Infrared Thermography / Predictive Maintenance

Hot take: What's next for infrared

In this Big Picture Interview, Roy Huff explores the implications for industry when you can buy a personal IR camera at Home Depot.

By Christine LaFave Grace, managing editor, and Thomas Wilk, editor in chief

Roy Huff is vice president of Barre, VT-based The Snell Group, a provider of infrared and EMT training, consulting, and services. He previously spent 12 years as an equipment reliability engineer at Allied Signal Aerospace, where he helped develop the company’s infrared program. Last month, he presented a workshop at SMRP’s 25th annual conference in Kansas City, MO, on infrared’s evolving uses and applications. In this interview Huff discusses that topic further with Plant Services editors Thomas Wilk and Christine LaFave Grace.

PS: Plant Services’ PdM survey earlier this year found that infrared thermography is the most-used PdM technology, as reported by readers. How are you seeing IR being used with other PdM technologies?

It’s a little bit of everything. If we look at the industry best-practices model, it’s really going to be suggesting that we’re applying all of the appropriate technologies to all of the critical assets at a recommended inspection frequency, and it’s all based on criticality. In some cases as programs evolve, they can plan to get there, but it takes time. If I can do more than one technology, it gives me a much better feel for making that decision to plan and schedule that repair, and maybe a better feel for the urgency of that repair.

Two technologies that I think work wonderfully together are ultrasound and IR. Both can be the lead technology. I just recently had a couple of major examples where one technology found an issue and the other one didn’t, and vice-versa, but all during an electrical inspection. So when you see those situations where I wouldn’t have heard this or I wouldn’t have seen that without the other technology, how can you not go into the field without both of them if you only have access to these electrical systems on a monthly, quarterly, or semiannual basis?

Some condition monitoring programs might use infrared on assets that are not currently on the vibration route. So not critical enough to make the vibration route but still important to their manufacturing process or safety.

PS: With so much data now coming from IR cameras, has storage technology – whether it’s cloud or on-premise servers – advanced to the point where people can store it for some time and process it later, or is this more of a real-time situation?

Predominantly it’s real-time. They’re looking to make adjustments or corrections as soon as possible because whatever they’re seeing is a variation that would affect product quality. They may have an alarm limit that says, “OK, it’s a little bit warm or a little bit cool here, what in the process could have changed?”

The other thing is some high-end cameras are able to capture what’s called radiometric images. These are full, dynamic-range images that allow postprocessing adjustments. Now handheld cameras, some of them, are adding radiometric image capabilities where they can capture extended-time data rather than just a single image.

PS: What’s next for the technology, and how are organizations going to be able to use it more effectively?

What’s happened in the infrared industry specifically in the last couple of years is infrared cameras are now available at Home Depot, for example. $500 cameras. When I came into this industry, everything was $50,000 to $75,000 cameras, with that camera treated like gold, and one user was the specialist and would pull the camera down off the shelf once or twice a year. Now that we’re looking at a camera that’s the cost of a good ohmmeter, I don’t see how we could not get these in the hands of nearly everybody.

There are still routes done by the professional camera, but these low-end or what we’re calling personal cameras are in the hands of nearly every electrical or mechanical technician out there as a troubleshooting tool or a second set of eyes.

And this statement may get people to roll their eyes, but I really think that with a proper procedure and proper guidelines, I see these cameras being handed off to operations for daily walkdowns on their equipment. How could you not, for $500? “This is what it should look like, and if it doesn’t, you report it to maintenance.” And then they bring the professional camera out and do their evaluation.

We’ve got these low-end (in cost) cameras – that’s going to allow us to do continuous monitoring on a lot more equipment than we’ve ever done before.