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Thermography: An Introduction, NECA/IBEW Team
Nope, your computer screen isn’t broken at all. You’re looking at me through the lens of an infrared camera.

Today we’re talking about thermography – a process that can help owners save and make money.

Dominic Giarratano: Michael Stuart, our expert thermographer for the day, how are you doing, Michael?

Michael Stuart, Fluke: Very well, thanks, welcome to Fluke.

DG: This is a thermal imaging device.

MS: Correct.

DG: We’re going to go through that today. But first of all, what is thermography?

MS: Well, thermography is essentially the detecting and measuring of heat patterns on equipment so you can determine the health of the equipment – be able to inspect it, and make sure things don’t go awry.

DG: And what is it good for?

MS: It’s really good for just about any kind of application that a NECA contractor, facilities manager or building owner would be concerned with. Electrical, mechanical, HVAC, building envelope, roofing and many, many other applications.

DG: Why is it so important?

MS: Well it’s useful technology because it’s non-contact, and it allows you to determine the health of the equipment or whatever you’re inspecting. If it’s too hot, if it’s too difficult to reach, if contacting it could cause a hazard or actually affect the process or the equipment itself.

DG: And we’re going to see a couple of applications on site here today of this baby in action.

MS: Yes, we are.

DG: Let’s go check it out.

MS: Dominic, the first thing we’re going to start out with here today is something that is found in every single building on the planet – the electrical distribution panel. Electricians are used to this. As you can see, we’ve already got the dead front removed, it’s already opened, and we have our proper protective gear for where we are. We look good and we’re going to be safe. Even though this is a non-contact technology, you still need to follow the proper safety rules and wear the proper PPE.

DG: And I’m wearing than you are, but that’s code. We’re up to code.

MS: You’re OK, we’re outside of the boundary on this. This isn’t high voltage, it’s just enough to demonstrate what we’re going to do here today.

DG: According to Fluke, the distribution panel is one of the top six places an owner should be looking for energy loss. And the biggest hot spot here is what’s known as a high-resistance connection, which is either too loose or too tight a connection. Either way, it creates heat and robs power from where it’s coming from to where it’s going to. The industry term for this is an I-squared R loss.

MS: Over the period of a year, it might only be a dollar, two dollars, five dollars, something like that, but if you’ve fixed that, you’ve saved that amount of money. Think about the typical number of electrical connections that are in today’s facilities. You could have hundreds of thousands, millions – if only 10 percent of these things are high resistance connections, those dollars from there add up, so you’re really saving some pretty serious money. You’re also making sure that that equipment that’s being run off that circuit downstream is working properly.

DG: The final thought here is, the older your electrical system is, the more in danger you may actually be, day by day, month by month.

MS: Another common piece of equipment that facility owners and managers need to be concerned about are motors and pumps. Motors and pumps are everywhere in today’s world. They run HVAC systems, they circulate water, it’s sort of integral to the facility and to its proper operation. Electricians can come into a facility, and they can use thermal imaging as a toll to help maintain this equipment, make sure it’s operating properly. A common statistic that’s found in the industry today is that if you run a motor more than 10 degrees centigrade over its maximum operating temperature, you’ve cut its life in half. It’s pretty expensive to replace some of these bigger units. It’s also kind of a pain, so you want to try and avoid that sort of thing if you’re a facilities manager.

DG: Motors and pumps are another one of the top six places to look for energy loss, and considering they have one of the biggest energy appetites in any facility, it’s no wonder why. There are five places that are scanned when a thermal imaging study is done on a motor or pump: air flow, electrical unbalance, bearings, insulation and electrical connections. An energy loss here, once again, disguises itself.

MS: So a lot of times, facility managers are losing money and they don’t even realize they are. They’ve only budgeted a certain amount and it turns out their equipment isn’t operating properly so that’s slowly creeping up on them. So it’s very important to have an electrician come in and maintain these things. An emergency situation, emergency maintenance, can cost up to 10 times the cost of regular preventative maintenance. Part of that preventative maintenance should be thermography.

DG: Michael, we’ve seen two situations today where thermography can show us hot spots in an electrical distribution panel, when inspecting a motor, but there are larger concerns here for an owner or a building manager. Risk mitigation, insurance concerns – maybe go ahead and talk about that.

MS: Saving money, saving energy and making money through offering new services is only part of this situation. The other part of it is risk mitigation and the insurance concerns. A lot of insurers nowadays will not insure your building or facility unless you perform a thermal infrared inspection every so often. So that’s a good thing to do. You get some insurance breaks. The worst possible thing that can happen in your facility is if someone gets hurt. So you don’t want to have that – there’s no price tag on that, so thermography actually helps from a safety aspect, as well.

DG: The expertise, skills, knowledge and professionalism of the NECA-IBEW team that we talk about on this website all the time – talk about how that applies to thermography and your device here.

MS: To be honest with you, Fluke is very, very proud to have been a partner of IBEW-NECA for almost 20 years now. With our partnership with the NJATC program, we learned very early on that a lot of these electrical workers, they don’t learn from books and presentations on a screen or a television set. They learn by doing, hands-on. So we do our best to provide equipment for hands-on training. We provide curricula, we provide training materials, anything that they would need to really get their teeth into the new technology, and start employing them on a regular basis. To do all these things that we talked about – save money, make money, mitigate risk, improve safety, you name it. You know, this is where it’s at nowadays, and this is where NECA contractors need to be thinking.

DG: Michael, thanks for your time today, we appreciate you spending a few minutes with us, showing us the device, teaching us about thermography. We certainly appreciate it.

DG: You heard it from him – if you’re interested in thermography, get in touch with your local IBEW-NECA team, and they’ll be sure to set you right up.