Breakdown of Benefits

FROM THE MARCH ISSUE: Infrared thermography can save money, improve safety and prevent unexpected downtime.
By Cody Jackson | February 09, 2018

As ethanol producers see their facilities surpass the 20-year mark across the Midwest, the results of effective maintenance programs can be seen on the bottom line. It’s a well-known fact that equipment fails. The area where equipment failure is most detrimental to an ethanol plant is the electrical system—the lifeblood of the facility.

The good news is failure in electrical equipment can most often be predicted and avoided with the right maintenance program. A good infrared predictive maintenance program (IR PdM) can deliver many benefits for an ethanol producer, including less unexpected downtime, longer equipment life and improved safety, all adding up to cost savings.

So what is infrared thermography? The Infraspection Institute defines it as a “noncontact, nondestructive test method that utilizes a thermal imager to detect, display and record thermal patterns and temperatures across the surface of an object.” For an ethanol plant, using infrared thermography allows a thermographer to inspect electrical assets (motor control centers, panels, transformers, etc.) while they are energized and find problems before they lead to unexpected downtime. Problems in an electrical system can be detected by the anomalies in heat signatures—something skilled thermographers are trained to understand.

IR PdM programs can be implemented in many ways, from simply purchasing a thermal imager and creating a program, to hiring a specialized outside contractor, or a hybrid of the two. Choosing the right route depends on manpower, infrared training, time and budget. But with many facility services, hiring an expert is often the most effective way to get the job done.

Once in place, infrared thermography brings a wealth of benefits to the ethanol industry. Here are a few.

Reduced Downtime
In the ethanol industry, unexpected downtime can cost upwards of $10,000 per hour. In an electrical system where excessive heat causes problems, infrared thermography can effectively reduce downtime by detecting or predicting small problems, such as loose connections in wire termination points, busbar bolted connections, fuse clips on fuse blocks, overloaded circuits and poor-quality connections made at the manufacturer.

Longer Equipment Life
Maintenance teams at ethanol plants are tasked with keeping several hundred pieces of equipment up and running. Implementing an IR PdM for the electrical system allows the maintenance staff to correct small issues in electrical equipment before the equipment burns up and needs to be replaced. This allows for longer equipment life, which translates to savings.

Many ethanol plants have equipment waiting to be replaced. For large and essential equipment, the cost to replace versus the cost to fix can be extremely lopsided in favor of the latter. Most electrical equipment is designed to last decades and with the proper predictive maintenance programs in place, it can.

Improved Safety
Infrared thermography helps keep plants in compliance with National Fire Protection Association code 70B: Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance, which includes recommended maintenance practices such as inspection of the electrical system at least once per year. Insurance companies also recommend the inspection, to ensure equipment stays in safe, working order.

Cost Savings
For all the maintenance managers hoping to approve an IR PdM for their facilities, the cost savings can be the tipping point toward approval from upper management. Performing infrared scans of an electrical system alone cannot save a company money, but implementing an IR PdM followed by timely repairs can provide huge cost savings.

When infrared inspections for electrical systems and timely repairs are successfully implemented, JTI Services has seen a return on investment of 400 percent for every dollar spent.

As ethanol facilities get older, the need for infrared predictive maintenance programs increases. Ensuring that the electrical system is in safe, working order should be on every maintenance manager’s agenda if they want to maintain and improve production of an aging facility. Infrared inspections combined with timely repairs can do just that.

Author: Cody Jackson
Certified level-III Infrared Thermographer
Manager, JTI Services