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Thermography heats up

Jan. 21, 2013
Sheila Kennedy says detect hot-spot anomalies early with infrared equipment.

Thermography is a vital component of industrial predictive maintenance programs. Taking regular infrared temperature measurements of critical equipment ensures that anomalies that cause hot spots are detected early, before damage can occur. Recent technological developments are improving image quality and the speed of problem diagnostics and correction. Equipment trials and training opportunities are optimizing imager selection decisions for newcomers to the practice.

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Some applications require multiple temperature readings but not necessarily a high-definition thermal image. Fluke’s new VT02 Visual IR Thermometer combines the advantages of thermal imagers and IR thermometers in an economical, compact tool. It blends thermal and digital imagery to instantly detect problems, and displays and saves the images in full visual, full infrared, or blended modes.

“The VT02 uses a unique pyroelectric array to provide you with an infrared heat map, previously only available on thermal imagers at three to five times the price,” says Jeff Abramson, Fluke (www.fluke.com) engineer. “For example, scanning a circuit breaker box with a spot IR thermometer takes minutes and can be error-prone, while a scan with the VT02 will take moments and give you a visual image you can save and publish in a report for your customer.”

Finding and diagnosing problems is easier with vivid thermal imagery and simplified workflows. Flir’s new T-series cameras feature MSX multi-spectral dynamic imaging, which adds the crispness and clarity of visual images to infrared/thermal images. Flir’s T420 and T440 thermal imagers can instantly highlight problem areas, even from a distance. Thermographers can add voice and text comments to the images, and draw circles and arrows directly on the T440’s touchscreen. Flir Tools Mobile app streams video and connects Flir imagers to Apple and Android devices, improving communication.

“Flir’s ‘diagnostic ecosystem’ is a new approach to thermography that goes beyond the thermal imager itself and transforms the workflows and communication between tools and personal devices, as well as between technicians and site managers or decision-makers,” says David Pelletier, development engineer at Flir Systems (www.flir.com).

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 [email protected].
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Thermographic measurement quality depends on the imager’s sensitivity and resolution. The new Testo 875i thermal imager has high thermal sensitivity of < 50 mK, allowing even very small temperature differences to be measured. Its image quality of 160x120 pixels can be increased to 320x240 pixels with Testo’s SuperResolution technology.

“Testo thermal imagers enhance any facility maintenance program by providing a precision-engineered measurement tool, which provides fast and accurate data collection and reporting,” says Kevin Lesnewski, product manager, Thermal Imaging Division at Testo (www.testousa.com/thermal). “Visually see thermal anomalies with an easy-to-use imager and reduce production stops because of an unseen problem missed during inspection.”

Sofradir EC (www.ircores.com) recently introduced three new high-definition uncooled thermal imaging camera engines with continuous zoom capability. The Atom 1024 camera engines’ 1024x768 microbolometer detector array results in extremely high resolution in an XGA format. With continuous optical zoom, an observer can maintain a constant view of moving surveilled objects, making the camera suitable for vehicles in motion, portable systems, and fast-moving equipment.

Those new to thermal imaging should consider equipment trials and professional training. Wahl Instruments recently announced a free-rental program for its z30 and z50 series Heat Spy thermal imaging cameras. The pre-configured, ready-to-use units can be used on site for up to seven days at no charge, other than the cost of shipping.

"Although thermal imagers have decreased in price over the past several years, they still represent a significant investment,” says Gary Lux, T/IRT Level II thermographer at Palmer Wahl Instrumentation Group (www.palmerwahl.com). “The best approach to choosing the right imager is to first try it in your facility. Protect your investment by choosing an imager with a no-fault, free replacement warranty in case it is damaged."

If you’re new to the technology, undertake training before you buy an imager to make sure the best acquisition decision is made, advises Jim Seffrin, director of Infraspection Institute (www.infraspection.com). “Although today’s imagers are quite user friendly, they’re not simply point-and-shoot. There is a certain level of physics involved,” he explains.

In addition to equipment training, Seffrin recommends that buyers receive quality certification training from an independent institute. New user training should include infrared theory and heat transfer concepts, equipment selection and operation, image capture and analysis, standards compliance, applications-specific inspection techniques, documentation of findings, and temperature measurement techniques.