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The power to conduct safe inspections

Published: 26 April 2012 - Heather Ramsden

Infrared windows from Iriss are helping a regional power generation site conduct safer, standards-compliant inspections to reduce hazard liability and maintenance costs

Insurance conditions demanded the power generation site perform regular preventive maintenance on its switchgear. Live inspection however required more manpower and resources than the company could provide in-house and these problems were exacerbated by the obligations within the NFPA 70E standard for electrical safety in the workplace. In short, the inspection of energised equipment was becoming more restrictive, time-consuming and costly.

The insurance company recommended the adoption of infrared windows as a way of conducting safer, standards-compliant inspections to reduce hazard liability and maintenance costs. The benefits of their introduction would be manifold. 

Firstly it would cut down the need for engineers to conduct routine inspection of healthy equipment in full personal protective equipment (PPE) and also for the presence of electricians to remove and reinstall panel covers.  Critical personnel would also be available to perform other tasks which were often outsourced.

The installation of infrared windows would also enable switchgear, the motor control centre and transformers to be classified in NFPA terms as ‘enclosed’, thereby reducing risk.  Additionally they would make it feasible for more frequent inspections to be carried out on critical or suspect applications to maximise production and decrease the insurance liability.

Initially, the focus was on the inspection of primary switchgear in the site’s electrical distribution system and several smaller operations within the plant.  Significantly, none of this critical plant had been included in the annual survey due to the hazard risk associated with the assessment of energised equipment. 

Iriss, the developer and manufacturer of industrial grade windows was asked to make an appropriate recommendation and produced the following return on investment analysis.

Analysis of a standard inspection

The client had been using a contract thermography company for some time and the survey crew consisted of two, in-house electricians and the outsourced thermographer.

It was calculated that 19 days would be required to inspect the first phase of equipment under consideration for IR window installation. The entire inspection team would be dressed in 40 Cal/cm2 PPE in accordance with NFPA 70E and OSHA mandates for energised work; getting kitted out and dressing down would occupy 30 minutes twice a day. This procedure amounted to 88 hours over the 19 days.

The thermographer’s waiting time while panel covers were opened and closed to provide access was estimated at 186.4 hours. And vice versa, the electricians waiting time while the thermographer conducted his survey was anticipated to be 58.8 hours (29.4 hours x two men).

Having analysed these time studies, facility management was surprised to learn that a 468.3 hours (94 per cent) of the total project time for traditional open-panel surveys was non-productive. It became clear the inclusion of infrared windows could offer considerable cost savings as well as provide a working environment that is both safer and fully standards-compliant. Surveys could be conduced during periods of peak-load without elevating risk to plant assets, processes or people.

As a result 203 Iriss windows were installed during routine shutdown.  Their installation allowed the immediate inspection of applications that had previously been considered ‘uninspectable’. Furthermore the entire task became a one man job and there was no need to remove panels or wear increased levels of PPE.

Total man hours required to complete an inspection dropped to just 33, costing around just 10 per cent of the traditional process i.e. saving the company 90 per cent in maintenance costs.

After just five inspection cycles, the facility was recording savings that amounted to 66 per cent more than the windows installation cost. And because the inspections could now be completed with greater ease and without additional risk, the facility was able to increase inspection frequency to four per annum. This reflected the best practice recommendations by the insurance company that were originally considered unfeasible.

As a result of these improvements the power generation site is now planning the purchase of its own infrared camera and to provide thermography training for its in-house maintenance engineers leading to even more cost savings and productivity for the plant.


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