Making safety simple with thermal imaging

flirLEAK detection is vital in the oil and gas industry to protect the safety of workers and the environment. Petrochemical plants in particular handle invisible gaseous hydrocarbons that may be toxic or could cause health issues after long-term exposure.

Recently the Borealis high-pressure, low-density polyethylene (LDPE) plant in Stenungsund, Sweden, incorporated an optical gas imaging camera from thermal imaging specialist FLIR Sytems to ensure no gas leak went undetected.

The FLIR GF306 optical imaging camera is a quick, non-contact measuring instrument that can visualise gas leaks in real time.

The camera is lightweight and ergonomically designed to prevent back and arm strain. Unlike other measuring instruments that only present a number, optical gas imaging cameras can be used in hard-to-assess locations as they can detect small leaks from a great distance.

Borealis shift supervisor Jan Åke Schiller said he was initially sceptical of the new technology, until he saw it in practise.

“After seeing the optical imaging cameras in action, I quickly realised the immense potential for leak detection here at the polyethylene plant and in petrochemical plants in general,” he said.

Previous to the FLIR GF306, the plant used ‘sniffers’ devices to measure the concentration of a certain gas in one single location and generate a concentration reading in parts per million.

“Sniffers just give you a number; an optical gas imaging camera allows you to detect gas leakage anywhere within the field of view of the camera,” he said.

“Now that we have the optical gas imaging camera we do a quick scan at every startup. With a quick scan we cover approximately 80 per cent of the entire plant in about thirty minutes. You would need a team of 10 people with sniffers to work for two full days to reach the same result.

Infrared absorption, recording video footage in real time and the detection of leaks in unexpected locations are all advantages of the FLIR-GF306.

The FLIR GF series of cameras include a high sensitivity mode – an image subtraction video processing technique that effectively enhances the thermal sensitivity of the camera.

It subtracts a percentage of individual pixel signals from frames in the video steam from the subsequent frames, to enhance the images.

Mr Schiller said the camera was well worth the investment.

“Some companies might be reluctant to buy an optical gas imaging camera due to the price tag, which is understandable, as a sniffer is much cheaper,” he said.

“But the difference in purchase cost is deceptive as inspecting with sniffers is much more labour-intensive and, secondly, leaks in unexpected locations are difficult to find and easy to miss with sniffers.

“So using optical gas imaging cameras will help ensure the safety of personnel and of the inhabitants of the surrounding area and in my opinion safety is definitely worth investing in. Using optical gas imaging also increases the sense of safety for the plant’s workers. They feel safe in the knowledge that no gas leak escapes my attention with the FLIR GF306 optical gas imaging camera.”

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