Cockeysville plant is getting $20 million expansion

Saft America makes batteries for military aircraft, satellites

Aerospace

September 21, 1999|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

A battery-production facility in Cockeysville is getting a $20 million upgrade along with the potential for a number of new jobs.

Saft America Inc. -- a division of the French firm Saft SA -- makes nickel-hydrogen batteries for military aircraft and satellites. The upgrade will allow the company to expand research, development and limited production of batteries using lithium ions, more powerful, lighter and considered a safer and less flamable material.

Lisa Bull, contracts administrator for the Cockeysville facility, said the expansion will bring more jobs but added that it was too early to estimate how many.

The 40,000-square-foot facility -- which made the batteries used in the Mars Pathfinder rover -- currently uses 11,000 square feet for a manufacturing area and has room to grow.

"We had 10,000 square feet of open space and we are filling that up. We are buying equipment, renovating and modifying and expanding," Bull said. "The plan is to have a production line at least by the end of the year 2000."

The Cockeysville facility is making a limited number of lithium-ion batteries for use in electric vehicles in conjunction with the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium, a research group funded by the federal government and the Big Three automakers. A Saft facility in France produced the battery for use in Chrysler's EPIC (Electric Powered Interurban Commuter) minivan.

In addition to the upgrade, the 50-employee facility is hoping to restart its thermal-battery production business, which at its peak employed 600 people. That number dwindled to about 150 by 1993, Bull said, when Saft stopped making the batteries altogether and laid off 120 workers.

Bull said the company recently bid on a thermal-battery production contract with the Army and could restart production any time should it win the job. The batteries would be used in advanced cruise missiles.

If the facility wins a steady number of thermal-battery contracts, she said, employment in that area could also grow.

"We do not want to start really big, then run ourselves out of business," Bull said. "There have been so many defense cutbacks."

Pub Date: 9/21/99

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