Why Perform Inspections of Electrical Assets in Data Centers?

Imagine a data center that supports a bank or credit card company experiencing an unplanned power outage due to a failure of their internal electrical assets! How about the same scenario at a major airport hub, airline or water treatment plant? Life gets complicated very quickly for those responsible for the facility when this scenario occurs. Is it possible to monitor electrical assets in data centers to determine the health of their electrical assets? Can the reliability team predict when an electrical asset is deteriorating? Absolutely!

One of the most common metrics for measuring efficiency in facilities that host data centers for financial, insurance and telecommunications facilities is a power usage effectiveness (PUE). Electrical distribution system losses account for 12% of the total energy consumed by the data center. In addition, unscheduled downtime in a data center is now estimated to cost over $8,000 per minute – not to mention the reputational damage to the data center company. One method for increasing reliability is to implement condition-based maintenance using infrared windows, ultrasound ports or sensors, voltage detection ports and online temperature monitoring to allow energized electrical maintenance tasks to be completed safely and efficiently. The reliability team can find the early warning signs that an asset is deteriorating and fix it before it completely fails.

Talk Talk Invests in Electrical Failure Prevention

Data Center Implements Infrared Inspection of Critical Switchgear

Electrical equipment requires periodic inspection and maintenance to maintain normal operations. These inspections are often performed on the assets operating under full load conditions and, for infrared thermography, requires the infrared camera have direct access or direct line of sight to the energized components inside the electrical system. Innovative technology has created products that improve the efficiency of electrical inspections and allow thermal imaging and ultrasound inspections be performed to monitor the health of the electrical asset under full load in a safe and guarded condition. Progressively minded companies today, and especially data centers, want to find electrical assets that are deteriorating and schedule maintenance to fix or replace the asset before a total unplanned failure occurs.

A condition-based maintenance program for electrical assets utilize a category of products called Electrical Maintenance Safety Devices (EMSDs). Common types of EMSDs are Infrared Windows, Ultrasound Ports and Detectors, Wireless Temperature Monitoring Systems and Intelligent Asset Tagging programs. Utilizing these tools within a condition-based maintenance program allows the reliability team to routinely and safely perform inspections, collect data, monitor data over time and determine if an electrical asset is starting to deteriorate. Scheduled downtime to fix the asset versus an unplanned outage results in less impact to the data center and their end user customers.


Data Centers cannot tolerate or afford an internal electrical failure that impacts their end-user customers. They need to reduce the risk of such occurrences and provide consistent and reliable service. Improved operational reliability and productivity can be achieved by implementing a condition-based maintenance program using EMSDs to monitor, maintain and anticipate problems with electrical assets before they actually fail.


What Are The Business Benefits of Using Infrared (IR) Windows?

Your company’s management team is challenging the reliability maintenance team to “do more with less” to minimize electrical equipment errors and unscheduled downtime. Organizations that are focused on safety, operational efficiency and risk reduction are adopting Maintenance Inspection Windows with Infrared (IR), Visual and Ultrasound capability to perform condition-based maintenance inspections on critical electrical assets under full load conditions. Let’s learn about the benefits in more detail.

Today, savvy companies are switching from a “calendar-based” maintenance program to a “condition-based” maintenance program because they want to maximize the reliability of their operations, improve the safety of their operations and reduce their overall operating costs.

Case Study: A Powerful Case For Infrared Windows

Consultants are helping management teams analyze the following questions:

* Can I increase the reliability of my company’s operations to provide uninterrupted service to my customers?

* How can I minimize unplanned downtime that increases my company’s repair costs?

* What products are available to increase the safety of my personnel as they perform their routine inspections?

* Are there products available today that are manufactured following a “Safety by Design” protocol as outlined in the NFPA 70E Hierarchy of Risk Controls? Many assets will display errors, or some type of CBM indicator of deterioration, long before they fail.

