National Grain and Feed Associaton

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Volume 11, Number 3, March 12, 2009

Predictive Maintenance and Use of Infrared Thermography
By David A. Fairfield Director of Feed Services National Grain and Feed Association
[Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a periodic series on various aspects of preventive maintenance programs for grain elevators, feed mills and grain processing facilities. The first four articles in this series were published on Nov. 7 and Dec. 18, 2008, and on Jan. 15 and Feb. 12, 2009. You are encouraged to share these publications with those at your facility responsible for preventive maintenance and safety programs.]

Ever wish you knew precisely the right time to perform equipment maintenance to keep equipment operating efficiently in a cost-effective way? Now, there’s technology that can provide an assist. Infrared thermography is a predictive maintenance tool that may be used to measure the temperatures of plant equipment, structures and electrical systems to assist in determining if operating conditions are within allowable temperature limits. The term “infrared” refers to that range of invisible radiation wavelengths just longer than red in the visible spectrum. The term “thermography” refers to the use of techniques for detecting and measuring variations in the heat emitted by various objects and transforming these indicators into visible signals. Thus, the term “infrared thermography” refers to the detection of infrared radiation to determine the temperature of an object.

Infrared thermography is termed a “predictive” maintenance tool because it is used to help determine the condition of in-service equipment and systems to predict when maintenance should be performed. The ultimate goal of predictive maintenance is to perform maintenance at a scheduled point in time when the activity may be accomplished in the most costeffective manner and before the equipment or system loses optimum performance. This approach may offer cost savings over routine or time-based preventive maintenance, because tasks are performed only when warranted. Through the use of infrared thermography, maintenance personnel or technicians may detect temperature discrepancies – areas that are hotter or colder than allowable – within equipment and systems. This information then can be used to take corrective action before a costly shutdown, equipment damage or personal injury occurs.

How Does Infrared Thermography Work?
Infrared thermography equipment works on the principle that objects having a temperature above absolute zero emit thermal energy or infrared radiation. The frequency of infrared radiation emitted from an object is related to its surface temperature. Although infrared radiation has a wavelength longer than that of visible light, thermographic equipment detects the radiation and converts it into an electrical signal that can be displayed in units of temperature or as an image. Measuring temperature with infrared methods is complicated because three sources of thermal energy can be detected from any object: energy emitted from the object itself; energy

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Further analysis of the mechanical system usually is necessary to determine the cause(s) of the excessive temperature. infrared imaging systems provide the means to scan the infrared emissions of complete machines. may affect the amount of thermal energy emitted as infrared radiation by plant equipment or systems. Main- tenance personnel and technicians should compensate for these possible variations when conducting infrared thermography inspections to ensure accurate results. relatively small point on a machine or surface. All mechanical systems generate thermal energy during normal operations that allows infrared thermography to evaluate the operating condition of the equipment. and energy transmitted by the object. Water vapor and other gases may absorb infrared radiation. Higher-end devices may feature a microprocessor-based.reflected from the object. The cost of an infrared imaging system may be substantial. An excessive amount of friction may be caused by wear. Uses for Infrared Thermography There are a variety of potential applications for infrared thermometers and infrared imaging systems to assist in determining the condition of in-service equipment and systems at grain elevators. The following are some potential uses of infrared thermometers and imaging systems within grain elevators. Only thermal energy emitted from an object is important for the purposes of predictive maintenance. color-imaging system. Or. depending upon the features of the system. Infrared thermometers are commercially available and are relatively inexpensive. Excessive temperatures may be generated by friction. Once a normal thermal condition is obtained and understood. these devices may be useful for measuring temperature under circumstances where thermocouples or other probe type sensors cannot be used or do not produce accurate data for a variety of reasons. Types of Infrared Thermography Devices Two general types of devices are used for infrared thermography within predictive maintenance programs: infrared thermometers and infrared imaging systems. Infrared Imaging Systems: Unlike an infrared thermometer. Infrared thermometers provide the actual surface temperature at a single. infrared thermal devices often are more useful for locating a problem area than for indicating the root cause of the excessive temperature. In contrast. misalignment. Infrared Thermometers: Infrared thermometers sometimes are called laser thermometers if a laser is used to help aim the thermometer. lower-end devices may include features such as black-andwhite images and limited storage capability. The temperatures indicated by the device typically are produced within a component that is not visible directly. Most imaging systems function much like a video camera. deviations from this normal condition then may provide evidence that a potential problem is developing. feed mills and grain processing facilities. Maintenance personnel and technicians using infrared thermographic devices need to be familiar with the mechanical components being evaluated. feed mills and grain processing facilities: 2 Plant Operations Bulletin February 12. As such. One of the major contributors to the failure of mechanical systems can be excessive temperatures. The operator of the infrared imaging system should be trained in how to compensate for such variables to ensure the accuracy and repeatability of results. processes or systems in a very short time. and misuse. such as paint or other protective coatings. cooling degradation. Proper training and experience in the use of an infrared imaging system is essential to achieve accurate thermographic results. they may be referred to as noncontact thermometers to describe the device’s ability to measure temperature from a distance. Since most equipment or processes are designed to eliminate thermal energy under normal operation. simply identifying a thermal pattern does not mean that a problem exists. 2009 . The user can view the thermal emission profile of a wide area simply by looking through the device’s view finder. Variations in surface condition. In mechanical applications. several variables may distort infrared radiation measurements. The measured heat must conduct up through the material and present itself on the surface of the object for the temperature to be displayed by the thermographic device. These variations may change the surface temperatures and heat distribution recorded by the thermographic equipment. maintenance personnel and technicians also need to consider the atmospheric conditions between the object and the measurement device. Airborne dust. When using thermographic techniques. material loss or blockages. over or under lubrication. Reflected and transmitted energies may distort infrared data and need to be filtered out to perform meaningful temperature analysis. As previously indicated. some types of lighting and other variables also may distort infrared radiation measurements.

