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By Dave Sirmans
Equipment Rental & Tools Article Use Policy
Infrared technology can offer maintenance and engineering departments the expanded ability to detect and analyze common problems in institutional and commercial facilities, from water infiltration in roofs and building envelopes to electrical-system issues that can become major headaches.
But to ensure front-line technicians use the technology effectively, managers need to understand the essential features and functions of infrared units, and they have to develop the most cost-effective strategies for taking advantage of this powerful tool.
Front-line technicians and independent contractors have used infrared thermography for condition monitoring and predictive maintenance for years. At a minimum, commercial and institutional facilities of all types have brought in contractors to perform annual thermal scans of their critical electrical and mechanical assets.
As the knowledge of infrared-imaging technology's capabilities reached a broader audience, interest grew. At the same time, dropping infrared-camera costs led a growing number of organizations interested in the technology to take advantage of its benefits. Many contractors historically charged a daily rate for imaging services, requiring that clients carefully choose the areas of facilities in which to apply this valuable asset as part of their overall maintenance scheme.
Until recently, using infrared-imaging cameras in the field was never easy. For example, reporting the findings of an infrared inspection used to be considered an art. Early versions of infrared reports contained pictures of the imager's screen taped to a piece of paper. The next innovation was screen captures from video cassette recorders and 8-millimeter video recorders pasted into word-processing documents.
When imager manufacturers finally developed processing software, it was expensive and took hours of training for technicians and contractors to use it to its fullest extent. Managers likely would have received a printed report in a binder, but the report's effectiveness would have suffered due to the inclusion of low-resolution images.
Managers who wanted to see a raw-data copy of a particular image were out of luck without the manufacturer's proprietary software, which managers could neither afford nor operate.
The world of infrared thermography is vastly different now. Infrared imagers on the market can cost less than $2,000, and they deliver higher-quality images than a $40,000 camera used 15 years ago. New imagers have memory cards to store images, and many camera manufacturers include software with the camera that allows technicians to download images for basic viewing and processing at no additional cost.
Editing and analyzing images also is much easier with intuitive software suites that feature the ability to change color palettes and add histograms or graphs of temperatures, as well as allow output of the thermal images to file formats thermographers can view on any computer.
Viewfinders are mostly a thing of the past because of the National Fire Protection Association's 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, which mandates that thermographers wear arc-flash-rated personal protective equipment and face shields, which minimize thermographers' ability to see a screen. Ergonomically, cameras also have vastly improved, and battery technology allows for longer inspection times. Cases for infrared cameras are lighter, too. Most imagers now have an on-board digital camera, which leaves more room in the case to carry multiple lenses.
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