Thermal imaging sets the stage for an effective preventative maintenance (PM) program, as an infrared camera can be used to view thermally a whole electro-magnetic system. Scanning critical components, such as circuit breaker panels or switches, shows temperature differences that can help you get to root cause faster.
Combined with a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), standard PM programs aim to establish trustworthy data storage, data analysis, and measuring key indicators so that they can uncover the root cause of equipment failure. PM programs incorporate electrical, vibration, and thermal measurements so that technicians and engineers are equipped with baseline knowledge to spot anomalies. If you come across a component with a temperature that exceeds normal, you have a reason to take a closer look.
So, how do thermographers fit into the process? Almost all mechanical and electrical failures are associated with increased temperatures. This means thermal imaging’s broad applications are pretty integral for spotting issues in components that otherwise might go unnoticed. You know by now that capturing a batch of infrared images is the easy part of a thermal inspection.
What do you do after capturing thermal images? At a minimum, you should store collected images for comparative reference during the next inspection. You should also note key temperature points within the target and track those.
However, when an image reveals a situation that may require repairs, a report should be created describing what the image shows and possibly suggesting a remedy. The report can then be circulated to personnel responsible for equipment reliability, who can investigate the problem further.
The following discussion describes how to set up a thermal imaging process that leads to truly useful reports.
Planning the route
After your company or client establishes its most critical assets, you then group those units together into one or several inspection routes using the infrared camera’s software. In this moment, you write out a route description, which includes each stop’s location and the images you plan on collecting. After being loaded into the camera, the information guides the thermographer on the route.
Important reminder notes
Thermographers and supervisors can use thermal software to create route-specific reminder notes. Typically, these reminder notes include:
“Safety First” information: general safety guidelines, as well as specific dos and don’ts for each stop that will keep inspectors out of harm’s way.
Where to stand and what to view at each stop, which ensures consistency from trip to trip regardless of the person performing the route
Any relevant “how to” information about using the infrared camera, especially useful for beginners
Special conditions at specific stops along the route, such as high background heat, the possibility of heat dissipating winds, reflective surfaces, etc.
Reminder notes assist thermographers to track and compare equipment condition from one thermal reading to the next. Reminder notes help bring consistency so that, no matter who performs the inspection, you can expect accurate and effective reporting.
Thermal image collection
During route set up, you or the maintenance manager need to take thermal and digital images for every route stop. The thermal images serve both as baseline images for comparison and as examples of what to “capture” at each stop.
What to report?
When you complete the thermal inspection route, return to the maintenance department and load the collected images into the computer used to create the route. The thermal analysis and reporting software makes the transfer possible and helps maintenance personnel organize the results into reports. Reports are created to communicate findings and produce action, such as a repair order, replacement, or further monitoring. What typically gets reported, then, are anomalies—motors or bearings running hotter than others—or equipment temperatures trending toward an alarm situation.
Using the analysis and reporting software, you can enhance the images for better viewing in the report, describe the image analysis, annotate spot measurements at specific locations in images, and incorporate any comments entered during the route.
Typically, a report includes both thermal and digital images. It also includes the date, time and equipment designation and, possibly, a problem number and a work order number. It might also include diagnostic comments, if the reporter is competent to make such judgments. (For a detailed listing of what a report might include, see Paragraph 7, “Report,” of the latest edition of ASTM Standard E 1934, Standard Guide for Examining Electrical and Mechanical Equipment with Infrared Thermography.)
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