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Intelligent Industry: driving innovation in electrical switchyard inspection

30 May 2022

New technologies are replacing traditional methods of thermal inspection

Human error is involved in up to 80% of all incidents and accidents in complex, high-risk systems that exist in the aviation, petrochemical, healthcare, construction, mining, and power industries. Traditionally, the safe and efficient running of substation assets has been the duty of a dedicated technician, who monitors, for example, abnormal temperature rises in substation assets to identify potential failures before they occur. While proactive thermal inspection was a great step forward for substation safety and efficiency, it’s now time to move ahead, and take a look at where we stand today.

How does thermal inspection work?

Electric power flowing through live electrical equipment at a substation causes heat dissipation, leading to a rise in temperatures. This causes the equipment to radiate infrared heat energy, which is captured by a thermal camera. The equipment’s temperature profile is displayed as a color spectrum whose intensity depends on the temperature of the surface under observation. An increase in impedance causes a corresponding heat signature change in the electrical asset.

During their lifetimes, substation assets gradually begin to underperform due to material deterioration, dirty joints, mechanical stress, overloading, unbalanced load, insulation breakdown, corrosion and wiring faults. Equipment such as circuit breakers, switches, transformers, lines, cables, joints, isolators, and fuses suffer deterioration when their temperatures rise beyond normal operating levels. For decades, manual thermal inspection has helped identify these risks before they become critical. But there is a downside.

Traditional thermal inspection is time-consuming and cumbersome

Traditional thermal inspection consists of a field technician walking around the substation switchyard with a handheld pyrometer or thermal camera, measuring temperature gradients. Unfortunately, the efficacy of the traditional method depends on the experience and knowledge of each field technician, and access to the maintenance histories of the asset inspected. As with any manual task there’s a risk of inadvertent errors. And measuring each and every point of interest in a substation is extraordinarily time consuming.

Improving inspection efficiency and asset reliability

The immediate need is a data-driven process around thermal inspection that uses an intelligent industry approach. Data from utility applications like enterprise asset management and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) will make it possible to prioritize thermal inspection based on asset condition and maintenance history. Intelligent industry technologies such as Intel® edge computing and artificial intelligence can be used to automate the traditional thermal inspection process.

Thermal inspection of substation assets can be automated to enable field technicians to make data-driven decisions and advance restorative actions to resolve issues, through seamless, end-to-end integration with enterprise applications. The use of the latest technologies such as AR/VR glasses, together with helmet-mounted thermal cameras, can provide a hands-free experience for the technician, and a safe working environment.

Machine learning capabilities enable real-time recommendations to field technicians by analyzing the historical and current operating parameters and identifying abnormalities. AR/VR devices provide field technicians with remote assistance capabilities, with live audio and video streaming, and live chats, to collaborate with remotely seated supervisors. The use of remote assistance enables utilities to dispatch fewer technicians to the field and seek real-time expert help from supervisors located off-site.

By adopting this intelligent industry approach, utilities can perform thermal inspections of substation assets with greater efficiency, accuracy, and speed, leading to timely and informed decisions, improved safety, asset reliability and customer satisfaction. With its high ROI in terms of efficiency and time savings, these technologies could be critical game changers for thermal inspection of substation assets.

Contact our experts to learn more on how we can help your enterprise adopt an Intelligent Industry approach to thermal inspection for your substation assets.  

Bragadesh Damodaran

Senior Director, Lead Utilities India Industry Platform

Mercy Paul

Energy & Utilities SME, Utilities India Industry Platform

Jayant Sinha

Energy & Utilities SME, Utilities India Industry Platform

Amit Gupta

GIS Expert, Utilities India Industry Platform

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