Infrared Electrical Inspection: See the Unseen with It

Fires are a hazard, and electrical equipment failures are the main reason why they occur in facilities. So, you want to avoid excessive heat, pending failures, and other issues. It’s imperative to discover and deal with potential fire risks on time. 

Usually, inspectors use infrared thermography to detect excess heat. Then, it shows something is wrong with the component. So, you can find an issue before it causes component failure or colossal damage. Now, let’s go through the benefits and the working process of infrared electrical inspection!

The Basics of Infrared Electrical Inspection

Caption: Thermal imaging close-up

An infrared electrical inspection uses IR technology to inspect wiring and installations. You can rest assured IR inspections will be efficient in finding potential electrical issues in electrical systems. That includes detecting overloads, identifying hot spots, and finding loose components.

The Importance of Infrared Electrical Inspections

Caption: A funnel leak detected with IR imaging

There are multiple ways how infrared electrical inspections can help your facility.

Finding Hot Spots

If there is a hot spot in your production property, an IR inspection will help to detect it. You can scan motors, panels, and installations to look for excessive heat. The scanning report gets in the hands of the engineer. They can deliver a report and recommend any repairs if necessary.

Detecting Impending Failures

Excessive heat is the first sign that an electrical component will fail. You can analyze elements to detect abnormal heating. It will indicate impending failure, so don’t hesitate to look for higher temperatures regularly. That will help you to see issues before they head to a total failure.

Protecting Your Budget and Business

It’s responsible for business owners to ask for regular IR inspections. If you detect issues on time, you can repair them before they become a huge problem. That saves expenses on the repair process. Also,  it prevents downtime and ensures lack of production won’t reduce your revenue.

Infrared Electrical Inspection Working Process

Caption: Heat dissipation – infrared electrical inspection

You can’t see infrared light with a naked eye. So, you’ll need a camera or an IR imager to perform the inspection. This device looks for IR energy and converts it into an electronic signal. That signal becomes a thermal image, and you get accurate temperature calculations.

A conventional camera has lenses, and IR cameras are the same. But, on the other hand, the difference is the focus of waves on IR energy. It collects it and converts it to the picture you see on display.

Here is what you get once you finish an IR inspection:

  • A reliable determination of potential issues
  • Detailed presentations of the locations where the problems exist
  • Data that enables simple repairs
  • Problem detection before it becomes too late

An engineer should observe the results. And you’ll get feedback and recommendations on the best actions.      

What Equipment Can You Check with IR Electrical Inspection?

Caption: An IR thermal imager

Here’s what components you can check:

  • Feeder poles, transformers, and electrical utility substations
  • Capacitor banks and primary electrical incoming services
  • Motors – control centers and electrical disconnects
  • Electrical panels – receptacle, lighting, and I-line
  • Electrical switchboards and disconnects
  • Transfer switches and generator controls
  • Power supplies that are uninterruptable
  • Distribution panels and disconnects
  • Bus ducts

Safety Cautions When Using IR Inspection

Caption: An electrician or engineer working with an IR imager

IR inspection comes with certain safety risks. That’s why only a professional should handle it. And, here are the main cautions to consider while checking the equipment!

Arc Flash

An electrical fault can cause a high-temperature explosion. And, the other name of that explosion is arc flash. You risk burns and injuries if this flash happens. That’s why it’s necessary to honor where you must use personal protective equipment (PPE). You should wear it whenever inside the protective boundary limits for that gear. 

Electrical Shocks

Caption: An illustration of what happens after an electric shock

If you get in touch with the source of electrical energy, that results in an electric shock. The electricity goes through your body and can cause serious harm. An electrical closet is an example of an area where a shock can happen. Also, pay attention to compact areas with open electrical gear. Even if you don’t touch the gear, current measurements and voltage checks can lead to shocks.

All in all, before using IR technology to scan your equipment, conduct a job hazard analysis (JHA). It’s a plan that lists areas that require special attention and pinpoints how to act in those situations. So, you’ll be aware of potential electrical risks and other dangers that could happen while checking the gear.

Infrared Electrical Inspection Procedures

Caption: An engineer using a thermal imager

The infrared electrical inspection involves many steps to follow to do it all correctly.

Identify Hot Spots

You can measure temperature but don’t get accurate results on how serious the problem is. Many factors can lead to temperature adjustment. For example, it might seem a gear isn’t hot to the touch. That’s why you should analyze the load conditions of the equipment. So, note the load when performing a check.

Is it possible to compare the gear to a similar one in the facility? That comparison can help to find potential issues. If you can’t compare to other gear, assess the ambient temperature. Environmental conditions could affect the temperature, so note that in the report.

The Importance of Focus

If you don’t get the focus right, you can get the wrong temperature readings. So, your report might not be accurate. The experts recommend keeping the camera near your body. Additionally, keep the camera tight. Finally, if you are adjusting the focus, get the sharpest lines possible.

So, the device will save a thermal image to memory. You can adjust background temperatures and emissivity in the reporting software. On the other hand, you can’t change focus. So, you should adjust the focus in advance.

