Gases such as R22 (chlorodifluoromethane) are used for fault control purposes in industrial manufacturing processes. Sensitive products that have to be absolutely leak-tight are pressurised with this gas, any gas leaks indicate that the part is faulty.
The gas R22, which can only be used to the end of 2009, ends up as "climate killer" in the environment, which is the justification for the ban. However, using the comparatively extremely expensive helium as a direct substitute would accelerate costs dramatically. This is why the testing facility is supplemented by adding a helium conditioning system. The inert gas is almost completely recovered and reused.
"Savings of €20,000 per day are realistic", calculates Christian Schmitz, Product Manager at gas equipment manufacturer Witt. "The helium conditioning system investment is recoverable in a short period of time”. However, this does depend on corresponding consumption levels; this applies when the entire production output is subject to individual testing, as for example where safety-relevant products are concerned. "It becomes more evident with consumption levels from several cubic metres per day", says Schmitz.
Witt builds the technological heart of such systems: the gas mixing, metering and analysing system. A gas conditioning system works as a self-contained unit. The test specimen undergoes fault testing in a hermetically sealed chamber. The actual leak control function is performed by an analysis system registering leaking gas molecules down to ppm (part per million). "The technological challenge here consists of process accuracy, and getting the components to work together", explains Schmitz.
Which is in fact no simple matter! To minimise helium input, 85% nitrogen is added. However, the initial optimum mixture is constantly impurified with air during the testing process. This cannot be tolerated, as possible oxidation can damage both the test specimen and also the gas conditioning system. The mixing ratio has to remain constant throughout all phases of the testing process in order to detect possible leaks. The recovered gas mixture is analysed and conditioned and can be re-used with the right helium concentration.
For years now, the range of products offered by Witt has included various individual solutions to this demanding task, all of which stand out with extreme precision and constitute feasible state-of-the-art engineering. The company has now brought these components together into a complete system for helium recovery. According to Schmitz, while other technical alternatives are available, these fail to provide the precision necessary to achieve the maximum savings.
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