Thermal imaging … for vehicle engineering?

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Here’s a neat twist on thermal imaging technology – what you’ve seen police use on those ubiquitous cop shows to hunt criminals at night tracking their “thermal signature” or body heat. Engineers at Ford Motor Co. are now using this very same law enforcement tool to help find and eliminate air leaks in vehicle cabins, all to help them reduce wind noise and thus create a quieter ride.

“We are the first automaker to use this technology to track air leaks,” said John Crisi, a noise, vibration and harshness or “NVH” engineer at Ford. “Our cameras can detect tiny holes and openings we could not otherwise identify.”

He explained that thermal imaging is the use of cameras to photograph heat in the environment, with this captured “heat” appearing as an infrared image. Thus in Ford vehicle testing, air leaks show up as “hot spots” or locations where heated air escapes a vehicle, Crisi said.

In the world of law enforcement, thermal imaging technology allows police to see through bushes and into dark alleys as 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 (by contrast) are using this technology to “see” where air is leaking out of a vehicle, Crisi noted, allowing them to test different ways to contain air, through changes in design and insulating materials.

Aldo, 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, he pointed out.

Before this technology, Ford engineers relied on sensory findings to prevent air leaks, Crisi said – filling the car with smoke, then watching for the smoke to exit from small holes.

They would walk around the vehicle and feel for air leakage and sometimes use non-medical stethoscopes to try to hear air leaking from the cabin (a method Ford’s engineers still rely on to some extent, Crisi added – and wouldn’t that make for a funny picture?)

Now, with the use of thermal imaging, engineers can speed up development time by finding results at a faster rate – and thus, presto, help reduce the design-to-production time for new vehicles. Crisi noted, too, that Ford’s engineers already identified several key areas that are vulnerable to air leaks noise entry using thermal imaging camera, including moon roofs, 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, we can provide a smoother and quieter ride for our customers.”

Neat stuff is you ask me.

And on that note my friends, I’d like to wish a VERY happy, joyous, and above all SAFE Fourth of July holiday. We’ll next get back to business in this space on Monday July 8. And, since it’s a Wednesday, let’s end this post on a humorous note, shall we? Because it is “hump day” after all …

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