5 ways to improve food processing efficiency with thermal imaging technology

Thermal Imaging Mechanical Maintenance

The food and drink processing industry is the fourth highest industrial energy user in the UK, according to The Carbon Trust. In 2010, it consumed nearly 37TWh, which is enough energy to power 125,000 homes for nearly 15 years and up to 3 times as much energy per square foot as the average commercial building. With this in mind, the importance of successfully managing the energy efficiency and running costs of any food processing facility becomes immediately obvious.

This coupled with the continuous production pressures of the industry means that an emphasis must be put on keeping production machines running at optimum capacity. Maintenance downtime costs almost every production line at least 5% of its productive capacity, and many lose up to 20%. Maximising efficiency and minimising downtime then, is a clear challenge faced by any production team.

Thermal Imaging Cameras can help drastically reduce downtime and improve energy efficiency in the food processing sector; it is a mature technology and already often used in food processing facilities both for maintenance and monitoring food product temperature and levels.

Mechanical Maintenance…

Component wear, and subsequent failure, is one of the biggest causes of unplanned downtime and any increase in operating temperature is an early indicator of potential problems. Using a hand-held thermal imaging camera as part of a preventative maintenance programme can quickly and easily identify failing components (without interrupting production) before an incident occurs.

Thermal Imaging Cameras can also be used to identify opportunities for energy saving measures, which not only reduce carbon emissions but also operating costs for businesses. Wasted energy, in the form of thermal leaks and inefficiencies, can be easily identified using a thermal imaging camera to visually inspect oven temperature spreads, door seals on refrigerated areas, pipework, ventilation and any other thermal processes on site.

So what are the main areas in which modern thermal imaging cameras can benefit a food processing facility?

  1. Energy savings – use the camera to check the seals on cool stores and ovens to stop wasting energy and potentially spoiling product. Typically, a refrigerator with a split door seal uses up to 11% more energy than an efficiently operating refrigerator and a split door seal on an oven can lose 20% of its heat.
  2. Mechanical Maintenance – maintenance staff can check mechanical components for wear so that preventative maintenance can be scheduled to replace components that have degraded over time (such as bearings) before they cause catastrophic failure and loss of production.
  3. Insulation surveys – check the integrity of pipe insulation to save energy. A 2” hot water pipe with 4” of insulation, which has suffered just ½” of damage, would require 7% more energy to maintain temperature. A thermal imaging camera lets engineers locate the heat signature of damaged pipe insulation in need of repair.
  4. Electrical surveys – identify failing electrical circuits which left unchecked could cause unscheduled downtime or even electrical fires. Fuse clips will start to lose their spring tension at approximately 200°C and when this happens the fuses become loose, small gaps develop and more power is needed to jump across that gap, generating heat. These tell-tale hot spots and heat signatures allow easy identification of necessary replacements and maintenance requirements using a thermal imaging camera.
  5. Vessel checks – save time and gain access to difficult locations to check the fill level of vital liquids. Make monitoring the surface temperatures or contents of large containers, such as tanks or vessels easy and efficient. The ability to perform these inspections is particularly important for safety purposes, checking fill capacity or temperature maintenance purposes.

Thermal imaging cameras employ a versatile technology and the latest hand-held devices are increasingly affordable and provide considerable benefits. The primary benefit is that all tests can be performed quickly and without any contact with the equipment, minimising any disruption to production.

Preventative and Predictive Maintenance…

Testo_875iThe ideal strategy for using thermal imaging in a preventative maintenance schedule is the comprehensive understanding of the operating environment and the conditions components are under in everyday operation. A thermal imaging camera can be used to capture and log the process and its components. Thermal survey reports can be created as a reference showing temperature profiles in normal operation and subsequent anomalies can be compared with the reference reports to aid decision making in a condition-based assessment.

Similarly in a predictive maintenance schedule which involves the monitoring of wear conditions and equipment characteristics against a predetermined tolerance to predict possible failures. The regular use of thermal imaging can highlight when certain tasks are needed, rather than wait for the allotted time on a fixed schedule. If a bearing begins to show signs of operating at a hotter than expected temperature, lubrication can be applied to remedy the situation.

The key to the successful use of thermal imaging is in determining basic parameters so that when abnormal conditions are encountered they can be easily detected, analysed and remedied. This means establishing operation criteria as part of the original acceptance inspection or following a planned maintenance overhaul when everything is operating within expected tolerances. By reviewing these images against the reference images, more effective decisions can be made about repairing or replacing components.

The adoption of increasingly accessible thermal imaging technology (as described) will lead to cost savings through reduced maintenance hours, increased plant operating efficiency and allow the more effective operation of maintenance engineers.

Visit the Testo Limited website for more information on our full range of Thermal Imaging cameras.

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Posted on June 25, 2014, in Facilities Maintenance, Facilities management, FM, Food, Infrared, Latest News, News, Thermal Imaging, thermography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Wow! Great article! I never thought thermal imaging cameras could be so useful in the food processing industry. Thank you for sharing this information!

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