Thermal and Temperature Adjustment

Caption: Checking temperature and heat on steel during welding

If you check the thermogram, each pixel has a specific color. The dynamic range is the space between the lowest to the highest temperature.

Each infrared camera has an auto temperature scale. So, you can choose it and get decent image quality. On the other hand, that can be misleading. If you scan outdoor substations, the picture might seem bland. So, it will be harder to notice hot spots because there’s no big contract. It helps to adjust the dynamic range to a minimum. So, most units allow changing lower and upper temperatures easily.

Color Variations

Caption: Infrared electrical inspections with thermal imaging

The color palette shows thermal signatures in a picture. So, your goal is to find a scheme that best presents the issue. Amber tones or grayscale palettes are suitable for certain applications. On the other hand, a blue-red scheme might be better in other situations.

A palette is the color scheme used to display the thermal signatures in a thermal image. The objective is to select the palette that best identifies and communicates the problem.

For example, certain applications may be better viewed and analyzed in a monochromatic palette such as grayscale or amber tones. Other situations may be easier to analyze and explain in a color palette, such as blue-red or one with high contrast.

Colors palettes and the dynamic range of an image go hand in hand. The blue-red is the most easily understood palette, but it can be very misleading if the correct dynamic range is not applied – cool components easily can be made to look red and hot components can easily be made to look less severe, depending on the temperature scale range.

Why a Visual Inspection Is Necessary

Your eyesight can give you evidence of overheating. Did you notice a deformed piece? Is there discoloration on the wires? Can you smell something weird? These are all indicators that something is wrong. Additionally, you want to perform visual checks for any loose connections.

Considering the Environment

Caption: A thermal image of a house

Where is your gear? Do you need to do the scan outdoors? It can rain, wind speed or snow can affect the results? The answer is yes, so you need to be careful. Even strong magnetic fields and solar interference can influence the outcome of the survey.

If you are outdoors, you might have problems checking the image. So, rain might be dropping on the display screen, and sunlight might be strong. That’s why you should do the check-in in the late afternoon. However, early mornings can be the right time for inspections. If you think any factors affected the results, note them in the report.

Other Applications

What if you can’t have a direct view of the check? An overhead busway might require an indirect view. So, be careful about the issues that could appear. If the problem can’t emit its existence via the enclosure, you might not notice it. It’s much better to have direct access to the gear.

If you can’t use IR inspections, go for an alternative method. Airborne ultrasound and similar testing can be helpful in some situations.

Analyzing the Root Cause

You might perform an IR check without getting reliable thermal results. If an engineer can’t read them, it means the inspection didn’t work. So, that’s a signal that you can’t use infrared checks. Instead, go for other methods or combine them with IR. For example, breaker testing can help to test circuit breakers.

IR Electrical Inspection Report Writing

Caption: Writing a report – illustration

You need to have an infrared electrical inspection report. It’s where you will enter all details of the process. The styles vary depending on who does the inspection. On the other hand, there are elements you must include in infrared reports.

Gear description. What gear do you plan to test? Mention its ID, type, location, and other relevant data.

Discrepancies. Did you notice anything out of the ordinary during the check? It could be a safety risk or an electrical code violation. So, you need to mention it in the report.

Changes in temperature. You pick the reference area first. Then, you measure the targeted location next to and compare the results.

What caused the change in temperature?

What’s the possible reason for the temperature differences? It could be weak contacts, overloaded circuits, or aging insulation. So, give your best guess in the report.

Checked and unchecked areas. Did you inspect all locations? Is there gear you couldn’t access? You should mention why you missed a place in the report.

The condition of the system. The details to add are duty cycle, load (ampere draw), and the percent load of the total rating.

The environment. Did the weather affect the test? For example, if you noticed wind direction, speed, or humidity, add it to the report.

Thermograms and photos. It helps to take an actual picture of the gear. So, add it next to the thermogram with the IR image.

What do they need to repair? Again, the report writer suggests corrective measures. So, make sure to write the needed action. Also, ask to add IR images after the fixes.

Thermal imager details. So, these are details about the device used. Add its serial number, model, and make. Also, include all the settings used during the check.

What’s the Frequency Necessary for IR Inspections?

Caption: Checking the water equipment with an IR imager

Industrial fires spread quickly, so practicing fire safety is a must. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) suggests doing infrared inspections yearly.

If your gear is risky, you can reduce this interval. First, you should categorize your equipment, and here is how:

  • Critical equipment. You should check this gear every three months.
  • Essential gear. Two checks every year are necessary for this type.
  • Non-essential equipment. You can check this gear once per year.

You should have a base with all the information on previous infrared checks. So, the database should include the reports, dates, and who handled the inspections. 

Conclusion

An electrical problem can cause the entire system to fail. Luckily, IR checks can help to detect potential issues on time. That includes potential problems with cable assemblies. If you need any assistance with optimizing your electrical testing, don’t hesitate to contact our experts!

Hey, I am John, General manager of Cloom and OurPCB.

I am a responsible, intelligent and experienced business professional with an extensive background in the electronics industry.

Reach me at sales@wiringo.com to get a quote for your projects.

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