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News Release
October 16, 1997
Weapon safety/reliability enhancements are main goal of new partnership between Sandia Labs and the Ensign-Bickford Co.

Project also has civilian industrial applications

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The Ensign-Bickford Co. (EBCo) and Sandia National Laboratories will work together under a new partnership to enhance the safety and reliability of explosive components used in national defense weapons systems and in civilian applications.

Based in Simsbury, Conn., EBCo has been working since the 1950's with Sandia, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) lab, to combine the best commercial industry practices and DOE technology to ensure a stable source of explosive ordnance components. The new partnership, announced at a contract signing ceremony today (Thursday, Oct. 16) in Simsbury, extends and expands earlier cooperative work. The contract is for two years and is worth approximately $10 million.

This is one of the largest contracts with industry ever awarded by Sandia's Manufacturing Development Engineering (MDE) program. The MDE program was developed largely to allow the DOE to secure weapon components from industry instead of running its own - often more costly - operations to produce components, without sacrificing stringent quality requirements.

Many components that will be developed and manufactured through the EBCo/Sandia partnership will replace aging components in the U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile. Sandia has a major role in certifying the continuing safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile. Although no new weapons are being developed, components are replaced with better, safer ones as needed or at the end of their design life.

"Teaming with companies such as EBCo allows us to ensure that our weapons stockpile remains viable and safe, while keeping our costs down," says Sandia's Gary Beeler. "It also allows private companies to adapt applicable technology for commercial and industrial purposes. The partnership is good for our U.S. defense program and good for industry." Beeler is Sandia's vice president for Defense Programs Products and Services.

"These are exciting times in our industry, and we welcome our continuing relationship with Sandia Laboratories and the Department of Energy," says Len Mecca, EBCo's VP of Research and Development.

The Sandia/EBCo work will involve several technologies developed or refined by the two organizations to make weapon components and other explosives systems ever safer and more reliable. One device that will be used extensively is the semiconductor bridge (SCB) , a low-energy igniter that Sandia developed and patented in 1987. EBCo has a license to produce SCBs.

SCBs have civilian and national defense applications and ignite explosives in an extremely fast (several microseconds), precisely timed, and safe manner. They are finding increasing applications for tasks such as igniting explosive charges in rockets, actuating certain weapon functions, and igniting explosives used in mining and construction industries.

Sandia and EBCo have already teamed to develop an award winning system that uses SCB technology. The GEOSIS (TM) Mini-hole Seismic Surface Initiation System, which improves technology for helping oil exploration companies determine where to drill, won an R&D 100 award several months ago. These awards honor inventors of the past year's 100 most significant technological innovations, as determined by an expert panel selected by R&D Magazine.

The Ensign-Bickford Co. is a high-technology aerospace and specialty product firm and is a leading supplier of explosives and detonation devices. The firm has generations-old expertise in manufacturing products for mining, construction, and petroleum exploration and in recent years has expanded into military ordnance systems and aerospace applications.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram Department of Energy laboratory, operated by a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation. With about 7,500 employees and facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy, environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness. Sandia is one of 20 U.S. Department of Energy research labs throughout the nation.

Media contact:
Larry Perrine, lgperri@sandia.gov, (505) 845-8511

Ensign Bickford:
Michael Long, (860) 843-2843

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