Sensors & Transducers


Using infrared to detect the invisible

March 2020 Sensors & Transducers

Both preventive and predictive maintenance programmes rely on regular inspections of the critical assets that comprise a plant or facility. These inspections range from visual inspections to non-destructive testing performed using a variety of instrumentation. While the methods vary, all inspections require plant personnel to visit each of the systems, machines or equipment within the plant to anticipate the need for preventive or corrective maintenance.

Many maintenance engineers consider infrared non-contact thermometers not only indispensable for such inspections, but possibly the most important tools in their everyday work. By scanning surfaces with these temperature inspection tools, users can quickly locate hot and cold spots, which could be indications of underlying problems, and focus their maintenance efforts on exactly what needs repairing. Defective components are often classified according to the severity of the problem, which takes into account the absolute temperature of the component, the difference in temperature from the component to its environment, or the difference to other components in similar load situations. Handheld infrared thermometers provide a quick, safe and accurate way to collect this data. By comparing the results of inspections over time, changes in the temperature of objects can be detected and analysed to determine if failure is likely.

Mechanical systems

Most mechanical systems generate some thermal energy during normal operation, and temperature monitoring can evaluate their operating condition. One of the biggest problems in mechanical systems is excessive temperature. This heat can be generated by friction, lubrication degradation, coolant loss, or blockages. Regular temperature monitoring of machinery components enhance the ability to predict failure and plan corrective action before a costly shutdown, equipment damage, or personal injury occurs. Temperature checks should be performed regularly to locate hot spots or heat imbalances on, for example, drives and motors, bearings and transmissions, as well as hydraulic components, pumps, pulleys, and conveyors. Electrical equipment has similar demands. Bus bars with loose or oxidised joints, for example, will rapidly exhibit higher than normal operating temperatures due to electrical resistance.

Infrared inspection

However, simply finding heat does not necessarily mean that a problem is present. To evaluate the presence of hot spots, the operating load and acceptable heat ranges must be known, as specified by the equipment manufacturers. However, normal inspection methods alone cannot always detect the slight temperature variations that indicate the start of a problem. This is where infrared inspection enters the picture – knowing the precise temperature is, in some cases, an absolute decision-making requirement. With tools such as handheld infrared thermometers, users can accurately measure small variations in surface temperature, taking into account all the variables of proper temperature measurement, such as emissivity and reflected temperature. Using infrared thermometers allows sound decision making about corrective maintenance repairs on the plant.

The Raytek range of handheld infrared thermometers, provide more than a temperature reading on a display, they include many features to support maintenance inspections, with models that include data logging, flexible display options and audible Hi /Low alarms to indicate temperatures above and below acceptable ranges.


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