IR Talk
The Snell Group

Occasionally, it’s nice to see or hear of a success story from a student who is excited to begin a journey as a Thermographer. The first few days of class may be a bit overwhelming, but then, usually after learning more about the equipment and exploring how some surfaces emit energy more than others, the lights will begin to come on.

At first, we are all unconsciously incompetent people and I don’t mean that in a bad way. When we were younger learning how to drive a vehicle, we didn’t just jump in and go. We had to learn about the functions of the vehicle. It is the same analogy for properly operating an infrared camera. It takes 32 hours of class, quizzes every day and a final exam. All three are equally important and the rest is experience. Next, it’s setting up the maintenance to program function properly.

I fully understand why a condition based program could have its troubles at first due to costs of training and equipment, but once that first infrared report is written, and the anomaly has been fixed and confirmed by a re-check, the ROI or Return of Investment will begin. The main objective for any industry is obviously making money, but we need to keep control of the equipment and not let the equipment control us.

I remember the days of being a “fireman”. It seemed that most announcements from the plant intercom was “maintenance"! Something had to change. The direction that the maintenance program was going, was costing more money than savings. Sitting in a Level 1 class for a week, the instructor made such an enormous impact that he pushed me to become one of the best thermographers in the nation!

Fast forward to the present and now as an instructor, I emphasize the same goals to my students. Often, during a class we will have an opportunity to conduct a “fieldtrip” in the plant. This allows me to share some of my experiences with the infrared camera and have an opportunity to make sure the students are putting to use what they have just learned. Our goal is to find something wrong. Just by looking and searching we are adding to our experience.

Some topics during class will be about non-route based inspections. These are inspections done with the infrared camera on equipment that was just installed or equipment that has been modified. A recent class at an aluminum plant I was asked if the class could survey a tank filled with hydraulic oil located inside the building. The tank was a new install along with other new equipment in the area. During the install, the site-glass was broken. I asked the class, can it be done?

It warmed my heart when the students talked about it for a while, one student answered, “depending on the situation”. What a great answer!

A tank located outside has the sun to help create a temperature difference between the air and liquid. If tanks are located indoors it may be tough to see any signatures of a level because the air and liquid may be the same temperature. This often requires some manipulation of the air inside. Air is quicker to heat up or cool down than liquids. They decided to cool the air because heating the air could take some time due to the temperature of the warmer oil. A well-trained Thermographer can look at a surface and work through a situation and sometimes we need to do something to a surface to see what we need to see. But first, it must be approved!

After getting approval to pour cool water on the tank, the class suited up in the required PPE and headed to the tank.

Within a few minutes after the water was poured on the top of the tank, the student was able to see and direct my hand to what appeared to be the oil level line.

This was the image used for this students’ first report, also a remarkable success for the class.

The tank needed to be emptied to properly fix the sight glass. Unfortunately, the oil flow could not be shut down and wouldn’t be fixed. Currently, the tank is inspected daily with an infrared camera.

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