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Thermal Imaging Camera Sheds Light on Process Equipment Problem

One of the many high-tech diagnostic tools Mechanical Service Corporation has in our arsenal is a FLIR E85 thermal imaging camera.

MSC ordinarily uses the FLIR to diagnose HVAC and process cooling issues, but recently we helped a process facility and longtime customer get to the bottom of a mystifying problem they were having with multiple high-pressure steam drum dryers.


For several months, the product that was emerging from the dryers was inadequately dried, and the problem was getting worse over time. There were varying opinions on what was causing it – perhaps product viscosity, high pH, stratification in the holding tanks, etc. Many fixes had been tried, but the drying problems persisted.


Remembering that MSC had used a thermal imaging camera while troubleshooting a cooling problem at the plant, the facilities manager asked us to come in and scan several of the cast iron drums while in operation. We sent in one of our FLIR-certified technicians to do just that.


With 359°F high-pressure steam at 138 psi being delivered to the rotating drum, temperatures were expected to be fairly uniform across the range. However, heat signatures captured by our thermal imaging camera came as a surprise. The electronic images were like colorful maps, with numerous well-defined, irregularly shaped borders between areas of widely differing temperatures. Some directly adjacent areas varied by as much as 34.5°F, and temperatures within the defined areas remained constant throughout the product drying process.


A plant engineer observing the process thought something must have been wrong with our thermal imaging camera, but a quick test on other plant equipment proved that it was working flawlessly. IR testing on a dryer that had been manually cleaned the previous day showed similar images that were slightly less extreme than other drums, but not by much.


Ultimately, our thermography results pointed the facility in the right direction and helped prove a theory that had been discounted early on had been right all along. Imperceptible byproducts were being burned into the drums’ surfaces, and ordinary cleaning and maintenance were incapable of removing them. By revamping their drum cleaning process with the assistance of the manufacturer and a metallurgical consultant, the facility was able to solve the problem and restore the quality of their product.


About MSC


Mechanical Service Corporation is comprised of the best-trained and equipped engineers and service technicians in our industry. In addition to the FLIR E85 thermal imaging camera, we invest substantially in state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment like megohmmeters, micromanometers, multimeters, ultrasonic flow meters, vibration recording equipment, acoustical analysis tools, and more.


Please contact MSC at 973-884-5000 to discuss your facility’s advanced diagnostic needs.

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