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Steel breakouts are catastrophic process failures that are both extremely dangerous and costly.  Monitoring the health of ladles and torpedoes using thermal imaging can greatly minimise the risk but a handheld infrared camera can only provide a periodic check on the health of these critical transport structures. ANT Automation has overcome this limitation by developing a system that provides continuous thermal monitoring and at its heart is FLIR thermal imaging.

“Many steel mills have a handheld camera and they maybe go in once a week or every couple of days to take some pictures of the ladle,” explains ANT Automation’s Javier Barreiro. “While these surveys can provide valuable information, the probability of catching a hot spot is very low during a routine inspection.  You could be in normal operation and have a refractory brick break creating a hot spot in less than a minute.”

Continuous monitoring is clearly the answer but it isn’t practical, cost-effective or safe using manual imaging. For many steel mills, ANT Automation’s CIRA (continuous, infrared analysis) platform is providing a good solution. It is an integrated machine vision system that is totally automatic, requiring no human intervention.

Javier Barreiro continues: “We capture a hot spot in the early stages by analysing and tracking the history of the ladle. Every ladle has a unique ID and it is imaged from multiple angles during each use; historical data provides insight into any problem areas. The system differentiates between developing hot spots and normal plant activity such common splashes, spill-over or overflow.”

CIRA operates on the plant’s existing network and relies on multiple FLIR fixed mounted thermal imaging cameras to monitor the entire surface of the ladle or torpedo. The model ANT Automation chooses for this task is the FLIR A315 with 320 x 240 pixels resolution that provide 76,800 unique thermal data points.

The high-frequency streaming capability of this camera can achieve full-frame 16-bit images up to 60Hz which can be fully controlled via PC. With an appropriate housing, the FLIR A315 stands up to hostile steel mill environments.

“We always recommend FLIR cameras,” says Javier Barreiro. “They are robust, work in many different conditions and the way they stream data is very convenient.”

Users of the CIRA system can access live video data, view historical images and customise alarms from a PC or mobile device. If a hotspot is detected, the system automatically sends an email including the ladle number, temperature and associated thermal images. This early warning gives users time to grade the seriousness of the problem and take the most appropriate action. And Javier Barreiro adds this insight creates value beyond breakout prevention.

“Customers can optimise their refractories, have better understanding of the ladle profile and use the information to improve the process,” he advises. “It’s become common for CIRA users to install the system with several cameras, only to expand it in the following months. They maybe start with two, then install five and maybe ten as they appreciate the value of monitoring.”

According to ANT Automation, steel mills choose CIRA and other continuous monitoring systems for different reasons, some as simple as cheaper insurance premiums. “Whether it’s to refine maintenance processes or to better protect nearby equipment, most plants adopting the platforms had experienced breakouts in the past.  To my mind, that’s much too late, we need to prevent this from happening from the start.”

FLIR Systems specialises in technologies that enhance perception and awareness.  The company brings innovative sensing solutions into daily life through its thermal imaging and visible light imaging technology and systems for measurement, diagnosis, location and advanced threat detection.  Its products improve the way people interact with the world around them, enhance productivity, increase energy efficiency and make the workplace safer.

FLIR Systems has six operating segments – surveillance, instruments, OEM and emerging markets, maritime, security and finally, detection. Of these six, ‘instruments’ is of greatest interest to trade and industry and the second largest segment in the company’s portfolio. This division provides devices that image, measure and assess thermal energy, gases and other environmental elements for industrial, commercial and scientific applications.

These products are manufactured across five production sites, three in the USA and two in Europe; Sweden and Estonia.

A model to suit every application and budget
The options that FLIR Systems provides for measuring temperature and studying thermal performance have never been greater.  Not only does the company offer a huge range of models to suit all thermal application needs but the technology is also affordable and very easy to use.  Thermal cameras now come in various shapes, sizes and degrees of sophistication and FLIR continues to invest heavily in the development of new and complementary technologies to differentiate itself from competitors.

An important milestone in the development of thermal imaging has been the introduction of the FLIR Lepton® core, a micro longwave detector, the size of a mobile SIM.  This has allowed thermal imaging to be repackaged to meet the needs of an even wider audience and, in combination with another new technology called Infrared Guided Measurement – IGM™ – has led to the development of a range of test and measurement meters with imaging capability.

Another important growth area for FLIR thermal imaging is in continuous monitoring to assure quality and safety.  Through its introduction of discrete fixed mounted thermal cameras which are fully compliant industry standard plug-and-play protocols, FLIR Systems has provided industry with infrared machine vision which is instantly ready for quick and easy network installation.

Protecting assets and people from fire is an area for which thermal imaging is least known but, thanks to FLIR Systems’ development, it is now one of the most cost-effective methods available.  Its application flexibility and rapid return on investment present an attractive proposition for any site or safety manager.

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