From the galley to the engine room : infrared thermography inspection of ships is gaining momentum
“In the near future, mechanical machinery onboard vessels will also benefit from thermal imaging, especially as a pre-docking strategy to identify and target equipment and systems which need attention as well as to eliminate necessary work.” forecasted Lloyd’s Register, the world’s most important ship classification and certification body, three years ago. Nowadays, infrared thermography can do much more onboard. And FLIR Systems has worked hard to resolve the main obstacles: high camera prices and the difficulty to handle the camera in confined spaces of ships.
Commercial ships are rewarding objects for thermographic
inspections: they have huge machinery, vast electrical installations,
extended electronic systems, which can hardly be surveyed by visual
inspections. Moreover, fire prevention is an important issue and
relevant prescriptions are clear: according to the International
Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the maximum surface
temperature of machinery, parts and components in a vessel’s engine room
should not rise above 220°C. In order to avoid ignition and fire
development, all surfaces above 220°C are to be insulated or otherwise
protected (SOLAS, Ch.II-2, reg.15.2.10).
Statistics show that the majority of engine room
fires are caused by ruptured pipes containing fuel or oil which
eventually spray on adjacent hot surfaces. This does not happen often.
But an engine room fire will have severe and costly consequences for the ship and its cargo, its crew and last but not least
for the shipping company.
Smaller deficiencies are numerous, and the piping or cable insulation, as required by the SOLAS rules, often appears to be missing. Moreover, thermographic inspections with an infrared camera will instantly show the condition of electrical circuits, electronic systems and other installations and parts onboard. And in more general terms, infrared cameras allow fast and secure inspections in line with the tight loading, unloading and delivery times which currently rule the maritime trade.
From pyrometers to infrared
‘Thermowind’ is an infrared consultancy located in
the North German harbor city of Bremerhaven. It has gained a reputation
as an infrared thermography consultancy for inspections on board of
ships, from big commercial vessels to small private yachts.
“Marine engineers believe in pyrometers”, says Marco Brinkmann, founder and General Manager of Thermowind, “but we are convincing them that you can do a lot more, and a lot faster and safer with infrared cameras”, he says.
Thermography offers the advantage of not interfering with the vessel’s operation. For good inspection conditions, the engines must work at their normal loads and temperatures. “A three-four hour trip at full speed ahead and loaded is ideal to get a clear picture of the ship’s electrical and propulsion systems”, says Cristian Ferber, electro technical engineer and Brinkmann’s partner.
Measurement and severity criteria
Severity criteria hover around the clearly defined ship engine room maximum temperature of 220 °C. Based on this threshold, Thermowind developed its own set of severity criteria:
Severity 0: OK (measured temp. < 210.0 °C)
Severity 1: to be monitored (210.0 °C
< [measured temp.] < 220.0 °C)
Severity 2: unacceptable deviation (measured temp. > 220.0 °C)
However, severity criteria are void without careful
observation and knowledge of the ship’s engines: “if there’s some
oil-piping right next to a spot detected as a class 1 spot, we give it
immediate repair status, downgrading it to Severity 2” says Ferber.
Thermowind uses a FLIR Systems veteran PM280 and a FLIR Systems ThermaCAM E-Series camera for its inspections. This
handheld camera is very handy to use in cramped machine room corners.
Its measurement mode features, such as three movable measurement spots,
and its built-in memory for 200 pictures stored in a convenient .jpg
format are very useful during surveying work. And the ThermaCAM’s sound
and color alarm modes are a blessing for inspections based on a
threshold temperature, assert both Thermowind inspectors.
Thermowind devotes considerable time to set up a
customer report: “we believe that the customer has the right to get an
extensive report for his money”, says Ferber, “we consider it more than a
business card: especially, since the Germanischer Lloyd, a leading
technical service provider for the maritime sector, has certified our
Another specialty of Thermowind is yacht inspection, in particular the search of delamination on yacht’s fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) or composite wood-FRP hulls. Delaminations can lead to harmful moisture accumulation within the vessel which destroys the material and, if present, the wooden core of the hull.
To survey these anomalies, Thermowind applies
lock-in thermography, a method based on thermal wave analysis: the
spotted yacht hull surface is carefully heated with lamps. The
subsequent measurement of sudden changes in the thermal wave
conductivity which is reflected by the heated material shows material
deficiencies in the hull. Thermowind combines a specific software from a
system integrator with a FLIR Systems ThermoVision A40 M 320x240 pixel,
fix-mounted camera to do this refined thermographic inspection method.
More to inspect in less time
As commercial vessel engines become more complex and
get steered by a growing number of electrical or electronic components,
the need for regular inspection and maintenance rises. Infrared thermography has the advantage of being a non-contact inspection and
measurement tool able to display and store exact temperature values as
well as visual evidence. Moreover, time-saving becomes an important
asset in the shipping business; required inspections have to be done at a
fast pace. And when something happens to the engines or to other vital
installations, the losses by far exceed the investment in such a
convincing, time-saving, and hence also affordable inspection tool as an
Acknowledgements to Joachim Sarfels, Area Sales Manager at FLIR Systems Germany, for establishing contacts and providing support
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