The unstoppable march of Industry 4.0, Big Data, and the Internet of Things pushes organizations to accumulate the essential data they need to perform at the highest level. McKinsey estimates that IOT has the potential to unlock an economic value somewhere between US$5.5 to $12.6 trillion by 2030. But what does this mean for electrical asset managers, and how can they respond to the call to upgrade systems in an increasingly complex and globalizing world with supply chain challenges?

This article explores the concept of condition monitoring for organizations and how it can help electrical personnel take steps to digitize critical electrical components to become more future-proofed. We'll uncover how thermal sensors play a vital role in monitoring crucial electrical infrastructure, where the advantages of the technology extend far beyond the extraction of essential data.

Thermal sensors are one of the keys to digitizing electrical infrastructure

Thermal sensors are a key part of the jigsaw in digitizing electrical infrastructure. Condition monitoring sensor installation enables electrical engineers to improve system design in many ways that help future-proof electrical infrastructure.

Key benefits of thermal monitoring sensors:

  • Significant OPEX cost savings
  • Maximize uptime: reduce power outages
  • Increase personnel safety

The advantages of thermal sensors are numerous and benefit organizations by increasing safety, reducing maintenance expenditure, and ensuring equipment is digital-ready. Those considering upgrading to monitoring assets should begin with a clear understanding of the critical difference between online and offline monitoring.

We cover this topic in greater detail in our guide to condition monitoring for electrical infrastructure. But first, let’s look at the difference, and then the essential role power plays in business today.

The difference between online and offline condition monitoring:
  • 1. Online condition monitoring is defined as a continuous or predictive type of process. This type of monitoring is best suited to electrical assets or infrastructure critical to business productivity.
  • 2. Offline condition monitoring refers to a process that is occasional or periodic. This approach will likely form part of a planned maintenance schedule when concessions can be made to power down or allow mechanical access to infrastructure.

Electricity as a critical business utility

Electrical power is a vital utility for almost all businesses. With the rivalry between competitors high on strategic agendas, gaining a competitive advantage is typically a primary objective.


When working on electrical system designs, particularly low- and medium-voltage electrical equipment, it is essential to develop innovative and resilient ways to deliver the most valuable, cost-effective products and services.

Benefits of thermal monitoring for business:
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Increases reliability and resilience of electrical power systems

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Digitizes the way that electrical equipment is monitored and maintained


Delivers maintenance cost advantages over thermography

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Provides greater return on investment for the organization

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Significantly extends the life of aging infrastructure

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Future-proofs new builds with IIoT-ready sensors

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Reduces the need to place personnel in places of risk

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Guaranteed 24/7 protection of critical assets

The use of even greater levels of power, specifically electricity is fundamental to driving growth. Consider this against an increasing level of comprehensive and disruptive transformation of electric power driven by a combination of technological innovation and institutional upheaval. The rise of technological innovation, cloud services, and data facilities are placing increasingly high demands on electrical power infrastructure across the planet.

Walt Patterson of Chatham House argues: "The world is undergoing a dramatic electricity transition, and the global struggle for power over this transformed electric system is set to profoundly shape our future."

With this in mind, businesses and organizations across the planet must take responsibility for being as efficient as humanly - and digitally - possible as we strive to reduce wasted resources and maximize efficiencies.

Periodic infrared electrical inspections: how flawed are they?

Indeed, this a controversial question, but compared periodic inspection to modern continuous monitoring, the idea of carrying out an annual inspection of an asset designed to function 24 hours a day, seven days a week, seems more than a little inadequate in an age of digital-first approaches in business. 

Considering the demands on organizations to provide continuous services in an always-on world, periodically inspecting electrical assets to identify potential problems has several shortcomings in validating an electrical component's health.

However, to appreciate the true value of the data that can be produced by thermal monitoring, we have to revisit the fundamental challenges of periodic electrical inspection.

The fundamental challenges of periodic electrical inspection:
  • 1. Periodic inspection is merely a snapshot and has no guarantee of asset health post-inspection
  • 2. The accuracy of data created is highly dependent on the quality of camera and operator and thus not of uniform quality
  • 3. Without continuity of asset health data, there is nothing to evaluate

Awareness of the benefits of thermal condition monitoring technology is growing, and becoming more frequently used to monitor mission-critical electrical infrastructure. 

Essential electrical assets are used across a wide range of industries:
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Oil and gas

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Data centers

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Water and waste water

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Food and beverage

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Retail logistics

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Critical infrastructure

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Let's briefly cover fundamental challenges 1 and 2 from above, then focus on point 3, and what it means for businesses looking to digitally transform electrical infrastructure.

