Overheating of electrical or mechanical equipment can result in damage and fires that may require replacement or extensive repair. Waiting times for replacement parts or equipment can result in extended downtime, placing a significant financial burden on facilities that can run into the millions of dollars.
Overheating is a particular concern for ageing infrastructure that may be operating at or beyond its rated lifetime. The traditional method for preventing this type of accident is to use an expensive handheld infrared (IR) camera to periodically, inspect the outside of equipment enclosures manually to look for hotspots. In some cases expensive infrared viewing windows allow the camera to view a limited area inside the equipment.
Among the drawbacks of these approaches include:
- In most cases the most temperature-vulnerable components cannot be seen directly using external or window inspection, so some potential overheating components can be missed easily
- Measurement is completely subjective (non quantitative) and dependent on how the camera operator uses and interprets the IR camera image. The potential for human error adds to the risk of this approach
- Periodic inspections completely miss incidents that could occur between inspections. If the inspection interval is too long there is a lot of time for things to go wrong that will never be detected until it is too late
- In some cases equipment is opened up for inspection while operating, which requires special safety equipment, special preparation and significant manpower
- The cost of maintaining a properly trained and equipped IR inspection team, whether internal or contracted, can be a significant ongoing cost year after year
- Additionally, it can be unsafe to send an IR team into some areas of plant due to electrical and magnetic safety risks.
Continuous, online IR monitoring of vulnerable components inside equipment is one way to mitigate risks.
Recently an overheating contact in a switchgear in a Korean 500 mW power plants resulted in a fire that caused more than US$36 million dollars in damage and required the plant to be taken offline for two weeks resulting in millions of dollars of lost revenue.
As a result of this incident a consortium of Korean utilities thought there should be a better way to monitor for overheating conditions in sealed electrical equipment and they funded the development of the TC4 TempCam™, which is now available from Hana Engineering.
The key driver for the Korean utility companies is risk reduction. Admittedly, if you’ve never experienced an overheating related incident then you can chose not to see it as a serious risk. However, had the TC4 monitoring solution been in place, at less than US$5,000 per point, the costly fire could have been completely prevented.
For more information:
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