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The Importance of Leak-Detection Technology
New and improved automotive leak tests are of increasing interest to automakers, their suppliers, and consumers because they can help decrease car manufacturing costs while increasing overall quality and customer satisfaction.
Decrease Manufacturing Costs
Auto manufacturers are demanding more from leak-test equipment than ever before. Tough economic times and increased competition require companies to use equipment that not only provides accuracy and repeatability, but accommodates a wider variety of parts.
According to PR Newswire, the auto industry has traditionally checked tires and most fluid containers using pressure-decay or water-bath bubble emission tests. These tests are relatively inexpensive but no longer always able to meet increasing demands for improved quality.
New automated test systems are now available that use helium or hydrogen, but don’t require expensive 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, resulting in better leak detection while at the same time keeping costs down.
Improve Automobile Quality
Automobiles can exhibit a variety of leaks, including air leaks, water leaks, and leaks of various fluids, including oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, fuel, water, and refrigerant. Detecting water and air leaks around windows, doors, or other areas on a vehicle can be a challenging task, but eliminating such leaks improves the overall comfort and quality of the vehicle.
When people think of an engine leak, they usually think of an oil leak that stains parking lots and driveways. Other leaks could potentially be coming from the transmission, power steering, differential, cooling system and from the air-conditioning.
The amount of refrigerant in an automobile air conditioning system is critical for proper cooling, and refrigerant leaks are the number one cause of poor air-conditioning performance. Any loss of refrigerant reduces the system’s ability to transfer heat, causing the compressor to work harder and the system to cool less efficiently. This problem is compounded by the fact that the refrigerant capacities of most late-model passenger car air-conditioning systems have been lowered to reduce emissions.
The typical automobile air-conditioning system holds only about 24 ounces of refrigerant, making it all the more important to find and fix refrigerant leaks. New electronic detection equipment or systems that utilize dye can help find even the smallest leaks to improve the quality of air-conditioning systems.
Increase Customer Satisfaction
The goal of leak-testing in the automotive industry is to eliminate a vehicle with leaky parts from getting to the customer. Because manufacturing processes and materials are not perfect, leak-testing is often implemented as a final inspection step. Anyone with experience in vehicle maintenance will probably say that one of the causes of the greatest customer frustration and dissatisfaction with their vehicles are sporadic leaks.
Many of these intermittent leaks can be detected by electronic diagnostic systems, but no technology yet exists that can accurately pinpoint the exact source of the leak, be it oil, coolant, transmission fluid, air-conditioning refrigerant, or even rainwater. Traditional hit-and-miss methods of leak detection might find the largest leak but leave smaller leaks undetected (at least until the driver of the vehicle is traveling on a desolate road on a night or weekend, when all the repair shops are closed).
The severity of the leak’s consequence often determines whether an automotive product is leak-tested, how the test is executed, and even which test method is used, according to Laco Technologies. For example, an automotive airbag inflator is always leak-tested using very sensitive and reliable methods, applying a large safety factor in the leak rate limit, and sometimes even tested repeatedly, whereas low-cost features are not usually 100% leak-tested if the consequence of the leak is not costly or life-threatening.
Quality Steadily Improving
Whether or not leak-testing is mandated by regulation or done to insure product function, it is commonly performed in the automotive industry and undoubtedly helps ensure customer safety and satisfaction. According to J.D. Power and Associates, vehicle manufacturers has made strong improvements in vehicle quality in 2012 and produced higher-quality vehicles than ever before.
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