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New predictive maintenance monitoring and diagnostics tools take charge

Sheila Kennedy says predictive technologies can provide a benefit to electrical systems.

By Sheila Kennedy, contributing editor

Predictive maintenance of electrical systems helps to prevent electrical hazards and downtime and optimize power quality. New electrical testers, mobility solutions, infrared (IR) thermometers, thermal imaging cameras, and temperature monitoring systems are available to protect and enhance the health of electrical systems. Service providers are adopting new technologies to improve performance.

Smart data management

Software, hardware, and smart devices combine to enable predictive maintenance (PdM) efficiencies and safety improvements. The EX850 from Extech is an all-purpose electrical tester. Its new Clamp Meter for Android allows readings to be transmitted for remote monitoring on smartphones and tablets using integrated Bluetooth technology and a free Android app.

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“The EX850 handles a 1,000 A range while providing full digital multimeter functionality, along with built-in IR, which is a key differentiator,” explains Sam Ruback, product specialist at Flir Commercial Systems (www.flir.com), Extech division. “The EX850 also now features a new remote mobile viewer app. This enables plant maintenance personnel to perform safer checks, and it gives them better visibility for tricky measurements in hard-to-reach areas.”

Tango Mobile from 24/7 Systems streamlines electrical system inspections by allowing the findings to be recorded on tablets or smartphones instead of paper forms. Tango Roundslogging, which allows route inspections to be defined for either numeric trend data or state observations, also supports data collection via a tablet or smartphone.

“With thousands of electrical panels and motor control center buckets to maintain, smartphones and tablets are becoming important tools for electrical technicians,” says Forrest Pardue, president of 24/7 Systems (www.tf7.com). “With Tango Mobile, they quickly retrieve details about breakers, loads, feeds, and safety procedures like lockout/tagout through the phone and then post problems found through IR thermography or electrical testing to a browser-based dashboard for repair action.”

Temperature monitoring

Temperature monitoring can detect issues such as conduction problems, thermal runaways, or contact quality problems. Fluke’s 62 Max and 62 Max+ infrared thermometers offer resistance to dust, water, and drops from 9.8 ft to wood floors. Their small size, trigger-click operation, and backlit display enhance usability.

“An infrared scan using an IR thermometer or thermal imager can easily find a problem in a circuit panel. Electrical circuits under load naturally emit heat as a by-product,” says Jeff Abramson, director of thermography at Fluke (www.fluke.com). “Excessive heat is a clue that the system is not functioning normally. Issues such as a loose connection or phase imbalance will change the heat signature, and the infrared image will show you exactly which component is excessively hot.”

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Sheila Kennedy is a professional freelance writer specializing in industrial and technical topics.Sheila Kennedy is a professional freelance writer specializing in industrial and technical topics. She established Additive Communications in 2003 to serve software, technology, and service providers in industries such as manufacturing and utilities, and became a contributing editor and Technology Toolbox columnist for Plant Services in 2004. Prior to Additive Communications, she had 11 years of experience implementing industrial information systems. Kennedy earned her B.S. at Purdue University and her MBA at the University of Phoenix. She can be reached at sheila@addcomm.com.

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The Predator Series of thermal imaging cameras from General Tools & Instruments (www.generaltools.com) can detect small temperature differences from a distance by colorizing an object’s infrared radiation. Optional interchangeable lenses avoid the downtime associated with lens recalibration.

“The min/max search spot on all of our cameras and the profile analysis feature on our GTi30 and GTi50 allow the user to zero in and detect small differences in temperature,” says Kevin Basso, chief engineer at General. “This enables the user to quickly identify overloaded circuits, unbalanced loads, loose or corroded terminal connections or various other temperature fluctuations.” Extended temperature range models are now being added to the line.

With Schneider Electric’s wireless temperature monitoring system, continuous monitoring of energized electrical connection points is possible. The system’s cable-free design lowers installation costs. Sensors can even be installed on equipment with high arc flash ratings.

“The wireless temperature monitoring system provides 24/7 temperature monitoring of critical connection points within electrical distribution equipment via sensors placed in locations that are inaccessible to infrared cameras,” says Mike Price, product manager, Schneider Electric Projects & Services (www.schneider-electric.us). “The ongoing temperature monitoring provides trending data to help anticipate and plan maintenance activities, as well as detect abnormal conditions in a timely manner.”

PdM service providers

Third-party condition monitoring service providers may employ multiple technologies to detect electrical anomalies. Allied Reliability blends thermography, motor circuit evaluation, motor current signature analysis, and ultrasound to provide analysis down to the point of origin.

“With the addition of advanced and sensitive electronics, such as variable frequency drives, into the mainstream of electrical control, our testing procedures have moved from simple current and voltage to spectrums, power quality, and proper installation practices,” says T.J. Garten, electrical subject matter expert at Allied Reliability (www.alliedreliability.com). “Knowledge of all aspects of each piece of electrical equipment is essential to preserving electrical system health.”

Read Sheila Kennedy's monthly column, Technology Toolbox.