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What is thermal monitoring?

One of the major causes of fire in electrical equipment is faulty joints or connections, where an increase in temperature is the primary symptom and an indicator that a potential problem could occur. Thermal monitoring enables organizations to detect the symptoms in those joints or connections that without intervention could otherwise lead to electrical outages, or worse, a fire.

Without early identification, the deterioration of faulty electrical joints or connections will lead to increased resistance and higher temperature, which will eventually result in thermal runaway and ultimately, a complete failure. Arc flash and fire, or even an explosion might occur, causing unexpected plant downtime, or potentially leading to catastrophic consequences such as total equipment destruction or even personnel injury.

Continuous thermal monitoring is the next technology step from periodic infrared inspection:
  • Permanently installed sensors inside electrical equipment provide 24/7 protection
  • Delivers real-time, integrated temperature data for critical electrical assets

This enables electrical maintenance teams to predict failures, safeguard electrical equipment, and optimize performance. With the disruption to power supply posing an increasingly critical threat to organizations, the requirement for innovative thermal monitoring solutions for industry to maximize uptime through the prediction of faults before they occur. Additional benefits delivered by this technology include increased personnel safety and extended asset lifespan.

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This article explores how thermal condition monitoring can be used to enhance awareness of critical electrical asset status and presents the case for how it can be used to great advantage such as:
  • Enable a more resilient power supply
  • Digitize electrical asset maintenance
  • Hit productivity Key Performance Indicators (KPI's)
  • Achieve increased asset reliability
  • Increase facility and personnel safety

Why change from inspection to thermal monitoring?

Thermal monitoring is an approach utilized by forward-thinking electrical engineering personnel to detect potentially costly and dangerous electrical faults in advance of failures. Sensors installed within important electrical assets will alert you to changes in status and detect potential faults that might have otherwise resulted in production downtime, asset damage, or injuries to personnel.

IIoT is irreversibly changing the way equipment is operated and maintained. It is therefore crucial that organizations are focusing their attention on the benefits of thermal condition monitoring as opposed to periodic inspection and accepting that this change to digitized maintenance is inevitable, bringing added value and extending the life of electrical infrastructure.

Benefits of thermal monitoring:
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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

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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

Most mission-critical facilities are already adopting a digitization strategy. As a result, there is a considerable risk for organizations that do not include the installation of condition monitoring sensors to automatically build in obsolescence to each piece of new equipment installed without thermal monitoring technology.

Thermal monitoring sensors

The use of condition monitoring sensor technology reduces the need for unnecessary periodic inspections to be carried out, instead allowing 24/7 remote observation of assets to provide continuous indicators around the condition status of electrical equipment.

Sensor technology helps electrical engineers, asset managers, and project teams build a more accurate picture of the condition of critical electrical infrastructure.

Specifically, thermal condition monitoring utilizes permanently installed sensors to identify hotspots on key connections (such as busbars and cables) within electrical infrastructure. This enables the detection of unexpected, expensive, and potentially damaging electrical faults before they develop into a major failure.

Thermal monitoring enables electrical engineering personnel to:
  • Predict electrical faults and optimize maintenance
  • Digitize and Integrate real-time data
  • Increase asset resilience and maximize uptime
  • Reduce OPEX costs and enhance operational efficiency
  • Reduce risk and improve personnel safety
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As awareness of the benefits of thermal condition monitoring technology grows, it is becoming more frequently used to monitor mission-critical electrical infrastructure. Thermal monitoring sensors can be installed in electrical assets such as LV/MV switchgear, Motor Control Centers (MCCs), Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS), Power Distribution Units (PDU's), and dry transformers.

These essential electrical assets are used across a huge range of industries, including:
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Oil and gas

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Mining

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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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Manufacturing

Surprisingly, a high-quality, permanently installed, and cost-effective thermal monitoring system for a facility's electrical equipment is commonly overlooked. However, having increased thermal insight into key assets will enable the prevention of possible threats such as unplanned or unexpected facility downtime, expensive electrical asset repairs and replacements, and the risk of injury to personnel.

