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Limiting Business Interruption with Airborne Ultrasonic Technology

An Essential Enhancement to Infrared Programs


Risk management efforts can be difficult to quantify – what is the return on investment for something that never happened? Because equipment that is not running is not making money, TÜV SÜD Global Risk Consultants (GRC)’s condition monitoring specialists look not at what might happen, but rather what is happening now. This story demonstrates how the application of technology and close collaboration between TÜV SÜD GRC and one of our mining clients helped avoid a dangerous incident and major business interruption.

TÜV SÜD GRC visited a new mining facility & plant in South Africa to conduct an infrared thermographic (IR) survery and airborne ultrasonic (AU) assessment of the site’s electrical and mechanical systems.

Infrared scanning is widely recognized as a very effective, condition-based technique for inspection of electrical installations. However, not all electrical faults will manifest themselves with a temperature increase, in which case IR can be of little or no value. An effective electrical condition assessment should therefore combine both IR and other complimentary tools to monitor for irregularities such as arcing, tracking, partial discharge (PD) & corona etc. AU is one such tool.


Airborne Ultrasonic TechnologyIn the plant’s consumer substation, the site-owned 22kV switchboard distributes power via ring feeders to distribution sub-stations around the plant. During the site tour, a Senior Thermographer inspected all switchgear and identified one panel in the station that was emitting significant AU signals suspected to be PD taking place within the panel. Site management was advised to investigate this at the first opportunity.

Armed with this information, the client took a decision to halt production within a day. Upon inspection, it was discovered all the busbars inside the switchgear were severely corroded, a phenomenon often linked to similar PD activity which effectively creates ozone and nitrogen gases that, when combined with any moisture, forms into nitric acid and results in the formation of corrosion cells.


Had the fault gone unnoticed this would have deteriorated over time and may have led to a major arc flash incident and significant damage to the busbars and panel. Damage of this nature would likely have led to severe collateral damage to the adjacent breakers and bus sections.

A catastrophic failure such as this would most likely have resulted in at least a one-month outage and business interruption costs (estimated business interruption in the region of $2M USD). This electrical CM survey, subsequent investigation, and quick intervention prevented that outcome.

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