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Thermal Imaging Technology Used To Hunt Criminals Helps Ford Detect Air Leaks, Design Quieter Vehicles

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."

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