What Is Leak Testing And Why Is It So Important?
Every component or assembly leaks, so the question is not whether there is a leak, but rather how much does it leak?
Leaks are inevitable, and they can result from cracks or holes from the manufacturing process, the nature of the material itself or from wear or stress. Some leaks are microscopic, others are visible to the naked eye, but the reality is that the repercussions of a leak that is outside of acceptable standards can be devastating.
In the best case scenario, a leak in a component or an assembly that is outside of acceptable standards may ‘only’ result in the associated costs of repair or replacement, but on the other end of the spectrum, the results can be severe. Whole system failure, environmental damage, health and safety risks, reputational damage and financially crippling consequences are all possible outcomes of a leak – hence the critical importance of leak testing.
So what is leak testing?
Simply put, leak testing is the measurement of the amount of fluid or gas that is leaking out of a component or the measurement of fluid or gas that is entering into a component.
Given that a degree of leaking is inevitable, the aim of leak testing is not to stop all leaks but rather to quantify (or in some instances, to locate) the leaks and to ensure that they are within acceptable and allowable standards which may include safety regulations, legislative requirements, environmental standards, industry requirements, quality standards and customer expectations.
How is leak testing conducted?
There are several methods of leak testing – and given that there are many factors to consider, it’s a good idea to consult with a reputable supplier who can make recommendations based on their experience in testing similar parts or assemblies.
Things to consider include whether the test is to locate the leak or measure the total leak rate, the size and internal volume of the test piece, the acceptable leak rates or limits, accessibility, ambient temperature and surface finish. The choice of method will also depend upon the direction of the leak, the type of liquid or gas contained in the part, the viscosity of that substance and the operating pressure of the component.
Traditional forms of leak testing such as using air to pressurise the component and immersing it in water to look for bubbles or spraying it with a soap solution can be time-consuming and labour-intensive and can result in costly downtime, production losses and even contamination of the part. Modern electronic leak testing such as tracer gas leak testing and air decay/flow leak testing have the huge advantage of being able to be integrated into an automated production process and are far cleaner, more efficient, more sensitive and more accurate.
Why is leak testing is so important?
- Reduces equipment replacement costs
- Ensures quality control
- Improves consumer safety and customer satisfaction
- Minimises risk of warranty claims
- Reduces risk of system damage or failure
- Reduces risk of costly downtime and production losses
- Reduces risk of safety breaches
- Reduces risk of regulatory infringements and possible litigation costs
- Reduces risk of devastating environmental damage
- Reduces risk of brand or reputational damage
Each product or application that needs to be tested may have its own distinct requirements and it is hugely beneficial to consult with an NDT equipment supplier who has the experience and expertise to find a leak testing programme that meets your needs and expectations.