Analysis Infrared Motor Testing Reliability & Maintenance Center

Make the Most Of IR Inspections

Jane Alexander | September 20, 2017

When it comes to the non-invasive technologies that make up a plant’s predictive-maintenance (PdM) program, thermal imaging—often called infrared (IR) imaging—has seen dramatic growth in recent years.

Whether you and/or others at your site are just beginning to perform thermal-imaging inspections, rely on a third party for them, or have been using this technology for a while, it’s a good idea to periodically review the basics and the best practices associated with these inspections. The thermal-imaging experts at FLIR Systems (, Wilsonville, OR) offered the following tips for making the most of your infrared inspections.

Safety first

PdM pros love thermal imaging because it’s a non-contact and non-invasive technology. Even so, always remember the safety hazards presented by electrical, mechanical, rotating, and heated components, especially in unfamiliar parts of a plant and when components are near failure.

Know your stuff

Compile a list of all plant assets and systems that should be inspected. Many first-time users don’t realize the wide gamut of components in a plant that should be inspected using thermal imaging. They include, among other things:

• electrical systems such as motors, pumps, and switchgear
• steam lines and traps
• rotating-equipment systems, such as belt drives, turbines, mixers, and fans
• heating and refrigeration systems in process and climate-control applications
• compressed air systems
• facility building-envelope insulation
• vessels.


Determine what equipment and systems are most critical to your operations in terms of avoiding unplanned downtime and rank them or their corresponding physical areas in a plant accordingly.

Stick with it

Adoption of new technologies in some PdM programs often can be categorized as “burning bright and brief,” i.e., while there might be great enthusiasm and interest when the technology is introduced, it can be short-lived. With thermal imaging, real benefits are realized from a sustained momentum of routine inspections wherein changes are often identified from one inspection to the next, and costly failures prevented. The key is to love thermal imaging because it’s a non-contact and non-invasive technology. Even so, always remember the safety hazards presented by electrical, mechanical, rotating, and heated components. Unless a PdM program is feasible by design, it will be hard to keep up with what needs to be done.

Get on the training train

As plant managers put thermal imagers in the hands of more and more technicians, it’s tempting to promote a “point and shoot” approach. It is crucial, however, that users receive proper training to optimize imager settings for each application. This allows users to distinguish normal anomalies from true abnormal conditions and, most important, helps ensure their safety. MT

For more information on a range of thermal-imaging topics, including basic and advanced training, visit


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Jane Alexander

Jane Alexander

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