Grading your IR Program

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How to critically assess the level of maturity of you inspection program.
IR Talk
The Snell Group

I quite often comment that I immensely enjoy my job, meeting new people, talking about IR thermography and all of its various applications, and assisting students after they get back to their respective facilities after class are all fun for me. As long as I’ve been at this, however, I have noticed patterns. One of the most common things we see is the expectation that having attended a Level I or even a Level II IR course in some way empowers the student to administer and manage a full inspection program. This simply isn’t true. The expectation however remains, and in the spirit of providing our customer base with all things knowledge related, let’s explore how even a neophyte thermographer can critically assess the level of maturity of their inspection program.

A full program audit is a major undertaking, and really should only be performed by a qualified reliability professional. There are however five major areas that can be assessed fairly easily that will give anyone a pretty good start on how their program would fare in a full-on audit. Let’s take a look.

IR Equipment

  • Equipment used is current and adequate for the facility’s applications (ancillary equipment such as telephoto and wide-angle lenses available)
  • Dedicated computer for imaging software
  • PPE for IR inspections
  • Equipment is properly stored and maintained
  • Regular calibration checks are performed
  • Image analysis software is compatible with camera formats
  • A windspeed device is utilized for outdoor and breezy areas of inspection

You might have a perfectly functional camera that is generations old and produces high-quality images, but does its utilization slow you down? Are you able to readily produce reports using the images it provides? If not, you don’t score well there. Likewise, if your program doesn’t take into account the periodic need to at least assess calibration, and you’re reporting temperatures as part of your offering, you lose points. In both Level I and Level II we discuss the impact of convective cooling. If your program doesn’t have a way to assess and measure airflow velocities in areas of inspection, you’re not performing up to industry best practice.

IR Applications

  • Substation inspections are performed (even for utility-owned equipment)
  • Main service entrance switchgear equipment is routinely inspected
  • Distribution devices OF ALL SIZES are being inspected
  • Hydraulic systems are currently being inspected
  • Steam systems are currently being inspected

Many programs overlook utility-owned equipment due to the sometimes-mistaken belief that the utility is inspecting that equipment themselves. This is often not the case. They have their own reliability journey to travel, but many have storage yards full of transformers, OCBs and other apparatus that they can haul out to you and install if needed. With increased awareness of NFPA-70E guidelines, switchgears are often not opened while energized and therefore not inspected. IR windows may solve this problem. Another common failure is leaving electrical equipment below a particular current rating off of inspection routes. That’s wrong if you ask me. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it isn’t mission critical. And don’t forget the mechanical applications for IR. There’s a lot of benefit in inspecting mechanical systems.

Safety

  • IR windows or viewing ports are utilized for high energy electrical equipment
  • PPE is provided for thermographers applicable to the equipment they inspect
  • An arc flash risk assessment has been performed and 70E compliant labels applied to affected equipment
  • Shock protection boundaries for equipment are clearly marked
  • Training and inspection procedures reduce the amount of time thermographers spend in front of exposed electrical equipment

If you’ve sat in our class, you know we stress safety. It’s important to me, and it should be to you. Wear your PPE. If your employer isn’t providing it, stand up and say something. If your facility hasn’t had an arc flash risk assessment performed, utilize the tables in the 70E for PPE guidelines. If you don’t have a copy of the 70E and your facility won’t purchase one, email me and I’ll tell you how to get a copy.

Procedures

  • IR inspection procedures are repeatable between different thermographers
  • Data collection is adequate to determine the probability of failure
  • Criteria for severity determination accounts for all relevant factors, not just temperature
  • Continuous Improvement initiatives to improve efficiencies and effectiveness

The absence of written procedures for different inspections and equipment negatively impacts the likelihood of repeatability. Your program should function the same no matter who is on route with an imager. Equipment data aside from anomaly temperature should be collected to allow a critical assessment of probability of failure. Loading, duty cycle and other thermal effects should be accounted for when making severity assignments.

Reporting

  • Reporting formats are applicable to the equipment being inspected and contains all necessary data
  • Reports are integrated with other technologies
  • Reports are archived and easily accessible
  • Reports can be viewed as needed without specialized software

The report you provide is your deliverable. Whether you’re providing service to external customers or part of a program within a facility, the report you provide is the culmination of your work. Every modern imager has accompanying software that allows fairly easy reporting. Utilize the templates they provide as a starting point for a report format that delivers what your customers need to know about what you’ve inspected. If you’re part of an internal program, your reports need to be available to anyone who needs them without having to have experience with thermography. If you’re a service provider, your reports need to be concise and you should archive them in case they’re requested in the future. If your program isn’t yielding the results you’d like, look at your reports first.

Remember, we are here to help. We’ve touched five points in this discussion, but we offer a 10-poiint audit/assessment for existing programs. A program audit will tell you where you’re strong and where you’re not, and we have consulting offerings that can help shore up your weak spots and fill in your blanks. Keep control of the equipment. Don’t let the equipment control you. Give us a call, let us help you get all you can out of your program.

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