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Infrared Safari:  A Photo Essay on the Hunt for Reliability Problems with Thermography

 An IR-Fusion blended image of a bull elephant. He has a mission, but we don’t always know what it is.

A perpetually hungry hyena on the prowl for the weak and sick. This bold and opportunistic predator-scavenger is always lurking in the darkness.

This high-resistance electrical connection cannot hide with the thermal imager!

A properly operating steam strap showing a hot steam side and a cooler condensate side. I’ve seen malfunctioning steam traps that cost up to $2000 per year in lost steam!

Some equipment fuse problems stand out like a zebra on the open plain.

Improperly operating heating coils caused this uneven thermal image in a paper mill. Gonna have to scrap this roll.

A coupling alignment issue causes abnormal heating on both the motor side and the load side. If you look really close, the infrared image even picks up the wobble.

Sometimes your problems lurk up high, where they are hard to detect. Here, a sticky roller bearing heats up and also creates drag on the conveyor belt, and added load on the conveyor motors.

The third compressor (in the back) does not appear to be operating properly. All three are on and are supposed to be doing the same job. Must be sick.

Use of a high-temperature color alarm shows a probable blockage in this process line in a fruit-packing plant.

Whoa! This is a hot one! A 380°F blade connection problem on the center phase fuse.

Here, a plant engineer has confirmed that the tank level gauges are, in fact, not working properly. He was expecting a full tank. 

This image shows signs of refractory breakdown in a cement kiln (furnace). An elephant-sized problem here could be catastrophic for this plant.

Belts that are out of alignment, too tight, or too loose can cause slow and steady damage to both the motors and the loads if not dealt with in a timely manner.

Looks like there is a potential current overload issue here.

Specialized equipment is more difficult to diagnose, but the line maintenance technician saw enough from this image to know that something was amiss.

The air circulation fan motor in the front of this annealing furnace appears to be overheating. If it were to go out unexpectedly, the whole operation would go down, and probably stay down for two weeks.

Sometimes, you catch multiple problems in one shot. This image shows an apparent problem with the pillow-block bearing on the left, and a possible bearing issue on the drive motor.

A close-up of the bearing area on the motor confirms suspicions.

Quite often, the use of an IR-Fusion infrared-visible blend really makes all of the “hyenas” apparent… even in the “tall grass” of this crowded control cabinet.

The hot spot is not always the root problem. There appears to be a possible blown fuse or single-phasing here (top leg).

Simple high-resistance blade connection (top fuse) in some older switchgear. Over time, the fit sometimes become loose. This can cause issues when you least expect it.

The issues are not always clear at first... but you know something is wrong. Here, the fuses in this disconnect look fine, but there is significant, unexpected heat coming from somewhere in back. The problem was with the main buss connection. Even though we could only see a surface temperature of approximately 165°F from our vantage point, there was evidence of melting and re-welding when everything was disassembled and inspected.

There was an alignment issue with the coupling on this motor-pump pair, which caused the motor’s bearing to give off an abnormal heat signature. Luckily, it was found in time.

Oops! Guess that we have a faulty valve. There is supposed to be hot water going up the center pipe. Line down! 

Once again, two problems for the price of one! A 212°F high-resistance electrical feed connection and a possible lurking bearing issue. (Adjusting the level and span would help to see the bearing issue better.) The bearing area was nearly 40°F warmer than the rest of the motor.

The pillow-block bearing on the right stands out in plain, infrared sight.

In order to evaluate the operation of a steam trap, you often have to be patient… and wait for it to cycle. Most successful infrared “hunters” have learned this patience over time.

If you had not regularly monitored this motor on a regular basis, you may not realize that anything was wrong. However, comparison to previous images indicated a new hot spot that appeared on the bottom. It turns out that the motor was overheating and a winding issue was developing.

Even though a typical high-resistance connection may only cost $2-$5 a year in added energy costs, think about how many connections there are in a typical facility. How many could be wasting energy? Hyenas can be very irritating and expensive in the long run.

A leak becomes apparent in this insulated cold water feed.

Sorry, Mr. Hyena… you can’t hide behind that barrel! Here we see the motor bearing issue brewing. We will need to take the cover guard off the coupling and inspect the bearing on the pump too in order to determine where the root problem lies.

What do you know… something in this place that is actually working the way it is supposed to! A healthy, properly-operating compressor.

Regular inspection of back-up generating plants is as important as taking care of the main systems. You never know when you will need them. Pictured is an image of a cooling line going into the radiator of a diesel-powered back-up power plant.

Michael Stuart is a practicing T/IRT Level III Thermographer, certified in compliance with ASNT standards for Electrical, Mechanical, and Building inspection and analysis. He is also the Sr. Product Manager for Thermal Imaging Products with Fluke Corporation. www.fluke.com