Due to technology advancements, thermal imaging has become more affordable, easier to use and more broadly deployed in a variety of industrial and commercial markets. That is good news if you’re a contractor looking to add thermal imaging to your range of services, because most customers have likely heard of it.
Thermal cameras produce thermal (heat) pictures of equipment, allowing your customers to see nearly immediate benefits from such a service. In one pass through a facility, you can usually find at least one component displaying indications the equipment may soon fail. This makes for a powerful demonstration and an easy business builder.
Your advantage as a contractor is having broad experience with many types of equipment and failure scenarios—just like any other troubleshooting situation, the person behind the thermal camera needs to draw on experience to help analyze the readings. If this part of an electrical panel is hot, should I investigate the connections or the load?
In addition, if you’re already contracted with a company for regular maintenance and troubleshooting, adding thermography makes sense. You already know the facility and which units are critical to performance. You can simply add thermal inspections to your regular visits and have the tool available during troubleshooting calls. Plus, if you are an electrician, you’re uniquely qualified to work in live voltage situations. Specialty thermographers often are not qualified and require assistance from an on-site electrician, technician or engineer.
Before thermal imaging becomes part of your services, explore courses from a reputable trainer. Not only will having a credential to point out to prospective clients be beneficial, you will learn the theoretical and practical tools needed to get the best results out of a thermal camera.
Indeed, training is an important consideration when starting any new initiative. Look to be trained on:
- How to use the thermal camera
- Applications with the greatest return on investment
- How to properly perform inspections
- How to interpret results and generate meaningful and actionable reports
- How to safely conduct thermography inspections in an industrial work environment
Electrical contractors typically use thermal cameras for preventive maintenance and troubleshooting, and sometimes during installation.
For preventive maintenance, the contractor takes thermal images of key units (panels, drives, motors, etc.) at least once a year if not more often, and compares those images with each visit. Hot spots that weren’t there last time indicate problems in the making to investigate before they cause failure. Software on the thermal imager helps you align your images time after time, so that you’re making consistent comparisons.
When selling this idea to a client, here are some additional things to consider:
- Most equipment’s failure mechanisms involve a significant rise in operating temperature long before catastrophic failure occurs.
- Thermal images are best taken while equipment is operational. No shutdowns needed.
- Thermal images are taken at a safe distance. Minimal safety risk (except for live voltage—that still requires full electrical safety precautions).
- Thermal images can access components and units not otherwise measurable, such as ceiling runs.
- Thermal measurements help detect imminent failures in nearly all types of equipment, from electrical to mechanical, process, electronic, and so on.
- Because thermal inspections are fast, they can cover more ground and find problems in areas that would typically be ignored.
For troubleshooting, taking a thermal image of a malfunctioning unit can often identify the source of the problem—electrical hotspots can tell you which phase or connectors to check, motor hotspots can narrow it down to bearings, and so forth. Then, after repairs, follow up with another thermal image and verify that the component is no longer overheating—or that something else isn’t now overheating, instead.
Here’s a summary of principle applications.
- Electrical power distribution systems: Three-phase systems, distribution panels, fuses, wiring and connections, substations, electrical vaults, etc.
- Electro-mechanical equipment: Motors, pumps, fans, compressors, bearings, windings, gear boxes, and conveyors
- Process instrumentation: Process control equipment, pipes, valves, steam traps and tanks/vessels
- Facility maintenance: HVAC systems, buildings, roofs, insulation
Really, there’s nothing holding you back. Contractors can readily purchase affordable thermal cameras, quickly train on the basics, and immediately start using the tool to improve their client services. The more you use it, the more skilled you become.