Aryballe Technologies, a French sensor and software company in the food and fragrance sector, decided in 2018 that it saw opportunities in the auto industry. Its business: detecting things that don't smell right.
Last year, Aryballe introduced a digital olfactory device that will allow automakers, component suppliers and material producers to objectively smell whether something wasn't quite right.
This year, SAE International asked the company to chair a task force on industry smell issues — not to sniff them out, but to help create objective standards so that manufacturers can use the same technical parameters of what smells right and what doesn't, rather than leaving it up to a human technician to decide.
News Editor Lindsay Chappell spoke with Terri Jordan, Aryballe's executive vice president for business development worldwide, about its innovation in vehicle aroma management. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: What has Aryballe done to move forward in the field of vehicle odors?
Jordan: We have developed, through a partnership with the company International Flavors and Fragrances, a laboratory instrument that enables odor measurements to be made with objective data.
Q: How does it work?
Jordan: It's a silicon technology. We graft biosensors or peptides onto a silicon surface. We're measuring preferential affinity, or the absorption of various odors and malodors to these peptides, which mimics what we have in our nose.
Q: And this is something an automaker would use in its assembly plant as part of the final inspection, for example?
Jordan: Yes. A lot of the malodors that material manufacturers care about, in plastics and leather, are simply deviations from their standards.
Q: Maybe they're using recycled materials that have an odor.
Jordan: But here's the problem: It's all human-based right now. And humans are notably subjective and unreliable. If you're trained as a perfumer, you probably have a very delicate nose. Whereas in automotive, you might be sending plastic parts out to be reviewed at a lab where the person might or might not be able to discern.
Q: How precise can digital smell detection really be?
Jordan: In the flavor business, we're asked to discriminate between different colas. We're asked to distinguish between different aromas of vanilla. You have a signature of a smell. And you can populate your digital library with the specifics of that smell. And then you can determine your deviation from that point. Your quality control needs to be about "what is my deviation away from what I wanted?"
Q: Is there a correct smell in automotive?
Jordan: No. In China, "zero smell" is the right smell. In Europe, manufacturers want a certain specific smell from their leather, and we're working with leather suppliers to find it.
Q: Are you anticipating that this will be more of an issue in the years ahead?
Jordan: Yes. Consider fleet service providers with autonomous and shared vehicles. When those vehicles come in for servicing, they'll face a challenge in meeting odor specifications. Those service departments are not necessarily going to have technicians with well-trained noses making judgments on whether the smell is right. So we're working on portable, digital hand-held devices, or even iPhones, that you can use in the field to get this right.