Infrared imaging spots failure before it happens

By Bob Sperber

Condition monitoring can be used online, as seen in a now-underway steel-plant project in which infrared (IR) imaging is being integrated with real-time plant operations. IR cameras identify and check for hot spots in 20-ft. by 50-ft. ladles of molten steel as they make their way through the plant. The critical assets are ceramic brick refractory linings that are subject to thinning and cracks.

A hot spot in the refractory can indicate weakness; a break-out allows 200 tons of molten steel to pour uncontrollably, threatening millions of dollars in equipment. A single drop can kill a person.

Sixth Sense Processware, Mississauga, Ontario, has interfaced data-managing software with IR cameras from FLIR Systems ( to provide real-time safety alarming, as well as minute-by-minute data trending "to predict how many heating cycles remain until a ladle needs maintenance," says John Craven, president of Sixth Sense. "We might see that based on the rate the refractory has been thinning, they might only have three more uses, and can schedule maintenance knowing they will have that ladle out of commission for a week."

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