Safety and Standards Compliance

Workplace electrical accidents such as shock, electrocution, arc flash and arc blast, claim hundreds of lives and cause thousands of burn injuries each year in the United States. OSHA requested that NFPA 70E be created because, as new technologies become available, it is recognized that most of these fatalities and injuries could be prevented; hence the publication NFPA 70E: Standards for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® evolved. Maintenance Inspection Windows with IR, Visual and Ultrasound capability are products that fall under the Substitution Level in the Hierarchy of Risk Control Methods enabling routine and safe inspections of energized electrical assets in a safe and guarded condition.

Cost Savings and Efficiency

Electrical assets should be inspected frequently since many will display errors or some type of CBM indicator of deterioration long before the asset fails. Performing frequent inspections and trending the inspection data over time determines if an asset is deteriorating. Once an asset has been identified with faults, a preventive maintenance to fix the asset can be scheduled at a convenient time for the company eliminating unplanned downtime and potential loss of revenue due to service interruptions to their customers.

Historically, electrical asset inspections were time-consuming, potentially dangerous to personnel and expensive. Assets had to be powered down, panels had to be removed, personnel had to dress in appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), assets had to be powered up and allowed to reach thermal stability and thermal imaging and ultrasound data collected followed by powering down, reinstalling the panels and finally, powering back up. Most of the time during these inspections was considered “non-productive” work adding little or no value.

Maintenance Inspection Windows dramatically decrease the “non-productive” time seen with CBM inspections. The Windows provide non-intrusive access to the electrical asset, so personnel can perform the inspection. The Maintenance Inspection Window maintains energized electrical equipment in an “enclosed and guarded” state eliminating the need for removal/reinstallation of panel covers and the need to wear special PPE.


Performing frequent inspections of mission critical assets and performing trend analysis of inspection data over time may pinpoint an asset that is beginning to show signs of deterioration. Once an asset has been identified as a potential failure risk, preventive maintenance can be scheduled and performed. Adopting Maintenance Inspection Windows increases the company’s asset reliability, minimizes their downtime by scheduling repairs when needed as opposed to when the asset fails. It also minimizes the risk of unplanned service interruptions to their end-user customers. Companies realizes decreased maintenance costs, safer working environments, compliance with safety standards and minimal revenue losses.


Why Are Crystal IR Lenses Not Suitable For Industrial Applications?

Electrical equipment has evolved over time and their complexity continues to increase as the world’s demands for power increase. Companies strive to improve their processes of monitoring and maintaining their electrical assets to improve safety and protect their bottom line. Inspection and Maintenance Teams need durable tools to use in their inspection procedures. One of these tools is the Infrared Inspection Window; however, not all IR Inspection Windows are created equal. Let’s investigate.

In a previous article, we explored the various types of lens materials used in infrared inspection windows. The choice of lens material is driven by application, environmental factors, wavelength to be measured and cost.

Crystal lenses have been used historically in infrared windows; but, there many disadvantages when used in environments commonly seen in an industrial setting.

Crystal IR Lens – Not For Industrial Applications

1. Humid Environments: Calcium Fluoride and Barium Fluoride lenses are hygroscopic and over time will absorb water vapor into the crystalline structure gradually reducing the infrared transmission through the lens. Some vendors coat the lens to reduce the ingress of water to extend lens life, but this has been observed to be of limited effectiveness.


2. Environmental Stresses: Calcium Fluoride crystal lenses are brittle and unable to withstand impact and mechanical stresses. Mechanical stresses like jarring drops, exposure to high frequency noise or harmonics and equipment vibrations can cause the crystalline structure to degrade or fracture resulting in the elimination of the safety barrier between the electrical component and the inspection team. This is a dangerous situation that could result in bodily harm or even death. Barium Fluoride lenses are even more fragile than Calcium Fluoride. In addition, Barium Fluoride, in powder form as can be found with a broken lens, is a known muscle toxin and suspected carcinogen.

3. Transmission Rates: Lens materials have different transmission rates and some rates will change over time. Barium Fluoride and Calcium Fluoride lenses have excellent transmission properties when they are new; however, as these crystal lenses absorb moisture from the environment, their transmission properties will change, and the thermographer may not realize that a change has occurred until an actual fault occurs.

