Critical for Fuel, Emissions and Safety System Quality Control
DETROIT – Automakers and their suppliers are looking for new leak-detection technology to help reduce manufacturing costs, improve product quality and increase overall customer satisfaction.
Traditional leak-detection methods often do not meet current needs for continual improvements in cost performance and production quality, according to Thomas Parker, North American automotive sales manager for INFICON, a global supplier of leak detection systems.
Quality-control engineers rely on leak tests to check critical emissions, fuel, brake and other safety-related systems. Traditional water-bath or pressure-decay methods, however, no longer are sufficient to meet stiffer quality standards while vacuum tests often are too expensive.
Dr. Jochen Puchalla, an application specialist at INFICON, notes that new, automated test systems now are available that use helium or hydrogen, but don’t require costly vacuum chambers. The new assembly-line test methods are more accurate than water or pressure-decay tests, but less expensive to operate and maintain than vacuum-chamber tests.
“INFICON’s new T-Guard system, for example, relies on patented technology to measure leaks using a unique helium permeable quartz membrane,” Puchalla explains. “Our new leak-detection sensors can measure leak rates at normal atmospheric pressures without the need for an expensive vacuum chamber.”
The industry traditionally has checked tires and most fluid containers using pressure-decay or water-bath “bubble” tests – inexpensive but no longer able to meet increasing demands for improved quality.
Small leaks can’t be measured with water-bath testing because bubbles won’t form due to the high surface tension of water. Adding substances such as soap only gradually reduces surface tension and improves detectable leak rates. Water tests also rely on visual checks that depend entirely on the attention and expertise of assembly-line workers who perform the tests.
Pressure-decay tests check for leaks by measuring changes in air pressure after air has been introduced into a test part or component. Reliability depends on a variety of factors, including variations in humidity and temperature that often occur in low-cost production facilities in areas such as the Asia Pacific region, Africa or Latin America.
Vacuum testing utilizes helium to detect extremely small leaks and takes seconds to perform, but also requires high-performance vacuum chambers that are expensive to build and maintain. Operating costs often outweigh benefits.
“INFICON’s new T-Guard technology bridges the gap between less accurate water-bath and pressure-decay methods and more costly vacuum-based systems,” Parker points out. “It represents an entirely new generation of leak-detection technology that in many cases meets the auto industry’s need to reduce manufacturing costs while continuing to improve component quality.”
About INFICON -- INFICON is a leading global developer, manufacturer and supplier of instruments and equipment essential for leak detection in air-conditioning, refrigeration and automotive manufacturing. The company has manufacturing facilities in Europe, China and the United States, as well as subsidiaries throughout the world.
More information about INFICON automotive technology is available online at www.inficonautomotive.com.
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