DETROIT, Feb. 11, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Stricter emissions and fuel-economy requirements are driving the need for major powertrain and thermal management improvements that will tighten leak-test requirements for automotive heat exchangers.
Manufacturers in the automotive as well as the refrigeration and air-conditioning industries today rely on helium- and hydrogen-based leak detection systems to assure the overall quality of their heat exchangers. As the auto industry makes the switch to a more environmentally friendly but flammable HFO-1234yf refrigerant, its flammability drives a need to further test AC components for lower leak rates.
Auto suppliers last year produced nearly 400-million heat exchangers globally, noted Thomas Parker, North American automotive sales manager at INFICON. Production of heat exchangers for the air-conditioning and refrigeration industries totaled more than 420-million units. All three sectors predict demand for heat exchangers will grow by four to five percent each year over the next five years.
Auto makers and their suppliers annually conduct more than 800 million leak tests on critical heat exchangers, Parker explained. That includes radiators, engine oil coolers, EGR coolers and HVAC components such as evaporators and condensers. Costs are significant. The cost of an average online vacuum leak-detection system ranges from $200,000 up to $500,000. Accumulation systems are priced from $50,000 up to $150,000, and off-line systems that check repair work can range in cost between $20,000 and $30,000 each.
Looking back to the 1980s, most suppliers relied on water-bath methods to identify leaks from bubbles generated in the bath, Parker said. Today, he noted, the majority of heat exchanger leak testing is performed in either a vacuum or accumulation chamber using helium or hydrogen tracer-gas solutions.
These tracer-gas leak-detection systems are not affected by temperature change and are ideally suited for testing heat exchangers, he added. The most cost-effective tests for small- to medium-sized parts with potential oil or water leaks use helium or hydrogen tracer gas in an accumulation chamber. For larger parts that need to be tested for refrigerant leaks, Parker recommends vacuum-chamber leak testing with helium.
When parts are tested in an accumulation chamber, they are filled under pressure with helium or hydrogen. A helium or hydrogen leak-detection sensor such as an INFICON T-Guard sensor, Parker explained, is used to calculate the size of the leak by measuring the amount of gas that escapes into the chamber.
"Helium leak testing radiators with an INFICON T-Guard detector at atmosphere in an accumulation chamber allows us to provide our customers with a more economical solution compared to a traditional vacuum-chamber approach," noted George Solomon, president of Vacuum Technology Inc. (VTI) in Oak Ridge, Tenn., a major producer of leak-detection systems.
Dan Hoffman, INFICON's RAC/production leak detection sales and service manager for the Americas, has estimated that the global market for RAC heat exchangers will reach more than $18 billion by 2020, up from about $13 billion last year.
INFICON is one of the world's leading developers, producers and suppliers of instruments and devices 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 sales and service offices throughout the world.
More information about INFICON automotive technology is available online at www.inficonautomotive.com.