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By Thomas A. Westerkamp
Equipment Rental & Tools Article Use Policy
The arsenal of tools and technology that maintenance and engineering departments can use to detect and diagnose problems in institutional and commercial facilities is expanding. From infrared-imaging systems and electrical-test equipment to technology used for vibration and oil analysis, front-line technicians have a growing array of solutions at their disposal.
By understanding the advances in new-generation diagnostic technology, managers will be better able to specify tools and equipment technicians can use to effectively detect, diagnose, and correct small problems with facilities and their components before they can turn into large and costly headaches.
Technicians can use infrared imaging technology to perform safe, non-contact monitoring of elevated, moving, or hot equipment, such as power-distribution systems, motors, and pumps. They also can use imagers to monitor processes and check temperature trends in HVAC components. A thermal image of a building's exterior walls also can reveal roof moisture and air leaks at windows and doors, and it can verify missing, damaged, or incorrectly installed insulation, moisture intrusion, and possible mold.
Infrared imagers have become smaller, more affordable and user-friendly in recent years. To operate, the user points the imager at the area of interest and adjusts the focus to sharpen the image. Squeezing and releasing the trigger freezes the image on the LCD display and brings up a menu. The user then presses the store key, transferring the image to a data card.
The image pattern and range, or temperature level and span, are adjustable. A memory function allows the user to scroll though stored images. A toggle switch changes temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius. Users can transfer some file formats to any PC and access them immediately, while others require software that can save in several file extensions, analyze data, review audio annotations, export infrared images, and generate reports.
New-generation imagers feature higher thermal sensitivity, or noise equivalent temperature difference (NETD) measured in mKelvins (mK) — electronic noise that produces snow in an image. The lower the NETD value, the more sensitive the imager is, and the result is higher visibility and greater detail with a color LCD display.
Newer units also have better impact, dust, and water resistance, and they automatically store time-dated images, voice, text, and notes in one file.
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