Nearly all electro-mechanical equipment becomes anomalously warm before it fails, making infrared (IR) cameras extremely effective diagnostic tools in the manufacturing environment. Inspections using infrared cameras can find many problems before failure occurs. In many cases the time to failure can be projected, enabling the most convenient scheduling of proactive, or preemptive, repairs. This practice, called "predictive maintenance" (PdM), enhances both productivity and safety.
IR cameras play a major role in PdM programs in manufacturing plants, electric power transmission and distribution systems, chemical plants, paper mills, and numerous other industrial operations. IR cameras are also ideal for monitoring objects and arterials that present diagnostic thermal profiles, such as electricity transmission and distribution systems, material in containment vessels and pipelines, materials and associated equipment during the manufacturing process, and breaches in security. Other well-regarded inspection tools include human senses, vibration analysis, oil analysis (tribology), and ultrasound analysis. However, IR thermal inspections are accurate, rational, intuitively interpretable, nondestructive, noninvasive, noncontact, and fast. They provide instant images and data that are immediately usable in reports, and they can be easily archived to maintain a trending study of performance, which in turn may be used to project time-to-failure, enabling optimal scheduling of maintenance, based on actual operating condition, and preempting catastrophic failure. Infrared technology has been used at the General Motors Powertrain Engine Facility in Romulus, Michigan, on a full-time basis since 1988 as part of our predictive maintenance program. Infrared inspections add real value to our total predictive/preventive maintenance program. We continually inspect electrical components—including the aging electrical buss, all mechanical equipment, and the building envelope, including the roof.
Through a corporate initiative, the GM Infrared Standards Committee continually tracks the value of this program on the basis of a written cost avoidance calculation and procedure. As a result of continued, demonstrated savings, GM has adopted our written practice, which we treat as a living document and continually encourage input from the members of the GM Infrared Users Group. Following are three recent cases at the Romulus facility in which inspection of equipment using FLIR infrared cameras has yielded significant savings.
Figure 2. During a walk-through inspection, an anomaly was spotted thermally (left) and visually (right) in a roller in this turn.
Figure 3. Upon closer inspection, the infrared camera pinpoints the actual failed roller, which has an anomalously warm temperature of 103.9°F. Photo at right shows the roller close up.
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