms, with each color indicating a different temperature, allowing the identification of hot spots. 

This technology is useful for predictive maintenance and is versatile and applicable across equipment types. It can be applied to robust rotating components such as motors and turbines or crucial electrical parts like circuit breakers and wiring. With it, organizations can pinpoint areas with friction or reveal electrical resistance that might trigger malfunctions. It is an invaluable method of ensuring operations and averting downtime.

Benefits of infrared thermography

Infrared (IR) cameras and their readings provide key benefits that optimize and improve maintenance practices across various industries. 

1. Quick anomaly detection with real-time imaging

IR cameras immediately identify temperature variations, allowing maintenance teams to identify and address issues swiftly. This rapid temperature measurement avoids the need for lengthy tests or inspections and aids in preventing equipment failures while minimizing work disruptions.

2. Safe, non-contact inspections

Thermal cameras and infrared detectors do not physically touch the equipment, making them ideal for inspecting moving components, high-temperature surfaces, and inaccessible areas. 

This feature enhances safety protocols by keeping workers physically separate from hazardous environments or situations. You can even continue operating the equipment while conducting IR imaging assessments.

3. Preventative maintenance through early detection 

Thermography helps identify hotspots and irregularities in infrared energy that don’t appear as visible light. As a regular component of a preventive maintenance program, it assists in detecting problems like overheating components and insulation issues and can prevent issues from escalating into major operational disruptions.

4. Flexibility and multiple uses

Passive thermography is highly adaptable and can be used across various mechanical and electrical systems, making it valuable for many uses within any organization. Whether used for inspecting connections or monitoring wear and tear on parts, the technology meets diverse maintenance needs.

5. Better energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness

Infrared thermography enhances energy efficiency by pinpointing areas of heat transfer or energy loss. By producing solutions to issues such as insulation or electrical overload, it helps reduce unnecessary energy consumption but also leads to significant cost savings by preventing extensive repairs.

6. Enhanced equipment dependability

Using thermography regularly boosts the reliability of machinery by assisting in maintenance activities that keep it running optimally. This reliability particularly pays off in industries where machine breakdowns can result in production setbacks or safety concerns.

7. Decreased insurance costs

Certain insurance providers offer discounted premiums to companies that adopt maintenance approaches such as those utilizing thermography. This is because these diagnostics greatly reduce the likelihood of accidents and equipment malfunctions.

By harnessing thermographic images you can optimize operations for efficiency, safety, and cost-effectiveness, ultimately leading to prolonged equipment longevity and enhanced performance.

How does infrared thermography technology work? 

Thermal imaging provides a unique “X-ray vision” for heat detection, revealing invisible heat – or infrared radiation – that every object around us emits. This radiation, with its specific wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum, isn’t visible to the naked eye, but IR cameras are adept at capturing it. They convert this electromagnetic radiation into a visual heatmap, translating the surface temperature of objects into a spectrum of colors.

Equipped with sensitive detectors, these cameras can discern subtle temperature differences and assign pixel colors to represent those different ranges. Regions of higher emissivity or thermal energy might appear in vibrant reds and oranges, signaling potential issues like friction or component overheating. On the flip side, cooler thermal signatures, shown in blues and greens, could point to reduced activity or obstructions. This capability is crucial for preventive maintenance, enabling teams to spot and address problems early on, all without the need to shut down equipment.

How do you use infrared thermography for predictive maintenance? 

Thermal cameras play a role in preventive maintenance across a wide variety of industrial applications. But how does infrared data support the prevention of breakdowns through prediction?

