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Corroded breakers arcing, short circuiting, and starting an electrical fire. A worn motor bearing causing major production delays. How can electrical professionals detect such dangerous and expensive problems before they happen? One key strategy to increase worker safety and equipment reliability is predictive maintenance (PdM). Simply put, PdM means having the maintenance tools and routines to flag conditions in the field well in advance of a failure. Not only does this help identify potentially dangerous situations, it ensures that facilities and equipment stay optimized for reliable, high performance and maximum up time.
In the current economic downturn, having an effective PdM program in place helps keep operating costs down by detecting imminent failures before costly replacements are needed and ensures excess energy isn’t used due to inefficiently operating equipment. The latter point not only appeals to business leaders trying to control costs, but, from a green business perspective, also ensures that plant assets are not increasing a company’s carbon footprint or releasing toxins from electrical fires or other hazardous breakdowns.
PdM: How Do Infrared Cameras Fit In?
Infrared thermal imaging plays a central role in predictive maintenance. By viewing plant machinery or equipment with an infrared camera, the thermal images reveal hot spots that may lead to future malfunctions, overheating, damage to machinery or facilities, or injury to personnel. Repairs or maintenance can be performed at the safest and most cost-effective opportunity.
Electrical systems: Thermal imaging cameras detect heat associated with loose, worn, or corroded contacts or connections; overloaded or uneven power distribution; or damaged insulation. (For more examples, see the related table, “A Closer Look at Electrical System Failures.”)
Electro-mechanical systems: Coupled with vibration and oil analysis, thermography is the first line of defense when assessing the condition of mechanical plant equipment. Infrared cameras reveal abnormal heat generated from compromised components such as clogged steam traps, strained compressors, worn valves, pitted or under-lubricated bearings, or a misaligned pump and motor – all while in op eration and without a teardown. Infrared cameras are a key component of non destructive maintenance.
Structural assets: Infrared cameras monitor, locate and repair many otherwise hidden conditions in a building such as heating and cooling loss through improperly insulated areas; moisture damage and mold growth from plumbing or rain water issues; termite damage; or potential electrical problems. Infrared can eliminate time consuming and costly direct-contact processes such as removal of ceiling, wall or floor panels, or other hard to reach areas.
“Old School” Resistance: “PdM is a Waste of Time”
It’s probably no surprise that some electrical and plant professionals today still consider predictive maintenance to be a “waste of time.” After all, the equipment will get maintained on a preventive schedule, or when it needs repair, right? The fact is, predictive inspections are necessary because even one missed problem could be extremely costly, if not dangerous as well. Many third-party testing companies can easily name facilities where such failures are just waiting to happen. The attempt at saving money by deferring or eliminating testing and maintenance usually proves to be very costly and occasionally, results in lost lives.
In-house Infrared Cameras: Budget is no longer an excuse
Due to increasingly restricted budgets and historically high prices for infrared cameras, predictive maintenance using infrared thermography was simply not done in many facilities or, it has been done using third-party consultants. Actually having an infrared camera in-house however was often deemed “not in the budget.” Now, as more affordable, robust, and easy to use infrared thermal imagers become available, budget is no longer an excuse. You can still afford a quality infrared camera. Having the capability to evaluate electrical and mechanical equipment in real time is unbeatable. By quickly identifying problem areas with an infrared camera on-hand, the savings a company earns from nipping costly failures in the bud will quickly exceed the lower cost of newer, more affordable infrared camera models. Rapid ROI, payback – call it what you will. At the end of the day, the small investment in one or several affordable infrared cameras will be repaid several times over from the savings in uptime and efficient plant assets.
Bottom-line: Newer, more affordable infrared cameras are easier on the budget and they belong among the tools of every electrical and plant professional as part of an effective Predictive Maintenance strategy.
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