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What happens to Takata airbags once removed?

Australia’s APV plays key role in destroying – and recycling – deadly Takata airbags

27 Aug 2019

INDEPENDENT safety testing company APV is playing a vital role in the Takata airbag recall campaign in Australia, destroying ABOUT 10,000 airbags a month on behalf of car companies and, importantly, developing a recycling program that enables around 90 per cent of the materials to avoid landfill.


As GoAuto has reported, the latest figures from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) shows that 4.01 million airbags have been recalled in Australia, with 3.21 million replaced as at June 30 this year.


This covers 79 per cent of affected vehicles and leaves about 604,000 airbags still to be replaced.


A handful of car companies are currently using APV to destroy their stockpiles of the potentially deadly airbags upon replacement through their national dealer network.


APV managing director Harry Hickling told GoAuto that the Melbourne-based company operates the only certified airbag lab in Australia, which is traditionally used for motor vehicle airbag research and development and, more recently, testing aftermarket car seat covers fitted over seat-mounted side airbags.


“The Takata recall came along and basically we are the only lab which can deploy the airbag in a controlled manner,” he said.


“The car companies have to certify the airbags being disposed of and destroyed. The test centre records and scans the serial number of every airbag, and where it’s known what the VIN is of the vehicle, it records that.


“In a controlled airbag deployment room, we deploy the airbags, statically controlled. We then provide a statutory record to the car companies which in turn will go to the ACCC (to prove) that the airbags have been destroyed and disposed of.


“We are then providing an additional level of value in terms of really focusing in on recycling the materials. We’re aiming to get 90 per cent of the materials recycled, so we’ve put in place a better supply chain to recycle all the packaging materials, the metal cannisters and the airbag material and plastics.


“They are significant volumes. We’re talking about 50,000kg of plastic material, for example, so the waste component of it is very significant and we’re trying to ensure it just doesn’t end up in landfill.”


Mr Hickling welcomed the fact that some car companies were prepared to ensure that the airbag materials were recycled as far as possible, which comes on top of the already burdensome costs involved in the recall.


“To the credit of everybody involved – you know, there’s a huge cost on the industry, on the car companies, and the cheapest thing for them to do would be to find a way of just destroying them,” he said.


“The processes need to ensure that statutory control (but) also what we’re trying to ensure is to stop it getting into landfill.”


Mr Hickling was not willing to discuss which car companies were on its books, nor the performance of the airbags as they were deployed at APV, suffice to say that the company had only encountered a small percentage of malfunctions to date.


“Some (car companies) have been less impacted than others, and they’ve been fairly short programs which have gone through,” he said.


“We’ve got a couple which have done a program early on and are about to do another program. And then there’s some of the bigger car companies – that’s just a huge program at work.”


APV has a large storage area at its Campbellfield factory housing a huge number of airbags. The company is generally provided with the complete airbag assembly, which prior to deployment needs to be broken down as far as possible. In the case of front passenger, side and curtain airbags, this includes separating the cannister from the airbag assembly and interior trim.


In the lab, driver’s airbag casings are hung on special racks while cannisters extracted from the front passenger, side and curtain airbag assemblies are lined up on their own unique rack.


Every airbag is put through two firing cycles and visual inspection to ensure it is completely destroyed prior to separating materials for recycling.

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