LifeSparc Inc. is ramping up around-the-clock production of automotive air-bag initiators and microgas generators for seat-belt pretensioners at a new plant in Hollister, Calif.
Among its processes, LifeSparc uses three vertical-clamp, rotary-table injection molding machines and related robotics in overmolding 43 percent glass-filled nylon 6 on eight small caps, each with two contacts. The Battenfeld machines have 66 tons of clamping force.
Dimensions are critical. ``We have a proprietary mold that controls many of the tolerances'' within four-thousandths of an inch, Jerry Church, LifeSparc manufacturing engineer, said by telephone.
Each initiator's two inserts consist of an igniter and a percussion cap. Each igniter is oriented, fitted with a cap, prearranged in groups of eight and transferred by robot into the mold. The caps are overmolded onto the igniters to complete each initiator.
LifeSparc expects to make 8 million air-bag initiators in 2003, principally for TRW Inc. and Takata Corp.
Air bags are activated when an electronic sensor ignites an explosive charge and blows off the steering wheel cover. The first 150 milliseconds constitute the critical phase in responding to a frontal car crash.
LifeSparc traces its roots back to 1993, when Quantic Industries Inc. in Hollister diversified into automotive air bags using aerospace-type technology including a plastic initiator. Japan's Nippon Kayaku Co. Ltd. and Nichimen Corp. acquired Quantic's vehicle safety systems division in September 2000 and, a month later, bought 15 acres three miles from Quantic for a separate plant in Hollister.
The joint venture, renamed LifeSparc, expects to invest more than $35 million over five years.
LifeSparc constructed a 53,000-square-foot plant and, simultaneously, began working with Battenfeld on production concepts.
The first Battenfeld molding press reached LifeSparc in November 2001 in the midst of the plant's construction. Quantic supplied parts during the interim.
The first full-production system went into operation in July. The second is en route and scheduled to begin producing parts in January.
LifeSparc invested nearly $700,000 for the Battenfeld equipment, Church said.
LifeSparc employs about 75, is currently hiring and expects to have 350 employees in three years.
The initial Quantic technology continues in use, and LifeSparc works closely on product development with a Nippon Kayaku plant in Himeji, Japan, and sister company Indet Safety Systems AS in Vset¡n, Czech Republic. Nippon Kayaku and Nichimen acquired ISS in 1998.
Competitors include Special Devices Inc. of Mesa, Ariz., and Autoliv Inc. of Stockholm, Sweden.