Abnormal thermal patterns also can identify misalignment in couplings when these devices are used in conjunction with motors. Overheating conditions are documented as hot spots within an infrared imaging system. This allows more energy to be obtained from the steam for processing needs. thus raising the overall efficiency of the steam system. so that necessary maintenance procedures may occur in a cost-effective and timely manner. Some applications may include monitoring the temperatures of bearings.Infrared Thermometers: Within a predictive maintenance program. unbalanced phase loads. while allowing gases and condensate to pass through. eventually fail. This temperature usually is stated on the nameplate of the motor and normally is given as a rise in degrees C above the ambient air temperature. Belts and Pulleys: The friction between a pulley wheel and belt generates heat. motor windings. Infrared thermometers also may be useful when a fast temperature measurement is required. electrical components. Infrared Imaging Systems: An infrared imaging system can generate useful information concerning the mechanical condition of many common mechanical and electrical systems present in grain elevators. like any mechanical device. they “blow” live steam. if possible. such as loose. electrical overload.” March 12. Infrared thermal imaging systems can identify steam traps that are blowing steam. In addition. as well as given maximum operating temperature. breakers. Hot spots identified by the imaging system within an electrical system may be caused by several conditions. connections and wiring. fuses. partial discharge. potential problems can be located. insulation failure and degradation in the rotor or stator can be identified with an infrared thermal imaging system. feed mills and grain processing facilities. Instead. This costs energy dollars for which the steam trap was installed to save. Maximum load conditions are ideal. 2009 Plant Operations Bulletin 3 . which can reduce processing efficiency and produce a variety of other potential problems. over-tightened or corroded connections. they compare similar components under the same load conditions to identify abnormal conditions. as well as those that may fail in a closed position. the electrical equipment should be under at least 40 percent of nominal load during thermal inspection. maintenance personnel may use infrared thermometers to measure the temperature at critical points on plant equipment or systems. feed mills and grain processing facilities may wish to consider using infrared thermography as a component within their preventive maintenance programs to monitor the operating condition of equipment. By comparing the thermal patterns of several pulley belt systems. When they fail in the open position. disconnects. This causes condensate backup in the steam system. Typically. Bearings: Bearing problems generally are found by a comparison of surface temperatures – comparing one bearing to another working under similar conditions. Electric Motors: All motors have a normal thermal pattern. the continuous tension and compression of the belt causes internal friction resulting in heat. Infrared thermometers may be particularly useful in measuring the temperature of moving objects or where direct contact with the object is not possible. bearing failure. Conditions such as inadequate air flow. such as bus bars. Steam Traps: Steam traps perform an important function of holding back live steam. Maintenance personnel or technicians generally do not need a specific temperature measurement. Occasionally. unbalanced voltage. and failing components. Conclusion Managers of grain elevators. Electrical Systems: An infrared imaging system may be used to inspect the condition of common electrical components. contactors. Steam traps. The temperature rise generated during both of these processes can be monitored with an infrared camera. relays. controllers. steam distribution equipment and processing systems. For best results in detecting potential problems. starters. steam traps fail in the closed position. Most are designed to fail in the open position to maintain steam system operation. thermal imaging performed for electrical inspection purposes is a comparative process. Coming Next: “Predictive Maintenance and Use of Equipment Vibration Analysis.

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