DEARBORN – Ford engineers are pioneering thermal imaging technology – similar to what law enforcement agents use to track down criminals – to find and eliminate air leaks in vehicle cabins. The result is less wind noise and a quieter ride, which is key to customer satisfaction with vehicle quality.
Thermal imaging is the use of cameras to photograph heat in the environment. Thermal imaging cameras capture the radiation present that appears as an infrared image. In Ford tests, air leaks show up as hot spots when heated air escapes a vehicle.
Data from Ford’s U.S. Global Quality Research System show the 2013 Ford Fusion earned a 67 percent approval rating for interior quietness compared to 58 percent for the 2012 Toyota Camry.
Fusion data were for the first quarter of 2013, compared to full-year 2012 data for the Toyota Camry, which did not receive major updates for 2013. The 2013 first-quarter study, conducted for Ford by RDA Group of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., asked owners of all major makes and models to comment on troubles and rate their overall satisfaction with their three-month-old vehicles.
“Ford is redefining our vehicles through many innovations – both features to improve the driving experience and fuel economy, and advanced new tools to help engineer better vehicles,” said William Dedecker, noise, vibration and harshness engineering supervisor. “We are using thermal imaging to further improve quietness so customers can enjoy the other features our vehicles offer, such as audio systems… and even the sounds of silence.”
Thermal imaging technology allows police to see through bushes and into dark alleys. While a bad guy hiding at night might not be visible to the eye, a thermal image of the area will show his body heat and allow law enforcement to move in.
Ford engineers, inspired by energy companies that use thermal imaging to find air leaks in houses, employ the technology to see air leaking out of a vehicle. Engineers heat the air inside a vehicle’s cabin, then take thermal images to actually see the location from which warm air is escaping. This allows them to test different ways to contain air, through changes in design and insulating materials.
“We are the first automaker to use this technology to track air leaks,” said John Crisi, Ford NVH engineer. “It’s an example of the innovative methods we use so our customers have a more pleasant driving experience. Our cameras can detect tiny holes and openings we could not otherwise identify.”
Closing escape routes
In addition to reducing noise, sealing air leaks increases heating and cooling efficiency by reducing energy loss, similar to how sealing a home prevents leaks of heated air in the winter and cooled air in the summer.
Before this technology, Ford engineers relied on sensory findings to prevent air leaks. They would fill the car with smoke, then watch for the smoke to exit from small holes. They would walk around the vehicle and feel for air leakage. And they would use nonmedical stethoscopes to try to hear air leaking from the cabin, a method they still rely on to some extent.
While successful, these approaches were not as consistent. With the use of thermal imaging, engineers can speed up development time by finding results at a faster rate.
Engineers have identified several key areas that are vulnerable to air leaks and letting noise into a vehicle, including moonroofs, window glass, door trim, the trunk lid and liftgate, doors and the base of the windshield.
“Wind noise is something a driver can really sense in a negative way while driving,” Crisi explained. “By using thermal imaging technology, Ford can provide a smoother and quieter ride for our customers.”