Posted at 09-Mar-2018

Throwing New Light on Condition Monitoring

Paul Skade
By David Manning-Ohren
Condition Monitoring Manager

A time-served engineer with ERIKS, I have over 25 years in the condition monitoring field, a fact recognised by both British Standards and British Institute of No...

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The light in question is infra-red. And in the right hands, it can be a highly effective condition monitoring device, able to detect failing equipment, insulation breakdown, leakages and much more, and the energy wastage that results.



With the right calculations to back up the observations, it can even help you decide whether remedial action will be cost-effective or not.

Many businesses in the chemical industry possess a thermal imaging camera - often for use by their electrical engineers. However, in the right hands - and if the camera is up to the job - it could have an additional application for wider condition monitoring using thermography. 

A trained operator with a high-quality thermal imaging camera – such as the £63,000 model used by ERIKS Condition Monitoring engineers – can help you to minimise downtime, maximise uptime, reduce energy losses and maintenance costs, and even avoid catastrophic failures and Health & Safety incidents. 

Seeing isn’t Believing

Almost anyone can use a thermal imaging camera to detect a hot spot – just as almost anyone can kick a ball. But not everyone with a pair of football boots is Ronaldo, nor ever could be. In other words, simply spotting the most obvious problems doesn’t mean understanding all their ramifications and cost implications.

However, ERIKS thermal imaging technicians are in the Champions League, thanks to their engineering and condition monitoring experience, their extensive training, and their Level II certification as thermographers. 

Put all those things together and you have thermographers who not only know exactly where to point their device to detect the problems, but also what the images and results mean. And, perhaps most importantly, they know how to translate those results into clear profit and loss figures, so it’s obvious what a problem is costing you, how much it would cost to put right, and therefore whether it’s cost-effective to do so. 

With ERIKS’ help, you not only see the previously invisible problem, but can also believe and understand its ramifications for your bottom line. 

Hot Spots and Cold Hard Cash 

At its most basic, thermography can detect hotspots in equipment, which can be an indication of unwanted friction, wear, or perhaps even imminent failure. But whatever the cause, in an operating environment like the chemical industry – where volatile and potentially flammable chemicals are present – raised temperatures are something to be avoided. 

"An effective thermographic survey gives you early warning before the problem develops or becomes critical."

With a more experienced thermographer, more advanced thermography can detect far more problems in far less obvious places – and therefore potentially deliver far greater savings. 

For example, when a chemical process is dependent on an endothermic or exothermic reaction, maintaining a constant temperature is crucial. But if insulation has failed, maintaining that temperature is going to require more energy. If there’s also been water ingress as a result of the failed insulation, you’re using additional energy to heat or cool unwanted water, in addition to the heating or cooling requirements of the actual process. 

Detecting this kind of problem is a valuable first step. Where ERIKS’ engineers can go further is in determining the scale of the energy loss and converting that into financial terms. 

The result is a defined payback period which you can use to calculate the cost-efficiency of carrying the energy loss, compared with carrying out a repair. 

Tuned to Save

The highly sophisticated camera used by ERIKS – with a highly trained thermographer behind it –not only uses infrared to detect concerns, but is also tuned to detect hydrocarbon emissions. This makes it possible to see leaks of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which other cameras will not detect. 

This kind of Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) camera is actually highlighted for its effectiveness, in the EU Directive on Industrial Emissions, which has the force of law in the UK. The Directive means that companies must conform with the application of best available techniques for pollution prevention and control.

Since research shows that 34% of leaks take place in just 1% of plant, being able to pinpoint the source of the leak not only minimises the amount of plant which has to be shut down, but also the amount of downtime even for the areas affected. ERIKS’ engineers are also experienced in carrying out “active thermography”, which involves monitoring temperature changes as a result of outside influences. Whether it’s the rising or setting of the sun, or a change in the process itself, detecting and understanding the changes in temperature that result can help to highlight previously unidentified problem areas. 

Similarly, checking the skin temperature of storage tanks can identify insulation problems. And the camera can also be used to check fluid levels in tanks (confirming the correct functioning of tank sensors) without the need for opening or entering the tank. 

Safety Cameras

Removing the need for a visual inspection of a tank is not the only way thermography can reduce health and safety risks. 

In a chemical plant, the slightest leak of a corrosive or poisonous substance, or a noxious gas, can be catastrophic. Employees, watercourses and the environment can all be put at serious risk. Even damaged insulation as a result of water ingress can be a safety risk. If the water freezes and expands, it may further crack the insulation, causing it eventually to fall off and potentially injure an employee. 

The risk of employee injury or worse is, of course, the major consideration. But there are also financial considerations arising from injury or pollution, not to mention reputational damage. Again, professional thermography can identify potential problems before they become critical. 

So whether you want to save energy, save money, or save yourself, condition monitoring with thermography incorporating optical gas imaging is a highly effective method – but only if carried out by experienced, qualified and certified operators using the correct high-quality camera. As you would expect, ERIKS has the equipment and the know-how.

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