Thermography saves Eaton Group $250,000 per year

Thermography, among other things, reve­als and measures heat generation in machines and installations. It visualizes overheated components, and detects and prevents “creeping” breakdowns. It has become a familiar and accepted techni­que for preventive maintenance. What is less well known, however, is that the con­sistent, large-scale use of thermography can yield impressive savings.

The American Eaton Group produces a very wide range of industrial goods worldwide, and has a turnover of $9.8 billion. In Europe, its segments Eaton Fluid Power, Eaton Automotive and Eaton Truck are strongly represented. They focus on various systems and com­ponents for vehicles and for the aviation sector: from hydraulic systems for the new Airbus A380 to compressors for the engines of legendary Italian motorcycle maker Ducati. Eaton Electrical manufac­tures and modifies low- and medium-voltage distributors and installations for industrial customers.

Consistent inspection
Eaton Electrical’s Field Service Department operates from the Netherlands. An auto­nomous profit center, which also has exter­nal customers, the department inspects all of the Eaton Group’s European sites. This means that all the electrical installations at all 26 production sites from Poland to Portugal receive a thorough annual inspection with the thermal ima­ging camera. Naturally, a careful look-out is kept for hot spots and other develop­ments in cables and switches during these tours of inspection. But how is this infor­mation gathered and processed? How is the thermographic information classified, assessed and presented?

Peter Koelewijn is the field service supervisor and chief thermographer at Eaton. In this function, he visits all of the Eaton Group’s sites every year. With his FLIR Systems ThermaCAM P65 thermal imaging came­ra at the ready, he inspects all low- and medium-voltage installations at the sites. Koelewijn has a couple of rules of thumb which help ensure that the inspec­tions go smoothly.

“I set the emission value carefully,” he says. “I don’t make much use of the auto focus because I can adjust the settings faster manually; but, I do attach importance to a precise setting for the range. I make important comments directly into the headset.”

The images and data stored locally in the camera are then loaded into the compu­ter and, using the FLIR Systems Reporter software, introduced into a report and subjected to further analysis. It goes wit­hout saying that interpreting the infrared images requires a thorough knowledge of the inspected installations. And although the results of these inspections are, in fact, only recommendations, it is advisable for local maintenance managers to follow the advice given by the thermographer.

“You can only draw conclusions on the basis of experience and a thorough understanding of both the camera and the installations you inspect” says Koelewijn. “Of course, it’s also important to have the reports of the previous years within reach.”

Classification and savings
At Eaton, the inspection results are clas­sified according to a four-level fault rating system: a “minor problem” can be sorted out during the regular maintenance rounds by one of the group’s 50 preventive maintenance employees. At the opposite end of the scale are “critical problems”, which require immediate intervention and also involve an additional thermographic inspection on-site straight after the repair work. The levels in between – “serious pro­blem” and “intermediate problem” – requi­re repairs within one to two days and two weeks of the inspection, respectively.

The report – consisting of a visual and an infrared photo of the scanned object, a temperature curve, basic thermographic data and a commentary – is then sent to the local maintenance managers and archived at the service department at Eaton Electrical for subsequent use.

This precise classification into levels of urgency, detailed reporting per scanned object and regular inspecting saves the Eaton Group some $250,000 a year in Europe alone.

A customer-friendly camera
So, is the man with the all-seeing thermal imaging camera actually welcome at Eaton sites?

“Yes, absolutely,” laughs Koelewijn. “The visual aspect of the inspection, which this camera provides in both its daylight and infrared modes, represents significant added value. Another positive feature is that, thanks to the large detachable LCD screen on the ThermaCAM P65, the local manager can follow the measurements. A user-friendly, versatile camera is fine, but a customer-friendly camera is obviously an additional benefit. And if we point it upward for a moment, we can even tell the maintenan­ce people which of the fluorescent lamps on their premises need replacing.”

To learn more about FLIR Systems thermographic equipment, visit or call 800-464-6372.

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