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And it has more than paid for itself, said Wayne Merritt, a predictive maintenance technician with the 78th Civil Engineer Squadron here.

The camera, which costs about $55,000, shoots infrared images and is used to identify a variety of problems that can head off serious maintenance issues. It most recently prevented a sizable section of Robins AFB from being shut down for about a day.

The camera is a part of the 78th CES staff’s predictive maintenance program that seeks to identify potential failures before they occur. The infrared camera can clearly show when items such as faulty switches are overheating, which indicates a failure is imminent. The only other way the staff could have found the problem would have been to shut down and manually inspect the substation. Instead, the camera allowed for the problem to be identified and repaired without any disruption.

The maintenance team made the repair on a weekend, and because they knew it was coming, they were able to reroute the power through other substations so that no one lost power during the repair. Had the switches failed, it would have caused shutdown of a significant portion of the south end of the base, including the 78th Air Base Wing headquarters, the commissary and two buildings in which high-tech avionics work takes place.

Those two buildings alone are estimated to cost $350,000 per hour to operate, said Paul Kelley, the 78th CES chief of operations. A failure of the switches would likely have led to a shutdown of at least eight hours, he said.

That means the camera paid for itself many times over with just that one incident, Mr. Kelley said.

The camera can be used to identify an array of problems, including those with electrical motors and other equipment. They also used it to identify the exact location of a leak in a boiler tube at the steam plant. Had it not been for the camera, “trial and error” cuts would have been made in the steel shell until the leak was located.

Using the camera is not as simple as looking at the image and seeing the bright red spots, Mr. Merritt said. Computer software analyzes the image and gives a temperature reading on each pixel to help identify problems that would not necessarily be seen by just looking at the picture.

The infrared camera is just one part of the 78th CES predictive maintenance program. They also use an ultrasound detector that can pick up high-frequency noises that can’t be heard by the human ear. The noises are often an indicator of mechanical problems.

Another method is vibration analysis, which makes early detection of mechanical problems by measuring the vibration of equipment. Also, a motor performance analyzer is used to perform 13 tests that determine the health of electric motors. They used the device to detect an internal wiring fault in a rebuilt 125 horsepower motor being held in storage. Because of the detection, they were able to have the motor repaired under warranty.

“If we are going to stay ahead of the game, we’ve got to use every tool we’ve got,” Mr. Kelley said.

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