After five years of government-funded research, a Corona, Calif., molder passed a major milestone in signing a contract to make as many as 60,000 gas masks for Army helicopter pilots and tank crews.
Campbell Plastics Engineering & Manufacturing Inc. will mold the plastic parts, subcontract other processing of the mask and apparatus, gather the elements and conduct tension, conductivity and leak tests on finished units.
``We're responsible for the whole assembly,'' President Richard Campbell said in a telephone interview.
The armament and chemical acquisition and logistics agency of the U.S. Army Tank and Automotive Command in Warren, Mich., awarded the production contract Aug. 7.
Campbell Plastics will use M.A. Hanna Co.'s nylon type 6/12 with 33 percent glass content and GE Plastics' OQ-2320 polycarbonate in molding parts. West American Rubber Co. in Orange, Calif., will mold the silicone face mask and the discardable second skin of butyl rubber.
In 1992, a Defense Department initiative through the U.S. Small Business Administration led to research and development of an M45 ``chemical, biological, aviator and land warrior mask.''
Campbell Plastics received about $9 million for the Army R&D. Also, Wirtz Manufacturing Co. Inc. of Port Huron, Mich., and Dauntless Molds Inc. of Covina, Calif., made major contributions to the Army design.
Campbell noted, ``We designed most parts using ProE software and stereolithography,'' replaced metal parts with plastic and cut components by more than 20 percent. Components are assembled after molding the rubber portion rather than insert-molding metal pieces, as previously. The mask incorporates a combination drink tube/microphone and interchangeable tinted lenses.
Eventually, the M45 will replace the complicated M49 system, which includes a blower unit and is 40 percent heavier, and the older M24, which weighs about the same as the new unit.
``The M45 provides improved capabilities over the M24 and at a significantly reduced life-cycle cost as compared to the M49, primarily due to elimination of the blower unit,'' said Donald Kilduff, a systems engineer at the Army's Chemical Biological Defense Command in Maryland.
Campbell Plastics' sales of $4 million for the fiscal year ended April 30 included $2 million in Army research funding. Campbell, a founder when the firm started in 1981, anticipates growth of the firm's sales to $5 million in the M45 contract's first year and $11 million in the second year. Together, those initial years should generate M45 sales of almost $10 million, Campbell said. Army options for three additional years of mask deliveries and spare parts could bring M45 sales to $30 million.
Deliveries begin in March, initially going to helicopter crews and then as standard equipment for infantry forces.
The minority-owned firm employs 40, relocated in July 1996 to a custom-built, 37,500-square-foot facility and operates 10 Nissei injection molding presses with clamping forces of 60-400 tons. No additional space or equipment is needed now, but the firm anticipates hiring 30 people to meet the contract's requirements.
Campbell Plastics makes cabin components for the MD-80 commercial aircraft made by McDonnell Douglas, now part of Boeing Co., and is developing an antenna for a Hughes Aircraft Co. unit.