What Is an Infrared Electrical /Mechanical Survey

A lot of property managers, facility directors, and building owners & operators have heard the term infrared scan. Sometimes insurance coverage requires an infrared survey or upper management requests this be done. But what is an infrared survey? An infrared imager is a tool used to detect heat. The first sign of a problem in either electrical or mechanical equipment is a temperature rise. A skilled thermographer has a working knowledge of building systems and equipment. Together they test the equipment and report the findings. This predictive testing is referred to as an infrared survey.

What components can and should be inspected?
Essentially the entire electrical system including transformers, switchgear, distribution centers, sub-feed panels, distribution panels, bus ducts, motor control centers, disconnects, variable frequency drives, power correcting banks, etc. If the equipment is accessible it can, and should be inspected.

Why Perform an Annual Infrared Electrical/Mechanical Survey?
An annual infrared electrical/mechanical survey is the most cost-effective method of predictive maintenance that you can perform on your systems. It will help you quickly and efficiently find the areas that are most in need of your maintenance dollars. Finding problems at an early stage allows repairs to be made before they cause a failure or serious damage. Infrared surveys must be conducted under load to find potential problems, thereby avoiding costly shutdowns or after hours work.

When should an inspection be done?
In general, once a year is a good rule of thumb, however the load may very on a building's systems as the seasons change. Different parts of a facility need to be inspected at different times of the year. Buildings that support data centers or critical equipment should be inspected twice a year.
Examples of problems detected with an infrared camera are:
Loose fuse clip assemblies ? Phase imbalance, very important on three phase motors and balancing lighting loads to reduce the demand on electrical meters ? Harmonic feedback, detected on the neutral leg ? Maladjusted bolt-lock switches, (Critical equipment) ? Loose disconnect knives/receivers ? Overload conditions ? Faulty breakers ? Bad Bus Bar and Bus Riser Connections ? Life Safety Equipment, Emergency transfer switches, generator connections if running under load ? Mechanical equipment like motors, bearings, conveyors, transducers, reduction gear units etcetera.

How Can Savings Be Realized With an Infrared Electrical Mechanical Survey?
Reducing safety hazards in the workplace reduces injuries and lost time from work as well as keeping a lower workman's compensation insurance rate. Accurate diagnosis of the problem, results in time being saved making the repairs and reduces the cost of buying extra parts to "shotgun fix the problem". If you initialize preventative maintenance before equipment is damaged and can just clean and tighten loose connections you may avoid replacement altogether. Allowing time to order the necessary parts rather than replacing whole components in emergency situations and you can scheduling when the repair should be made saving on parts as well as overtime rates. Improved tenant satisfaction by letting them know when to expect outages over a night or on a weekend, helps keep them from wanting to move when there lease is up.

Is infrared used just for electrical/mechanical systems?
Infrared is a predictive maintenance tool for much more then just electrical/mechanical systems. Energy audits of the building envelope can detect where heating or air conditioning is escaping. On certain flat roofs Infrared is an excellent tool for locating entrapped moisture in the insulation of the roofing system. It is used to locate moisture in synthetic stucco, locate broken hot water line beneath concrete floors, and leaks in glycol snowmelt systems. The list goes on and on. Infrared is a tool that has many applications. If there is a thermal difference (hot or cold) then this tool might be what you have been looking for.

Written by
Dale Southworth