Here is part two of our portrait of the thermal battery specialist, ASB.
One of the uses for ASB’s thermal batteries is in artillery shells: 76mm, 122mm, 127mm and 155mm calibres. One of the company’s newest developments for this sector is a self-activating battery which is activated by the acceleration of the shell when it has been fired. The battery supplies the power to actuate the canards and for its electrical systems. Caridroit explained that there are about 20 thermal battery manufacturers in the world, but ABS “is the only one do do this.”
ASB currently has over 64 clients in 17 countries and has plans to expand. Many of its clients are prime contractors such as Airbus, MBDA, DCNS (the French naval systems group), CEA, Nexter, Thales…For example, it will open a new company in Bangalore, India, before the end of the spring, because India has a number of “make in India” missiles which need thermal batteries to fire.
So why does the small company believe it is the world leader, particularly as it does not publish its annual turnover figures preferring to pay a fine every year than reveal to its competitors exactly how its doing? In 2007 Frost & Sullivan published a report estimating that EaglePicher Technologies (since sold to OM Group, Inc., a chemical and metals firm based in Cleveland, Ohio) had 40% of the thermal battery market and ASB had 34%. “Since then we’ve taken a share of EaglePicher’s market and our exports have risen so we believe we will be world leader in 2016,” explained Caridroit.
The extraordinary thing is that when one visits the factory it looks more like a kitchen than a high-tech enterprise. The company buys its minerals in rock form and then grinds them down, keeping the resulting powder in exactly the same glass jars that I keep my flour and sugar in! The batteries are constructed entirely by hand, the small circles of compacted powder carefully set atop each other by staff who were recruited, amongst other things, on their agility at Rubik’s Cube and cross-stitch embroidery! They work in dry rooms behind air tight doors in which the air is renewed 40 times an hour and the air is so dry that they have to leave the room once an hour to drink. In fact the large and welcoming rest and recuperation room is at the heart of the building.
So, if you happen to be visiting the Eurosatory show in Paris this June and come across the ASB stand with its shiny stainless steel tubes, spare a thought for the men and women who carefully hand-crafted them.