Thermography can detect failures before they occur

May 18, 2011
Joel Leonard, contributing editor, explores infrared technology and the fight for maintenance tools.

During my journey to the MaintWorld Congress in Helsinki, Finland, the SAS Airbus we flew was equipped with cameras and monitors that treated passengers to views of the horizon and the earth below. The rays of sunlight and various hues of the spectrum were on complete display when we entered daybreak in Europe. Seeing those energy waves made me reflect on a recent interview with Jim Seffrin, director of the Infraspection Institute, about infrared technology and how it can help resolve some of the challenges of the Maintenance Crisis.

Me: How can thermography help us fight the Maintenance Crisis?

JS: When used as a predictive maintenance (PdM) or condition-based monitoring (CBM) tool, thermography can help to fight the maintenance crisis in several ways. The first is early detection of incipient failures. Because many types of electrical and mechanical system failures are preceded by a change in operating temperature, thermography detects evidence of problems before catastrophic failure occurs. Combined with timely, effective repairs, data from an infrared inspection can help to reduce unscheduled downtime and the losses associated with it. It also lets you use existing manpower more effectively by directing efforts to areas needing repair, thereby reducing preventive maintenance. Also, thermography can be used to monitor the performance of existing systems and document the results of engineered changes.

Thermography can be used to help ensure that new equipment is operating as designed and within specs. Detected problems can be addressed in their earliest stages, thus helping to ensure longer equipment life. Finally there’s energy savings. Thermal imaging can be used to identify energy loss from systems, processes and structures. By reducing excess energy loss, companies save money and reduce negative environmental effects.

Me: How can infrared technology stimulate the economy?

JS: When used as an integral part of energy audits, thermography can detect evidence of excess energy loss. Correcting deficiencies not only saves a company money, but also provides job opportunities for those who perform the inspections, as well as those providing repairs and improvements. Money saved as a result of infrared inspections helps to increase a company’s profits that can be used for other purposes.

Me: Is it really a solution to the Maintenance Crisis?

JS: Because thermography is a skilled trade, it provides job opportunities for workers. It’s not a commodity that can be imported, nor one that will be replaced by automation in the future.

Me: Can this help attract future generations to develop appropriate skills?


JS: Absolutely. Thermography is both interesting and challenging. It can provide a rewarding career opportunity for those with a background in electrical or mechanical systems or knowledge of construction. Currently, the demand for thermographers is at an all-time high. This situation is likely to continue for the next several years.

Me: Can this technology enhance existing workers in their jobs?

JS: When combined with a worker’s existing skill set, thermography provides a new area of opportunities. An experienced thermographer can play an integral role in the reliability of a facility infrastructure, manufacturing operations and product design. Thermography enables a workforce to work smarter, not harder. Used properly, information gleaned from thermography can help significantly increase a company’s bottom line.

That bottom line was a huge concern in Helsinki, where it was very cold and I found the snowball and the chance that we are making progress while attending several of the conference sessions. I met Bryarlie Dear, who serves Saipem, one of the major service companies in the oil and gas sector, and who has a tradition and reputation of working in difficult countries and frontier areas of the world.

Dear shared with me that he thought the first-ever MaintWorld Congress, through the globally acknowledged speakers, addressed today’s issues of maintenance from techniques and technology to financial results and strategy. Overviews of maintenance in specific plants, countries and even whole industrial sectors, gave attendees new ideas, viewpoints, facts and an excellent opportunity to build or enlarge their professional network of friends. This dense, compact, congress was well-balanced in terms of subjects, and the compiled book of abstracts that was given to each participant, is an excellent takeaway.

So if more leaders leverage solutions provided from both the heavens and from Helsinki, we can mitigate the challenges of the Maintenance Crisis. And, as my new Helsinki friends said, “We are far from ‘Finnished,’ we are just getting started to fight and need more help.”

Email Contributing Editor Joel Leonard at [email protected].

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