Limitations of periodic thermal inspection

The accepted ‘best practice’ has, until recently, been a preventive maintenance program in the form of periodic thermal imaging inspections (typically annual). This often utilizes a combination of an infrared thermal imaging camera and a thermal ‘window’ to examine electrical asset status.

As the name suggests, this method of inspecting the condition of equipment happens within pre-determined and time-based intervals e.g., annual, quarterly etc. For annual inspection, this equates to the equipment being observed for faults less than 1% of available time, compared to thermal monitoring sensors which operate continuously 24/7 x 365. This clearly highlights how there remains a very significant performance gap between the perceived levels of protection, compared to the actual level of risk mitigation, obtained from a preventive maintenance approach.

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Challenges of thermographic inspections:
  • Limited inspection frequency
  • Compromised view or line of sight issues
  • Data is not integrated or real-time
  • Dependence on the thermographer skillset
  • Window degradation needs repair or replacement
  • Difficult to detect faults at a low load
  • Expensive over asset lifetime
  • Safety issues place the operator at risk

Condition assessment of electrical equipment

Besides these high-risk scenarios, power is the most essential utility for any organization. A fault or failure could result in a loss of power to critical systems, which in turn may result in expensive unplanned downtime; not only in terms of downtime and lost productivity, but potentially through repair or replacement costs too, depending on the nature and/or severity of the fault.

Electrical equipment is inherently dangerous; a missed fault could lead to serious injury, fire, damage to infrastructure, or even death.

Fortunately, regular assessments of electrical equipment are required by law in most industries due to standards created by various national electrical safety agencies, such as International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). In addition, there are numerous guides and recommendations both regionally and nationally regarding benchmarks for safe electrical design, installation, and inspection to protect people and property from electrical hazards e.g. National Electrical Code (NEC), National Fire Prevention Agency (NFPA) etc.

IIoT sensors for digitizing electrical maintenance

Thermal monitoring essentially resolves all the significant limitations associated with thermal camera inspections and closes the performance gap, thereby providing enhanced levels of protection, safety, operational uptime, and improved asset integrity.

Electrical maintenance teams will be able to check the condition of equipment from a remote location, 24/7. The move towards digitization and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) signals the adoption of monitoring systems that allow for quicker diagnosis of potential problems, and enable end-users to take proactive action. This will help protect critical infrastructure and extend the lifespan of equipment by pre-empting potentially destructive events.

Permanently installed thermal monitoring solutions with integrated data are fully scalable, customizable, and configurable across any electrical infrastructure. IIOT recommendations require industrial equipment and machinery to have embedded monitoring sensors, which acquire condition data 24x7, with integration for subsequent analysis, and real-time identification of fault conditions.

This enables the most efficient maintenance practice to be adopted, enabling the considerable benefits over the life of the equipment which can be delivered as part of the IIOT and digitization of critical electrical infrastructure.

Summary

Thermal monitoring for electrical infrastructure is advantageous in a multitude of ways for any mission-critical organization looking to maintain uptime of critical electrical systems 24/7 x 365.

Thermal monitoring delivers the following benefits:
  • IIOT-ready sensors provide integrated data - digitizing, and future-proofing equipment
  • Optimizes maintenance by reducing the cost of repairs and replacement parts
  • Alleviates downtime through advanced detection of failure symptoms
  • Increases safety by removing people from places of risk
  • Identifies best-performing equipment for future procurement decisions
  • Provides OPEX savings from reduced ongoing periodic inspection and maintenance costs

The utilization of thermal monitoring sensors eliminates unnecessary periodic inspection and associated costs and reduces the intrusive maintenance to ‘as required’ by condition of equipment.

For organizations seeking a competitive edge over their rivals, it is important to future-proof critical electrical infrastructure and avoids building in obsolescence. Investment in thermal conditioning sensor technology creates an advantage not only by providing early warning of electrical faults that could ultimately halt production or services but through the protection of mission-critical assets, effectively prolonging lifespan and delivering greater return on investment (ROI) for the business.

> Read our Guide to Condition Monitoring for Electrical Infrastructure

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