Equipment Maintenance: Thermal Imaging Changes the Picture

Pharmaceutical plant benefits by taking a different look at equipment.

By Jeff Fleming, CMC icos Biologics, Inc.

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has good insulation while the
one on the right suffers from
insulation problems
The right image indicates significant heat leakage through the insulation. Just to be sure I checked that I wasn’t seeing heat reflection of any sort. This kind of temperature pattern tells me I have severe insulation issues. This image convinced me to add all the heat exchangers to my semi-annual inspection route.

Chillers. As the saying goes, chillers have both a hot end and a cold end. On the hot end abnormally superheated spots might indicate a bearing failure. On the cold end subfreezing temperatures or hot spots might point to bearing failure or premature compressor wear.

Compressors. We have some very large, very expensive turbine compressors. These large belt-driven units handle vapor compression in the water-for-injection unit. They literally “wring the water out.” Not too long ago I spent $14,000 to repair a spare compressor.

Figure 5 shows a great baseline image of the main turbine compressor, a $20,000 unit. You can see the belt drive at left, the turbine in the middle with bearings and fluid, and the head plate where it bolts to the still. The unit is turning very fast. From this vantage point (the drive end), we would look for temperature variations compared to this baseline. These possibly would indicate bearing failure at the shaft or clogged oil ports, which manifest as hotspots near the bearings. Given the cost of this unit we consider semi-annual thermal inspections an essential means for preventing premature failures.

Well-operating compressor
Figure 5. Well-operating compressor: This image will
serve as the baseline for semi-annual scans of an
expensive belt-driven turbine compressor

Looking Ahead Starting with the contractor’s baselines, I’m building a very thorough regular thermal inspection program. I’m finding more and more inspection targets all the time.

When my monitoring program is completely implemented, members of my team (who have established skill sets in electrical, electronics, mechanics and other specialties) will be able to use the imager, as well, traversing pre-set inspection routes with descriptions of exactly where to stop to record thermal data. I’ll then download their images to my computer and use the software to analyze them.

Jeff Fleming is manager engineering operations support for CMC icos Biologics, Inc., Bothell, WA. E-mail at
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