Hot-button Issue: Thermal Imaging Coming of Age

By Renee L. Shroades  

Hot-button Issue: Thermal Imaging Coming of Age

Infrared thermal imaging has become a powerful tool for facilities maintenance and engineering departments. Increasingly, managers in all types of facilities are using infrared technology as part of their preventive and predictive maintenance strategies. The trend is likely to continue, especially as managers look ahead to the next generation of infrared technology.

Falling Prices

To maintain their competitive edge, manufacturers will continue to improve infrared devices and make them more affordable.

“People keep coming up with new ways to make detectors less expensive,” says Ray Peacock, president of Temperatures.com Inc., which aims to help engineers and technicians learn about cost-effective applications for thermal imaging systems and temperature sensors. The optics in infrared devices are fairly expensive and the biggest roadblock in further reducing the cost of the instruments.

“I think this is one area where we are going to see the economies of scale coming to play,” Peacock says, adding that manufacturers will focus on new developments in this area to help reduce the cost even further.

Manufacturers also might incorporate existing military technology into future devices designed for commercial use. Peacock says this happened about eight years ago when developers made breakthroughs regarding infrared devices’ focal plane and cooling systems.

“Several companies got involved in making these advances happen, and it tremendously dropped the complexity inside the imagers and the electronic and mechanical parts that needed to support them,” he says.

Permanent Fixtures

The most popular infrared devices in facilities today are handheld instruments. But aside from these tools, managers can expect to find a wider selection of relatively simple Web-enabled devices that will be designed for permanent installation to monitor temperatures in critical areas.

“In areas that are subject to stress, either mechanical or thermal, and where parts might overheat or potentially fail, it might be justifiable in the near future to install some of these devices permanently and access them with software over the Web,” he says. “This is one of the breakthroughs that is coming, and I think it is going to happen very quickly once it begins.”

Many industrial facilities, such as steel plants, are already using this technology as part of their regular inspection process, he says. Managers in institutional and commercial facilities might want to consider applications for these devices in areas where temperature control is paramount. For example, managers in hospitals might want to use this technology in blood-storage units, he says.

Finally, managers also can expect to see the continued consolidation among infrared manufacturers, Peacock says. As a result, managers will want to carefully consider the companies they purchase infrared equipment from and ensure that front-line technicians will have access to technical support over the life cycle of the device.

Focus: School Maintenance and Students

The link between public school maintenance and student performance is slowly climbing the priority list of school officials, government agencies and the public nationally, as evidenced by three recent developments related directly to maintenance management.

First, the Healthy Schools Network — www.healthyschools.org — issued a report in January exploring the link between the performance of students in schools with environmental hazards affecting indoor air quality.

“From this limited study, we learned there is indeed a correlation between poorer academic achievement for students attending schools where environmental hazards have been identified,” according to the report. Among its recommendations to further explore the issue and improve conditions:

  • Replace annual facilities’ reports with evidence-based assessments and link them to state funding for maintenance and repairs.
  • Standardize data-collection formats, and collect data via the internet for better accuracy and public access.
  • Make facilities’ environmental quality data available to the public to facilitate improvement efforts.

The second development comes from Massachusetts and Connecticut, where the Region 3 office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an alert to school officials regarding the hazards from oil spills. The EPA continues to closely monitor districts’ compliance with environmental-protection laws, which has been an expanding EPA focus in recent years. The alert on oil spills serves as a reminder for school officials.

“Over the last two years, there have been several highly publicized fuel-oil spill incidents at public schools in both Massachusetts and Connecticut,” according to the alert. “These incidents have resulted in the release of thousands of gallons of fuel oil into rivers, lakes and streams, resulting in damage to the environment, costly cleanups, and civil penalties for the affected school districts.”

Finally, the EPA in January released a package of information to encourage schools to reduce lead in their drinking-water supplies.

“An unhealthy school environment is a serious barrier to learning,” says Deborah Price, assistant deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of State and Drug-Free Schools. “This tool kit will help schools work with community partners to understand and reduce children’s lead exposure from drinking water.”

The tool kit, “The 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water at Schools and Child Care Facilities Tool kit,” is available at www.epa.gov/safewater/schools/guidance.html.

EPA Initiative Targets Hazmat Funding

Yale University faces a $30,000 fine for failing to meet financial assurance requirements of federal and state hazardous waste laws. A February complaint from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that Yale violated requirements of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) by failing to submit updated financial information for 2003 and 2004.

The action is part of a new EPA federal initiative that aims to ensure that institutions handling hazardous waste have funds available to properly clean up areas where the wastes have been treated, stored or disposed of.

EPA began the nationwide effort after a report from its inspector general indicated that many companies might not comply with laws regarding financial assurance. For more information, visit www.epa.gov/region1/enforcement/waste/index.html.

In other EPA enforcement news, the Maine College of Art in Portland agreed in January to pay $60,000 to settle EPA claims that it violated state laws by failing to determine if wastes were hazardous.

Also, in EPA’s Region 3, Howard University in Washington, D.C., paid a $59,589 penalty and settled alleged violations of federal laws to prevent fuel leaks from five underground storage tanks.

Access Board Releases Comparison of Accessibility Guidelines

A new document from the Access Board seeks to clarify accessibility codes by comparing provisions of the new Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) with the original ADA standards and with the International Building Code (IBC).

The side-by-side comparison is arranged and ordered according to the format and sequence of the new ADAAG published in July 2004. Provisions of the current ADA standards — based on the original ADAAG issued in 1991 — appear alongside corresponding sections of the new ADAAG. The U.S. Department of Justice is updating its ADA standards according to the new ADAAG.

In updating the ADAAG, the Access Board is attempting to reconcile differences with model building bodes, including the IBC. The IBC contains scoping provisions for accessibility and refers to the technical criteria of ANSI A117.1, a voluntary consensus standard issued by the American National Standards Institute. The comparison includes accessibility provisions of the IBC, including those referenced in the ANSI standard.

For more information on the IBC, visit www.iccsafe.org.

EPA: Cleaner, Small Engines are Safe

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded in March that the technology needed to meet potential tougher standards for gasoline engines with less than 50 horsepower will not increase the risk of fire or burns for users. The agency says the finding clears the way for less-polluting, gas-powered lawn equipment.

The study, mandated by Congress, was peer reviewed and developed in coordination with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Other federal agencies and more than 20 outside experts, including fire marshals and engine manufacturers, were consulted during the study.

EPA plans to propose new standards for this class of engines in 2006.

To read the report, visit www.epa.gov/otaq/equip-ld.htm.

ASHE, ASHRAE Form Partnership

The American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) announced in January that they have agreed to work more closely to promote the mutual interests of engineers and health care facilities professionals.

“With ASHRAE having the primary expertise in HVAC and ASHE having the primary expertise in health care engineering, our joint efforts will ensure that the design and operation of our health care facilities meet the patients’ needs for health and safety,” says Lee Burgett, P.E., ASHRAE’s president.

The associations already are working together in an number of areas. For example, they are jointly developing a proposed standard, 170P Ventilation for Health Care Facilities. The proposed standard would define requirements for ventilation system design intended to provide environmental control for comfort, as well as infection and odor control.

For more information, visit www.ashe.org or www.ashrae.org

Contact FacilitiesNet Editorial Staff »

  posted on 4/1/2006   Article Use Policy

Related Topics: