Steam Trap Surveys – Infrared or Ultrasonic

by | Jan 23, 2014 | Infrared, Steam Trap Analysis, Ultrasonic Leak Detection

There are typically two schools of thought on steam trap surveys, infrared thermography and ultrasonic measurement.  Both can be effective at determining faults in your steam system, but there are some things you may want to consider before you make a choice for your facility. 

First, a little bit of information about steam traps themselves.  The main purpose of a steam trap is to remove condensate, air, and non-condensable gasses from the system while minimizing the loss of steam.  When steam traps fail, they may not shut your facility down immediately, but they can negatively affect your process and increase your energy consumption significantly.  If defective or leaking traps are not identified and corrected, around 20% of the steam generated at the boiler can be lost throughout the system.  Take a look at the operating costs for your steam system.  A 20% decrease is almost sure to provide significant savings and a great story for your facility, maintenance department, and reliability team.


One of the simplest and most commonly used tools for identifying a malfunctioning stream trap is an Infrared camera.  Infrared thermography can identify traps that are not functioning properly, plugged, or blowing through completely.  Thermography can also capture a thermal image and a digital image (on most new cameras), which are useful in regards to report writing, work order generation, and even for the maintenance team during their repairs.  Another important aspect of steam trap survey with an IR camera is the ability to scan from a distance.  Not all steam traps are within reaching distance, which can make them hard to evaluate with ultrasonic equipment.  One negative of infrared is that fast acting traps can give misleading thermal images and appear to be malfunctioning when they are not.


The other commonly used tool for steam trap surveys is ultrasonic.  One of the most important benefits of utilizing ultrasonic technologies for a steam trap survey is the ability to verify the functionality of the internal components.  Ultrasonic allows you to verify the actuation of these components and compare them to their optimal performance.  In that regard, it provides a different perspective of the trap than what you get from infrared.  With ultrasonic, you do need to make physical contact with the trap to obtain the data.  This can make elevated or obstructed traps very difficult to survey.

Both technologies are quite effective in determining faulty traps in your system.  They both have strengths and weaknesses, but can easily provide you with the results that you are looking for.  Evaluate your facility and consider which option is better for you before you make a choice on which technology to employ.  If you have the ability to utilize both technologies, you only stand to gain from additional data and a more complete understanding of the current state of your steam system.

It’s really pretty simple.  Perform a survey.  Replace faulty traps.  Save a lot of money.


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