Using thermal imaging technology to prevent loss and improve maintenance
Authored by Dustin Jones - CHST, CRIS, Marine Manager, XL Catlin
Electrical panels overheating. Equipment stresses going undetected. What costly loss exposures could an infrared inspection uncover in your operations?
In manufacturing, keeping operations running smoothly is of paramount concern. For insurers and underwriters, knowing emerging issues before they become losses is equally critical. Thanks to infrared technology, or thermal imaging, both manufacturers and carriers can work together to eliminate costly problems before they occur.
Infrared technology is not new. In fact, the first mention of infrared wavelengths dates back to 1800, when Sir William Herschel, Royal Astronomer to King George III of England, discovered the elements that would help future scientists develop infrared imaging capabilities.
Today, infrared technology is used in health care to diagnose patients, in police operations to help authorities locate suspects at night, weather stations to predict and track storms, and security systems to provide detailed images.
Commercial uses of infrared technology are also prevalent. Many industries use thermal imaging as part of their inspection process. Inspection of homes, roofs, windows, construction sites, and manufacturing facilities often involve the use of thermal imaging cameras and scanners.
One of the more prevalent uses of infrared technology is within the manufacturing industry. Manufacturers can use infrared to monitor equipment and for predictive maintenance. A thermal image of a piece of equipment or electric panel, for example, can alert inspectors to potentially dangerous hotspots, leaks, or material weaknesses.
How it works
In 2019, the global market for infrared cameras surpassed $6 billion USD -- a market that is expected to grow 7 percent annually through 2026. Driven mainly by weather-related events and enhancements in surveillance techniques, infrared technology helps locate such instances as water damage, heat loss, and roof leak sources.
However, infrared technology has come into its own, becoming a critical tool used to improve loss exposure data, conduct safer inspections, and help uncover potential issues before a loss occurs.
Working much like a thermometer; infrared technology employs infrared light to detect heat sources. This light, focused on an object, can pick up energy wavelengths that give off heat. These heat signals from a source of heat, such as an electrical panel, are captured in imagery that give users a snapshot of where heat is most present.
A source that shows a hotspot – an area that gives off more heat than it typically omits – can tell infrared users if equipment is overheating, if electric panels are overtaxed, or if there are components that are heating up to unsafe levels. Such data can give manufacturers instant feedback on what areas of their operation require attention, help them improve overall maintenance procedures, and reduce the incidence of breakdown.
The data can also show underwriters and carriers the effectiveness of an operation’s maintenance program and give enough data that carriers can work with manufacturing clients to put stronger risk management and maintenance procedures in place before a costly loss occurs.
For that reason, carriers and underwriters are employing infrared technology at renewal time to further understand a client’s loss exposures and to make coverage and premium decisions. Moreover, using infrared technology, carriers can help clients determine their risks and help them prevent possible loss.
Using infrared technology, carriers can help clients determine their risks and help them prevent possible loss.
Prevention via Infrared
In one such case, an AXA XL asphalt manufacturing client was about to renew their policy. As is standard practice, we sent our risk control consultant to examine the client’s eleven locations to gather data and imagery of their facilities, and to better understand their maintenance procedures.
As part of our process, we offered the client infrared inspections of their facilities. Infrared inspections would help the company and our team locate potential issues with electrical components and other equipment that could lead to a failure in equipment or could create conditions that would cause a fire.
Our preferred vendor, Infrared Testing, Inc. (ITI), worked with us to conduct the testing. Within just one day of inspection, ITI discovered three problems areas in two of the four locations they had inspected
Each of the issues was identified and classified by order of importance:
1. “Critical” – corrective action required immediately
2. “Serious” corrective action needed as soon as possible
3. “Advisory” requiring corrective action at the next scheduled shutdown.
Within just a few hours, ITI had identified these issues and notified our team of the issues that posed critical concern. A breaker was overheating to dangerous levels – 150 degrees above the typical temperature of the breaker. Another breaker at that same facility was overheating at a lower temperature – 16 degrees over normal temperature – a repair that needed to be made at the client’s next scheduled maintenance shutdown.
At a second location, the infrared inspection had uncovered a 21-degree temperature increase in another breaker that needed attention at the earliest opportunity.
Because the infrared inspection had uncovered an electrical issue, we were able to inform the client that an electrician needed to make immediate repairs to avoid a potentially costly fire. The repairs were completed, and the client purchased their own infrared scanner, which allowed them to add future infrared inspection intervals to their operation. The potential savings from loss of revenue from unscheduled downtime, unwanted public attention and a potentially massive claim more than made it worth the investment.
That loss could have been catastrophic. The plant location with the most critical issue is valued at $2 million in total insured values. The location with the serious issue is valued at $3 million. An electrical fire at either or both of these locations could have been devastating in terms of loss of facilities and business operations.
Upfront costs = Big savings
The savings potential goes beyond preventing loss, as well. Using infrared inspections cannot only help locate potential problems, but also confirm that there are no inherent risks existing that could result in breakdown or fire. Carriers assess the level of risk when determining the appropriate premium for each policy. An operation that can demonstrate good maintenance and equipment condition may be able to reduce insurance costs.
More importantly, by implementing infrared inspection technology at our clients’ locations, AXA XL is able to provide clients a more complete picture of their loss exposures. That can help prevent or reduce loss, improve operational readiness, and keep facilities up and running for years to come.
Here are three thermographic scans from an infrared inspection that identified hotspots:
Drag Power, Main 400 Amp Breaker showing 266 degree hotspot due to loose or oxidized connection. Critical priority requiring immediate corrective action.
Main disconnect showing 118 degree hotspot due to a loose or oxidized fuse clip connections. Serious priority requiring corrective action as soon as possible.
Main Control Cabinet showing 101 degree hotspot due to a loose or oxidized connection. Advisory priority requiring corrective action during next scheduled shutdown.
AXA XL, the new division of AXA Group, combines XL Group operations, AXA Corporate Solutions and AXA Art, to provide property, casualty and specialty risk insurance and risk management products and services for mid-sized companies through to multinationals, and reinsurance solutions to insurance companies globally. We partner with those who move the world forward.
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