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1. Periodic inspection is no guarantee of electrical asset health post-inspection

Let's take a regular, scheduled annual inspection where an engineer performs a scan of a piece of electrical switchgear using an IR camera. It doesn't stretch the imagination to understand how the degradation can commence in the following weeks, leading to a failure long before the next scheduled inspection.

This example illustrates how periodic inspection provides just a snapshot in time of the overall health of electrical assets:

•    Inspect once per annum: 1 day out of 365 = 0.3%

•    Inspect six times per annum: 6 days out of 365 = 1.6%


In truth, this isn't the fault of the engineer, simply a flaw in the methodology of periodic inspection and the impossibility of being able to identify a defect that doesn't exist on inspection day. 

Challenges with periodic thermal inspection:
  • Only presents a snapshot in time
  • Potential failures between inspections
  • Data quality incompatible for digitization
  • Ongoing inspection costs over asset lifetime

2. Data accuracy - garbage in, garbage out

An IBM programmer and instructor named George Fuechsel is credited for coining the term ‘garbage in, garbage out’, or GIGO, as it is now referred to. Fuechsel is said to have used the term as a succinct way to remind students how computers simply process the information provided to them.

GIGO is sometimes used to refer to situations in the analog world when a faulty decision is made as a result of incomplete information.

Let’s bring this back to what GIGO means when assessing the health of critical electrical assets. Suppose Mike Jones from The Clever ScanCo carries out an inspection using his infrared (IR) thermal camera brand A in February, then returns to perform a similar inspection in October using camera brand C.

Sure, he’s done everything by the book, but Mike faces a number of potential challenges to produce a repeatable and robust data set. Sadly, the consistency of that data lies beyond Mike’s control due to the nature of what is considered the de facto industry standard approach.

The quality of the information produced from a handheld IR camera inspection is highly dependent on some key factors:

  • Camera quality and settings
  • Operator proficiency
  • Process repeatability

Physical, atmospheric, and situational factors will inevitably have an effect on the quality of the data derived from such an exercise and vary from inspection to inspection, thus data consistency will be compromised. Therefore, the data output from periodic thermal inspections does not provide an accurate and repeatable set of asset health data due to the high number of variables which exist (GIGO).

As a result, this is not data which meets the core digitization requirement of uniform quality and upon which the organisation can proceed with 100% confidence as part of their digitization of electrical infrastructure.


3. No sensors = no asset health data and nothing to evaluate

A lack of information or data can lead to inferior performance, increased costs, and reduced safety. Suppose it's not possible to track asset health. With such means, there's little an organization can do to improve efficiencies and operations. Without data, managers won't have the necessary knowledge regarding successful business trends and those that are not.

The most successful businesses rely on big data and IoT technology to optimize processes and refine operations. The ability to collect essential data about the health of electrical infrastructure begins with the installation of sensors.

Permanently installed thermal monitoring sensors will continuously monitor the temperature of critical electrical assets and alert stakeholders when potential defects that might otherwise cause power outages or worse, a catastrophic event such as a fire.

Get essential data insights from electrical assets

The capturing of this data and subsequent analysis can lead to meaningful insights, enabling clients to act based on real-time information and business logic. Analyzing operating patterns over time requires a robust data set, starting with continuous thermal monitoring using sensors to create consistent data of high quality.

Companies in every sector now have access to technologies like AI, machine learning, and advanced analytics. Without sensors, asset condition data is available to track values over time and how they relate to benchmarks.

The advantages of sensor data include:
  • Alerts in real-time to identify potentially faulty assets
  • Prevent costly downtime that disrupts operations
  • Reduced risk of service availability, redundancy and customer dissatisfaction
  • Long-term trend analysis to predict future performance
  • Elimination of unnecessary inspection and maintenance costs

Anomaly detection using the sensors will include monitoring erratic behaviors, which may correlate to poor equipment performance and potential failure. Importantly, this allows operational managers to maximize operational uptime while reducing costs and increasing safety.

Conclusion: thermal condition monitoring sensors help create intelligent electrical assets

The key to digitizing critical electrical infrastructure and improving operational performance requires essential data, which is only possible through the installation of sensors that continuously monitor asset health.

Thermal condition monitoring provides quantifiable and tangible benefits, 24/7 and in real-time, which is significantly enhanced when combined with an IoT-enabled architecture and platform.

Sensors are the cost-effective starting point for digitizing and simplifying the maintenance of medium- and low-voltage electrical distribution systems. By leveraging the most advanced sensor measurement, mobility, cloud, analytics, and cybersecurity technologies, clients will gain real-time management capabilities and control of all power-related processes.

Discover how condition monitoring improves asset reliability across different industries...