  1. Regular monitoring: Technicians use cameras to routinely inspect equipment thermally. This encompasses machinery including electrical systems, motors, bearings, HVAC units, and building diagnostics to establish a range of optimal operating temperatures for each equipment piece.
  2. Analysis of data: The thermal images taken during inspections offer a representation of the equipment’s thermal characteristics. By examining the normal temperature distribution, technicians can then identify abnormalities such as electrical issues, mechanical wear, or insulation damage.
  3. Issuing work orders: Once a potential problem is spotted, the maintenance team issues work orders for investigation or immediate repairs. This targeted approach ensures that maintenance efforts are concentrated on areas that truly require attention making the best use of resources and time.
  4. Completing maintenance: Based on information gathered from a thermal imaging camera, maintenance tasks are performed to tackle precise issues. This could involve adjustments, intricate repairs, or replacing parts. The goal is to fix any issues before they result in equipment breakdowns.
  5. Follow-up and documentation: Once maintenance tasks are finished, the equipment undergoes another inspection using thermography to confirm that the problems have been resolved. This follow-up step is crucial for confirming the effectiveness of the maintenance work. Keeping records of images before and after repairs serves as a reference for future use.

By integrating thermography into a maintenance strategy, organizations can establish a more efficient, cost-effective, and dependable maintenance program.

Infrared thermography in action: industry use cases

Thermographic inspection is widely used across industries to improve maintenance practices and prevent equipment breakdowns.

  • Manufacturing: The use of infrared cameras is common in this sector to oversee production-critical machinery and electrical systems. The goal is to pinpoint issues like overheating motors or electrical connections in order to avoid costly downtime.
  • Energy: Infrared imaging is crucial for power plants as it helps maintain the efficiency of electrical connections, transformers, and other components, maintaining optimal operation and safety.  
  • Building and construction: Infrared thermography plays a role in identifying heat loss or leaks, insulation, and moisture intrusion in buildings to promote energy efficiency and structural stability.
  • Oil and gas: Monitoring pipelines and storage tanks with imaging helps identify and prevent conditions where leaks may occur, safeguarding against environmental hazards and ensuring operational safety.
  • Transportation: Thermal imaging technology in railways and maritime operations helps detect overheating components like wheel bearings in trains. This helps improve safety and reliability.

Many other industries can benefit from the real-time monitoring capabilities of thermography which quickly and easily identify potential for equipment malfunctions while ensuring continuous safe operations.

How to introduce a condition-based monitoring program

Implementing a condition monitoring initiative is a decision that can greatly improve maintenance procedures in any industry. A few critical steps can help you kickstart the process, focusing specifically on maximizing the benefits of thermography.

  1. Assess your needs: Start by assessing the maintenance challenges and goals within your organization. Identify assets and systems in your operations that would gain the most from condition-based monitoring.
  2. Learn about thermography: Get acquainted with the fundamentals of infrared thermography. This technology enables you to visualize and measure thermal radiation emitted by equipment, aiding in the detection of potential issues before they escalate into failures.
  3. Train your team: Invest in training programs and webinars for your maintenance staff. Equipping them with knowledge of operating cameras and interpretation of images is essential for effectively integrating this technology into your maintenance practices.
  4. Set up a schedule for monitoring: Decide how often you should conduct inspections depending on the criticality of the equipment and its maintenance history.
  5. Use data analysis: Use software to analyze the images you gather. Look for any patterns or signs that may indicate problems. Establish a baseline of readings for well-functioning equipment to help identify any deviations more easily.
  6. Build into maintenance routines: Integrate the results from your imaging into your maintenance processes. Create work orders based on irregularities. Monitor the effectiveness of your actions.
  7. Evaluate and adapt: Regularly assess the outcomes of your condition-based monitoring plan. Make changes to your strategies and schedules based on the insights you gain in order to continually enhance your maintenance procedures.

Learn more about making the switch to proactive maintenance

When organizations move from reacting to issues to preventing and predicting them they can anticipate problems before they become headaches. Infrared technology, when used as part of a condition-based monitoring plan, can play a role in this shift. 

Our guide to switching from reactive to preventive maintenance simplifies the process of establishing a solid maintenance program and incorporating technologies, like infrared thermal imaging, to enhance its effectiveness.

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