Using Infrared Cameras to Find Pipe Blockages

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June 3, 2015 at 11:10 am  •  Posted in Oil and Gas  •  0 Comments

Whether they carry liquid product, water, steam, natural gas, or oil, keeping pipes flowing smoothly is critical to safe and efficient manufacturing and processing systems. Blockages, thinning, and corrosion can diminish the efficiency and safety and result in leaks that could cause serious damage to your facility and your people.

The challenge is to find problems such as carbon deposition, thin­ning, and cracking in hundreds or thousands of feet of pipe, as well as leaks and clogs in heat-exchanger and reactor tubes. A high resolution infrared camera (also called a thermal imager) can expedite inspection of this equipment and provide the thermal detail to detect small temperature changes that can aid early detection of potentially big problems.

Gain better visibility into piping systems with Fluke TiX560 and TiX520 infrared cameras

When inspecting pipes, you’re typically looking for hot spots, cold spots, or subtle temperature changes that could indicate a leak, blockage, or weakness in the pipe. If possible, it’s a good idea to have a baseline image of the pipe in good condition that you can compare to subsequent images to detect problem areas more quickly. The articulating lens, 5.7 inch touchscreen, high resolution, ther­mal sensitivity, LaserSharp® Auto Focus, and on-camera storage on Fluke TiX560 and TiX520 infrared cameras make it easier to identify a wide range of pipe problems, such as:

Blocked pipe

A blocked pipe can cause a delta in temperature around that area that can transfer to the external pipe casing. The area beyond the blockage will show a difference in temperature due to little or no flow. Equipped with a Fluke TiX560 camera you can scan pipe from a distance, using LaserSharp® Auto Focus to get a clear image. You can add voice and text annotations, additional digital images (IR-PhotoNotes™), and put the camera into 640 x 480 SuperResolution mode to tell the whole story. You can also manu­ally adjust the level and span to show small differences.

Corroded, abraded, or thinning pipe

If the inside wall of the pipe is abraded, corroded, and thinning the temperature of the casing will be different than uncompromised pipe. Using the image sharpening (TiX560 only) and filter mode fea­tures in the TiX5XX cameras you’ll be able to get a clearer view to help you find a possible weakness in the pipe.

Pipe leaks

Sudden changes of temperature and pressure can cause excess wear and cracks in the pipe, elbows, and flanges, which may not be visible to the unaided eye. Using a TiX5XX camera you can look for temperature varia­tions along the run of pipe. Such temperature variations can help indicate a leak, so you can record radiometric video or set alarms to collect data over time or as tem­peratures change. Once you iden­tify a problem area, you can use the 640 x 480 SuperResolution (on the TiX560 camera or in SmartView software for both mod­els), image sharpening (TiX560 only), and filter mode features to see the leaks more clearly.

Internal heat exchanger blockage or leaks

A blocked or leaking heat-exchanger tube will negatively affect heat-exchange efficiency resulting in loss of production and wasted energy. You should see a difference in temperature on either side of a blockage, or a non-standard temperature that could indicate a leak.

Stove and reactor tube leaks

These tubes work under high-temperature, high-pressure, and strong-corrosive conditions which can cause hot spots, cracks, carbu­rization, oxidation, and thinning. To stay on top of any damage, you can use the TiX560 to scan these tubes to find any anomalies that could indicate clogs or leaks.

Additional tips for more effective infrared pipe inspections

To make infrared inspections most effective there are some basic practices to follow.

Insulated pipe

If the pipe has a thick heat-insulating layer it is difficult to detect temperature variations between sections of pipe and therefore hard to detect leaks. If the insulation can be removed safely that will ensure a more effective inspection.

High reflectivity casing

If parts of the pipe’s external layer or insulation are shiny metal or stainless steel with low emissivity and inherently high reflectivity, it can interfere with getting accurate temperature measurements. If it is safe to do so in your environment, you can apply a high emissivity paint, tape, or stickers to help increase emissivity for more accurate temperature measurements.


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