History 1976-2001

Consultancy and Engineering of Infrared Monitoring Systems for the Chemical Plant Industry


History 1976 to 2001

The infrared camera systems for automatic and continuous monitoring was first time introduced in 2001 for gasification reactors by me, Rainer Sobottka,  that time living and working for optimizations at a residual gasification unit in Texas/USA.

Extreme hot temperatures inside of the high pressure vessel and the danger of gases bursting through the slowly damaging refractory into the outside atmosphere are the top problems of the gasifier reactors. In addition, manpower frequently must inspect the hot vessel shell for danger of overheating and to scan manually the surface. Incidents happened that danger of explosions were imagined at the burner deck when listening to rocking noise of high velocity oil/gas streams into the 1500 deg. C burning chamber. In brief and simple words: every one during operation of the plant was afraid to go there and happy to return into “safe heaven” control rooms.

In 1981 during commissioning of my first POX plant Mr. Larry Estabrook, consultant of Texaco, advised me during inspection of our safety instruments: “Rainer, if you can invent something on these POX skin temperature measurements, you will become a millionaire”. That time as a young engineer I smiled and did not take these words seriously, I actually had too many other problems to get these dangerous processes under save control with my instrumentation design of six years working on one project. I did not become a millionaire but today I can live with consultancy for these systems and I feel happy that the industry is implementing this important step into safe, reliable, and economic operations. I feel sorry that my that time friend Larry Estabrook passed away since long and he cannot see this result of our vision. He was the one he gave me that vision, my friends at Linde Gas Plant LaPorte maintenance and operations gave me the support and tools I needed to set up such a system and finally to inquire and receive approval and budget from Linde Gas management. Once again thank you all for these supports from my friends in Texas.


I was working then with engineering for gasifiers and other plants for more 32 years (1976-2008).  All those years the outside temperatures were measured by a “cable system” (thermistor, fibre optics, others), however, all systems which we used were not reliable, not to be used for safety systems, not certified for safety systems, no accurate temperature measurements at all, drifting and altering elements, doubtful by all operators. Today I call it scrap, especially after I prove that the fibre optic cables were not designed for such applications, vendors distribute false design data, and the main world leading vendor ABB that time had to reject to manufacture/distribute such elements any further. Additionally, I came to know to accidents with death causalities due to heat-expanding flange explosion (such a cable system was used to supervise hot spot temperatures). Means, a huge selection of experiences and happenings accumulate in my head.


Finally in 2001 I watched my friends from operation at Linde Gas LaPorte always going up along the reactor to scan and take manual temperature data. When accompanying them I was always afraid to be near the more than 280 degr. C hot reactor shell and especially listen at the high velocity noise at the burner deck, accompanied by these noisy vibrations.  Each inch of the lines and each instrument seen on the crowded burner deck I know in design and operation due to my long and practical experience. Always I had to remember my first participation in an explosion in 1982 of such entry lines when hot oil traces flew back into the hot oxygen line. I experienced the high and load vibrations of the ground inside the control room that time and when the explosion occurred outside in the plant. I feel always similar to those vibrations standing on the burner deck during operation. After the extreme ground vibrations of the explosion and expanding gases, the vibrations of the high velocity to the flare tip were following.


During 2001 I watched my friends from maintenance using single point hand held infrared cameras to measure single spots.

The first set up for such a infrared monitoring system was established due to the combination of being afraid scanning such temperatures on the reactor manually, knowing the failures and unreliability of the installed cable system, and the wish to scan the entire surfaces. It was a urgent need for improving the existing situations. I came to learn the availability of infrared detectors with 256x320 pixles per image, I checked the amount of information to run such scanning data into our computers, and I recommended how to install such cameras into explosion areas using first time wireless communication to the control room. Finally the budget and set up of 14 cameras per reactor was approved by the management of the plant one year later, and another one year later the first Reactor Skin Monitoring System by means of Infrared cameras was installed by the maintenance of that plant. This installation is still up to date and in perfect operation today.