4. Size Limitations: Crystal lens manufacturers determine the minimum thickness requirement for a given window diameter by calculating its “Modulus of Rupture”, a mathematical formula used to determine lens thickness required to resist a given pressure level. The bigger the crystal lens, the more fragile it becomes unless the thickness of the crystal is increased. But, increasing the thickness of the crystal lens will decrease the transmittance of that lens and will affect temperature readings.

So, why is this a limitation? Switchgear is usually set so the plenum vents open at 25 psi to redirect an arc blast force away from the panels where personnel would be interacting with the equipment. At a pressure of 25 psi, crystal lenses of varying sizes would have these minimum thickness requirements:

* Two Inch – 3.7mm

* Three Inch – 5.5 mm

* Four Inch – 7.3mm

There are no crystal windows that are even close to these minimum thickness requirements. Crystal lenses thinner than the above minimum requirements would shatter at 25 psi. Should an arc flash or blast occur, crystal windows will shatter and expose personnel to a dangerous environment.

What Lens is Suitable for Industrial Applications? Reinforced Polymer infrared window lenses are unaffected by mechanical stress and they maintain the safety barrier and protect the inspection team. Polymer IR lenses have a fixed and stable transmission rate such that one the transmissivity value of the lens is determined, it will not change over time. A polymer lens reinforced with a special grill is malleable and will absorb an impact rather than shatter. Polymer lenses are also non-reactive to exposure of moisture, humidity, seawater and a broad range of acids and alkali so their transmissive properties will not change over time. Another advantage is the polymer lens material can be manufactured in various sizes and shapes and still provide the durability needed in industrial settings. The only disadvantage to using polymer lenses is if the ambient temperature exceeds 392° F (200° C).


IR windows are manufactured with a variety of lens materials. Historically, crystal lenses were used in IR windows however, crystal lenses are fragile and can easily break exposing personnel to safety hazards. Transmission rate drift with crystal lenses is a real problem only slowed with the use of coatings. They are not suitable for industrial applications. Innovative products using polymer lenses are available and provide the durability needed in an industrial environment.

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What Industrial Applications Use Reinforced Polymer Infrared (IR) Inspection Windows?

Infrared (IR) Inspection Windows are one example of Electrical Maintenance Safety Devices (EMSDs) used by companies to enhance employee safety, reduce risk and maximize the bottom line. The adoption of Reinforced Polymer IR Inspection Windows for industrial applications continues to increase annually as companies comply with national and local safety regulations. You may ask, “What are some of the industrial applications using IR Windows today?” You may not realize how broad the applications are!

Any industry that relies on power or power generation is a likely candidate for employing Reinforced Polymer IR Inspection Windows. Electrical equipment requires periodic maintenance inspections while operating under full load conditions. The inspections require the infrared camera have direct access or direct line of sight to the energized components within the electrical equipment. The IR Inspection Window enables this direct line of sight into the electrical equipment under full load while maintaining a closed and guarded condition for the safety of the inspector. Find and Fix the Fault Before It Fails!

Here are industries that have recognized the benefits of Infrared (IR) Polymer Inspection Windows:

* Power Generation: The power generation industry, including coal, natural gas, hydro, solar, wind and nuclear has the some of the most vigorous electrical preventative maintenance requirements in the electrical maintenance industry. Certain critical systems, such as isophase and segmented busbar systems leave power generation industry extremely vulnerable due to accessibility issues. These systems are often the only critical components that have no design redundancy. The internal components of isophase busbar systems are impossible to inspect under load because they do not have covers over each joint that can be easily removed. Reinforced Polymer IR Inspection Windows are extremely useful in helping asset owners identify issues before outages, allowing for more efficient outage planning and prioritization of needed repairs. cap-f-rp-1

Power Generation Case Study

Marine, Maritime and Offshore: Electrical safety compliance for marine, maritime & offshore workers is a maze of regulations. Safety is paramount in this segment as even a small problem can put hundreds of lives at risk. Regular inspections of electrical assets using IR Polymer Inspection Windows to detect early warning signs of potential failure is mission critical to insure seamless operations and safety. Reinforced Polymer IR Inspection Windows are available with the requisite marine certifications including ABS, DNV and Lloyds approvals.

