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By: Marjorie Duffy
This attitude is all too often applied to building and machine electrical systems. With electricity seemingly always ready for use, it's difficult to convince building owners and facilities maintenance personal alike of the importance of extending their preventative maintenance programs to include electrical systems. And, with the use of thermal imaging cameras, it is easy to do.

My experience as a journeyman electrician has given me the opportunity to troubleshoot and repair many instances where the use of a thermal imaging camera would have proven a useful tool and undoubtedly would have saved countless lost production hours and expensive repair bills. Three such instances come to mind.

The first of the three instances involved a bakery in Tualatin. The bakery decided to add a second automated oven line identical to the first. The original oven had had been in place about 6 years. The project went through the proper review processes and it was determined the existing electrical bus duct system would support the additional electrical load. The second oven line had been in operation for approximately a year when the bus system failed causing the shutdown of both oven lines and a freezer room. The emergency repairs required working all day and through the night to limit the loss of production as well as loss of product. Evaluation of the damaged bus components revealed a connection point of the copper bus bars over heated and melted due to the not being torque properly during installation. Although the buss system had been in operation for over six years before the new oven line was installed, the additional load is what stressed the poor connection to the point of failure. Of course hind sight tells me that thermal imaging of the buss connection points before and/or after the installation would have exposed the problem area. The fact is that periodic maintenance imaging would have prevented the issue from ever becoming a costly problem.

The second event took place at an industrial complex in Beaverton. The building, owned by a property management group, houses two separate companies, one involved in label printing and the second a Japanese food processes facility. The printing company installed a new industrial printing machine that eventually caused a meltdown of a fuse clip in the main building panel feeding the individual leased space distribution panels within the month. The meltdown was determined to be a wire connection becoming loose from expansion and contraction over time. The new machine's load pushed the bad connection beyond its ability to handle the added current. A temporary repair was put in place after the initial failure but the equipment needed to be replaced and as often happens with older equipment, repair parts were not available so new equipment had to be installed. Although a weekend shut down was planned to install the new equipment, the food processing facility had to cancel weekend shifts and suffered loss of
some product due to refrigerators being powered down. Again, periodic thermal imaging would have exposed the vulnerabilities of the electrical system prior to installation of new equipment and would have paid for itself many times over in money saved on repair costs and lost revenues.

The final example involved a major video distribution warehouse in Wilsonville. The warehouse was illuminated with high bay metal halide (HID) lamps typical of many other warehouses and the complaint was erratic lighting issues throughout. Investigation into the problem exposed the neutral wire in the lighting breaker panels had been damaged by heating caused by non linier load issues (non linier loads are a topic of another discussion). I one case, the neutral wire was completely burned and became disconnected from the terminal. This problem most certainly would have been exposed with a scheduled thermal imaging maintenance program.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is another great quote that applies to this topic because there never seems to be a good time to shut down your facility to repair a damaged electrical system that could have been avoided with that ounce of preventive maintenance.

Some of the insurance company gives you a discount if you have thermal imaging done giving you a more of a reason to do this.
John Jassmann owner of www.phoenixpdx.com The best Portland Electricians you can find in the area. We provide a full range of electrical services from minor residential repair to large industrial fit-ups. Call 503-231-8006 for a free quote.

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Rate this article: "If It Isn't Broken, Don't Fix It" Thermal Imaging Electrical Systems

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