July 29, 2021

Thermography: The Importance of Thermographs in Generator Operation


Installing a generator as your backup power solution is crucial in ensuring operations in an organization continue uninterrupted even amid an outage. But have you ever reflected on what could potentially happen if your generator failed to power on or just broke down during that critical moment? Well, it's quite a lot, and in this case, unfortunately, it's negative. The loss of revenue or shattering events (if it occurs in a critical facility like a hospital) is something no one would like to experience. However, (as you'd expect, perhaps) technology comes to our rescue to prevent or reduce such cases. This is where thermography kicks in, a vital aspect to consider during generator operation and maintenance.

So What is Thermography?

Also known as thermal imaging, it's a technology that uses infrared light/cameras to detect temperature changes within a component. The science behind this technology is that if an object increases in temperature, it emits radiation corresponding to the change. The difference in intensity of emission is then detected in images called thermograms. Commonly known and used thermographs include:

  • Hygro-thermograph: handy in places where humidity and temperature measurements are vital.
  • Infrared thermometer: Make use of laser pointer technology to measure surface thermal changes but have the disadvantage of only indicating the temperature of the point-of-focus.
  • Thermal infrared camera: Uses point and shoot technology to create a thermal image of the surface. Its bonus is that it can measure a wide area at once, and it's easily interfaced with digital components like computers.

For a generator to function effectively, none of its components should be faulty. Thermal imaging can help you locate the problem earlier; hence, it is instrumental in predictive testing. A typical generator comprises the moving parts and the non-moving parts. Suppose the moving part breaks down during a normal operation due to an undetected problem. In that case, it can be very costly to repair it, leaving alone the expensive replacement when repairs become unviable.  Issues with the intact parts like the transfer switch and electrical connections can also be costly. Thermography helps detect these problems early enough. This explains why facilities like hospitals, data centers, power plants, and military camps ( which can't afford to risk backup power failure) largely employ this technology.

What Should Undergo Thermography Testing?

Generator power systems involve different components and connections. The following should be subjected to thermal imaging during the annual maintenance schedule.

  • Transfer switch (both the manual and automatic)
  • Electrical switchgear
  • Electricity distribution units
  • Motor windings
  • Distribution equipment

This can easily be used to detect the following problems:

  • High resistance connections
  • Hot spots
  • Overloaded electric wires
  • Looming motor failure, e.g., existing cracks
  • Overheating in distribution units
  • Overloaded breakers or fuses
  • Phase load imbalance
  • Failure in insulation and cooling system
  • Faulty/corroded electrical connections

The Benefits

Though the technology has been seen as applicable to large organizations and critical facilities only due to the cost factor (in case of outage), it's fast becoming an essential requirement for every organization, including SMEs. For instance, some insurers are making it a vital need for businesses and companies. Besides that, you can't really argue about the benefits thermal imaging in generator operations brings to the table. Below is a breakdown of these perks:

  • Significantly reduces the danger of an electrical fire.
  • There is very little chance of a backup power outage.
  • Saves you money. Problems identified early are less costly to repair while increasing the lifetime of your generator (reduced chance of irreparable breakdown). Also, you save money you could spend if an unplanned outage occurs.
  • High safety standards.
  • Enhancement in system performance.
  • Helps in ascertaining that the generator output complies with the building power requirements and design specifications.
  • Reduced downtime, high reputation.

The Gist

Without a doubt, thermography comes in handy as far as generators are concerned. Detecting problems early enough ensures in no time you'll be caught off guard by an emergency power failure which was potentially preventable. To learn more and know how you can include thermography in your maintenance schedule, get in touch with our experts at Power System Service.