* Data Centers: One of the most common metrics for measuring efficiency in facilities that host data centers for financial, insurance, water and waste water, airlines and telecommunications facilities is a power usage effectiveness (PUE). Electrical distribution system losses account for 12% of the total energy consumed by the data center. In addition, unscheduled downtime in a data center is now estimated to cost over $8,000 per minute – not to mention the reputational damage to the data center company. One method for increasing reliability is to implement Reinforced Polymer IR Inspection Windows allowing energized electrical maintenance tasks to be completed safely and efficiently.

* Manufacturing Facilities: Processing plants and manufacturing facilities are realizing that a failure of a critical electrical asset on a production line can add thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost productivity and wasted materials, even if the disturbance results in just a few minutes of downtime. Predictive and preventive inspection tools are essential to monitor the condition of assets in real time to prevent such loss. Electrical safety

compliance is equally critical. Many industry sub-segments are also characterized by temperature extremes, high humidity, continuous vibration and high duty cycles. Reinforced Polymer IR Inspection Windows enable condition-based inspections at any time to find faults and fix them before the asset fails.

* Commercial Facilities: Electricity is essential for the operation and success of commercial buildings such as residential and office, distribution centers, hospitals, big box retail centers, etc. Electrical safety compliance for commercial electrical workers is a maze of regulations and challenges. These buildings have complex electrical infrastructure to support our ever-growing power needs in the internet age. Frequent infrared inspections should be performed on the distribution equipment and can be done much safer and faster using IR Inspection Windows.

* Mining: Mines provide the critical raw materials needed by our agricultural and manufacturing sectors. The first level metal processing facilities including ore processing, smelting operations, steel, copper and aluminum mills, and casting and forging facilities all use huge amounts of electricity to power the process equipment. The environmental conditions in these facilities can be severe and require robust equipment solutions. Airborne contaminants are always a concern and electrical infrastructure should be inspected at regular intervals. In addition, mining operations are governed by MSHA safety rules which are even more strict than OSHA guidelines. Patented Reinforced Polymer IR Inspection Windows have been installed extensively in phosphate and other strip mining applications and were specifically developed for these harsh environments where dust, moisture, vibration even caustic contamination would destroy a traditional crystal infrared window.

* Original Equipment Manufacturers: Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) must provide modern technology and solutions to ensure customer satisfaction, business growth and profitability in our rapidly growing, competitive market. Electrical safety compliance for workers is a maze of regulations. Additionally, electrical assets are affected by temperature extremes, high humidity, continuous vibration and high duty cycles. Customers count on the expertise of OEMs to provide the modern tools and resources available to extend the performance and lifespan of these critical high-value electrical assets. The patented Reinforced Polymer IR Inspection Windows have a long history of protecting the critical assets OEMs produce that are capable of meeting OSHA’s and NFPA’s standards for arc flash safety. Reinforced Polymer Windows are compatible with all brands of thermal imaging cameras commonly used in to identify electrical and mechanical faults.

As recognized from the industries highlighted above, the need for IR Inspection Windows is endless. Take any example above and imagine a power failure – the impact of a failure and potential downtime would be detrimental to the company not to mention the end user customer inconvenience.


Improved operational reliability and productivity can be recognized by adopting Reinforced Polymer IR Inspection Windows to monitor and anticipate when an electrical asset will fail. These industries observe safer working environments, maximum end user customer satisfaction, compliance to safety regulations and overall improvements to reliability which results in minimal downtime and potential loss of revenue.


How Have Infrared Windows Evolved Over Time?

