In parts one, two, and three of this “Leak Testing 101” series, we discussed three methods of dry-air leak testing—pressure decay, differential pressure decay, and mass-flow leak testing—including the pitfalls and hidden costs inherent in two-step pressure testing methods and the higher accuracy of single point measurement mass-flow leak testing techniques.
There are several different helium leak detection methods:
Sniffer—The test item is pressurized with helium and an operator moves a sniffer probe connected to the mass spectrometer to localize the leak. This method is slow, nonquantitative but has the advantage of localizing the leak.
Accumulation—The test item is placed in a chamber and charged with helium. Helium leaking from the part accumulates in the chamber and after a certain amount of time, a sniffer probe checks for the presence of helium, i.e., a leak. While apparently inexpensive, this method has a number of shortcomings: presence of tracer gas from prior tests, lack of adequate circulation in the chamber, and long test times due to background effects. As a result, it will be difficult to provide quantitative testing with this method.
Vacuum leak testing with helium—Figure 1 shows how helium mass spectrometer leak testing proceeds. The part is pressurized with helium and the chamber is evacuated down to less than 0.1 mbar absolute to eliminate background effects. The presence of helium leaking into the chamber is then detected by the mass spectrometer.
Figure 1: Test item is pressurized with helium within a test chamber. The chmber is evacuated, drawing helium out of the leaking test item. Mass spectromter then samples the vacuum chamber.
Equipment costs, maintenance costs, extra time required to evacuate helium from test fixturing in between test cycles, and ever rising helium costs makes this method the method of last resort. Typical applications include: heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) components; pace makers; aluminum wheels; and airbag components.
For these type applications where leaks of 10–4 sccs or less must be detected for product integrity or safety, helium has its well-deserved place in the repertoire of best-match leak test techniques to consider.
In the next part of this Leak Testing 101 series we will discuss miscellaneous other testing techniques including: hydrogen ultrasonic, bubble testing, and air under water.
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Note: The above article has been reproduced from an article written by the author for Quality Digest