For many years the most effective, and only, method for finding gas leaks of any type was the use of a soap or "bubble" solution. For substantial leaks this is still a very effective "detector" and is, in fact, the method most commonly used to this day in high pressure gas production such as compressed air, oxygen, nitrogen, etc.
small capacity refrigeration or air conditioning systems, however,
significant leaks of a few ounces a year could not be easily found
with bubbles, and the "halide torch" was introduced. This tool
uses an open flame to heat a small copper plate, and any halogen
gas introduced causes a change in the flame color. It is a reliable
tool but has several disadvantages: small color changes, especially
in bright sunlight, are very difficult to see; large doses of
chlorinated refrigerant can produce phosgene gas (COCI2), a poison;
the inability to detect non-chlorine based refrigerants (E.G.
HFC 134a), and the fact that in some locations an open flame is
The invention, in 1963, of the Corona Discharge Detection Method
introduced the age of the electronic detector. Over the years
this concept was refined and improved with extensive research
into electrode metals, tip shell materials and finishing procedures
as well as circuitry changes and features to improve response
time and "clearing" time. From a user point of view, one of the
most significant of these features was the introduction of the
"Micro-pump" probe assembly. This small motor-driven fan assembly,
mounted in the probe handle, actively draws air into the sensing
tip and vents it through the back of the handle.
gives appreciably quicker response time than a system which relies
only on diffusion for a gas leak to penetrate the tip, and very
much quicker clearing time, allowing the user to move quickly
to the next suspect leak point. This mechanical pump is far superior
to any so-called ion-pump method. Ion-pumping, or electron-wind,
is a phenomenon readily demonstrable in a laboratory at 50 or
100,000 volts but is negligible to nonexistent at the voltages
used in electronic leak detectors.
The growing concern over ozone-depletion, the Montreal Protocol
and the U.S. Clean Air Act led to the introduction world-wide
of chlorine-free refrigerants (HFC's) and an immediate rush by
detector manufacturers to produce a tool able to respond, at appropriate
levels, to a gas with no chlorine content. All previous halogen
refrigerants had contained chlorine (CFC's and HCFC's), and that
is the most easily detected component using Corona Discharge Technology.
The response to fluorine is some 20 to 100 times less, and this
requires major changes in tip sensitivity and circuit gain.
Such changes include: new tip shell and electrode (not interchangeable
with previous styles), modified voltage pulse to the tip to change
the duty cycle and separate (switchable) hi-gain circuitry to
handle the very low signal input from fluorine detection. The
inherent problem with hi-gain amplifiers is their susceptibility
to electronic "noise" and their amplification of unwanted signals,
which is why a separate circuit was developed for HFC signal handling,
rather than one circuit, with variable gain, to handle everything.