It’s January 2019 and your company has initiated a Condition-Based Maintenance Program of the company’s critical electrical assets to maximize efficiency, increase safety and save money. New Polymer IR Windows have been installed and the maintenance team has attended several training classes on how to perform maintenance inspections and collect data using the polymer IR windows. Many of your colleagues have many years of experience working with crystal IR windows. During one of the final 2018 training sessions, information was provided as to why polymer IR windows were better suited to industrial environments than crystal IR windows. Some of the guys talked about their past experiences using windows and were curious as to the evolution of the IR windows over time. Let’s look at the history of IR windows and how we arrived at the current choice of polymer IR windows.

The interaction between an infrared window and an infrared camera shows that the camera can only measure the temperature of the electrical components that it can see through the infrared window. Infrared cameras cannot see (measure temperature) objects through glass, metal or plastics and therefore require special lens material that will transmit infrared radiation.

Historically, the common infrared window lens material was made of a fluoride based crystal. However, the fluoride crystal lens is fragile and will not withstand impact. Once the crystal breaks, the window is not IP2X electrical failsafe as a hole as large as 4 inches in diameter could be left in the equipment. The crystal lens is also hygroscopic insofar as it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere over time and can become contaminated which leads to inaccurate temperature measurements. Eventually, the lens contamination becomes visible to the human eye (looks “foggy”) but long before that the transmission in the IR spectrum is negatively impacted. Because of these limitations, crystal IR windows only have a limited lifetime warranty.

Evolution of IRISS Maintenance Inspection Systems

The next type of IR window manufactured was a polymer window using an opaque polymer lens with a reinforcing grill. The opaque polymer eliminated the fragileness of the crystal lens and the infrared transmission was excellent; however, the opaque lens did not allow visual or ultraviolet inspections. The advantages of this design were that it was impact and load resistant, was IP2X electrical failsafe due to the honeycomb reinforcing design, was made of insoluble materials and could offer an unconditional lifetime warranty.

Overcoming the lack of visual and ultraviolet capability was the next hurdle. The next version was manufactured using a patented clear infrared polymer lens design. This window design offered all the benefits of the opaque polymer lens but now provided both visual and ultraviolet viewing capabilities.

Recently, crystal lens window manufacturers such as FLIR have recognized the advantages of the patented polymer infrared windows and are now offering them to their customers (

But, innovation didn’t stop here. What other types of inspections could be routinely carried out on electrical assets using this infrared window? Ultrasound ports and partial discharge ports have been incorporated into the window design enabling both infrared and ultrasound inspections to be performed through the same window. The IR Window should now be called a Maintenance Inspection Window and not just an IR Window.

Another innovation with the newly described maintenance inspection windows is that they can be custom designed and manufactured to any size, any shape and any color. Windows are no longer confined to being small round or small rectangular sizes and shapes. This is a profound efficiency opportunity for companies that have many critical electrical assets and components that need to be inspected. Now a company can have one large inspection window that allows infrared, visual and ultrasound inspections covering a large field of view of many assets in place of many small windows that look at one or two assets. Some customers asked if the inspection window could be upgraded to an IP67 (NEMA6) environmentally sealed design that allows the window to better withstand harsh environments. This is “ENV” design is another option available today for electrical inspections of assets that are located outdoors.

The next innovation was the addition of an NFC (Near Field Communication) based tagging system to the inspection windows. Using a smartphone app, Special Inspection instructions and data is easily added to the tag on each window. The inspector can look at historical data on the asset tag to determine the health of the asset. Any problems can be flagged as an “alarm” condition that notifies management that a problem has been found. The Maintenance Scheduler can create and assign inspection routes for the maintenance line staff to perform. Route completion is tracked via the NFC asset tags.


As companies replace calendar based maintenance with condition based maintenance programs, the current maintenance inspection windows with infrared or the combination of infrared and ultrasound allow multiple technologies to be inspected using a single window design. These maintenance inspection windows allow an asset’s data to be collected under full load in a safe and guarded condition regardless of where that asset is located. The various options available of the inspection window design allows companies to select those designs that best enable inspection data to be collected and recorded in a condition based maintenance program.