Airbags are in the news again, this time with a recall for a number of Ford vehicles. While X-ray inspection has long been used in ensuring the manufacturing quality of airbags, the question remains, “Can X-ray inspection play a role in evaluating the safety of airbags throughout their service life?”
It has long been standard practice to incorporate X-ray inspection as part of the quality assurance process in the manufacture of automobile airbags. Automated inspection allows for rapid validation of completed assemblies, ensuring that all required components are present, in the right locations, and confirming the proper fill level of propellant. Implementing X-ray inspection helped the auto industry produce consistently safer airbags.
Ongoing problems persist with some airbags because, among other things, propellants degrade over time. Temperature cycling and exposure to humidity can cause some propellent materials to become more porous, and this increase in porosity causes the propellant to generate greater gas pressure than intended. When the pressure exceeds the ability of the inflators to properly vent the gasses, the excess pressure can exceed the strength of the housing and cause it to rupture, sending dangerous shrapnel through a vehicle’s cabin. As noted by Ford regarding their recent recall, “most of the vehicles at highest risk are in areas with high humidity and high temperatures.”
If propellent porosity can be measured using high-resolution X-ray inspection and advanced image processing, it may be possible to evaluate the safety of legacy airbags. While we don’t have a definitive answer, the team at Creative Electron continues to investigate, seeking a solution to this important problem.
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