Snowpulse and Mammut Airbag Incompatibility with ABS Cartridges

Post by blogger | January 10, 2012      

The use of ABS airbag cartridges with Mammut and Snowpulse packs is confusing. Snowpulse put out a press release back in November warning that ABS had made changes to their cartridges which would void compatibility with Snowpulse packs, referring to a change in burst disc thickness as the culprit.

Snowpulse and Mammut had previously been marketing the ability to use ABS’s cartridges with their packs, which was attractive since ABS has a lightweight carbon cartridge in Europe. Some people began to wonder if ABS had made the change deliberately to stop this, but why would ABS care if they sold more cartridges? What is the reason for this incompatibility? And more importantly, how serious of an issue is this? After talking with parties on both sides, here’s some back story and what I’ve been able to figure out:

ABS steel cartridges. The copper burst disc has been punctured in the lefthand cartridge. Click to enlarge.

ABS has been developing their airbag system for decades, and in that time has experimented with many different airbag, valve, cartridge, and puncture unit arrangements. At one point their puncture unit (the pointy thing that stabs the copper burst disc in the cartridge to release the air) was a hollow pin design, but they found that once in a while there was a problem with the pin getting plugged up with copper and inhibiting air flow. So they moved to a solid “horseshoe” pin profile, which seemed to mitigate this potential problem.

On April 15, 2010, there was a recall of all European ABS cartridges after an accident where an avalanche victim’s ABS airbag failed to inflate because two burst discs had accidentally been installed sandwiched together in the cartridge, where there should have only been one. To prevent this from happening again, ABS moved all their filling production to be in house and tightened quality control. In addition, just in case the two disc mishap happened again, they reduced the thickness of their burst discs from .3mm to .2mm. If two .3mm discs are stacked together, the puncture unit pin must puncture .6mm of copper, which it cannot do with any guarantee. But if two .2mm discs are stacked, it can easily puncture the .4mm total copper. Thus they had added a margin of safety. All ABS cartridges (steel and carbon) filled after April 15, 2010, the world over should have a single .2mm disc according to ABS.

ABS puncture unit. The cartridge screws in to this and when the trigger handle is pulled, the pin punctures the copper burst disc in the cartridge, releasing the air. Note the design of the pin: solid, with a slot down one side. Click to enlarge.

Snowpulse came out with their own airbag system several years ago using a completely different system which involved pulling a pin to release air (see the Snowpulse 1.0 refill guide to see it). Then, a couple years ago, they developed their 2.0 system, which is very similar to ABS’s in that it uses a pin to puncture a copper disc. The system has passed all TUV tests just as ABS’s system has, including a TUV test that certified it for use with ABS cartridges. But then the TUV informed Mammut/Snowpulse that their systems were failing with ABS’s new .2mm cartridge design, prompting the Snowpulse press release.

Frustratingly, the Snowpulse press release doesn’t explain the problem, and Snowpulse representatives prefer not to comment. If ABS’s cartridge burst disc has only gotten thinner, then the problem can’t be a matter of Snowpulse/Mammut’s puncture unit not being able to penetrate. If you look closer at the Snowpulse/Mammut puncture unit itself, you’ll see that it is shaped differently than ABS’s.

The Snowpulse/Mammut puncture unit. Note that the pin is much larger than the ABS one above and that it is hollow. It is horseshoe shaped, with a slot down the side. Click to enlarge.

One has to wonder if the thinner ABS copper material is getting plugged into the hollow pin. I can’t say with certainty that this is what the problem is, it’s all just conjecture on my part, but it seems a likely candidate. To clarify, this is not a problem when using Snowpulse’s cylinder, which uses a .3mm thick copper burst disc, in a Snowpulse or Mammut backpack.

The Snowpulse press release is confusing because it claims the only incompatible ABS cartridges are from after April 1, 2011 rather than 2010 when ABS had their recall. ABS maintains that no cartridges went out after April 15, 2010 without a .2mm disc, so to be safe, I’d use that date. While I have personally performed at least three tests with recent ABS cartridges in Snowpulse and Mammut packs that have all been fine, there have been a handful of reports from others of their airbag not completely filling, which may or may not be due to some plugged copper restricting the airflow.

A partially inflated 150 liter airbag likely won’t produce the amount of buoyancy needed to keep you on the surface in an avalanche. While there is only a small chance that your puncture pin could become plugged, one should probably err on the side of caution. If you have an older ABS cartridge, keep using it if you wish, just check the weight from time to time to make sure it stays full. I will go through my other posts and update them with this info.

For the time being, Mammut has no plans to fix this incompatibility, so Snowpulse/Mammut users will need to only use Snowpulse/Mammut cylinders. This isn’t really a big deal unless you wanted to use ABS’s carbon cartridge, which is only available in Europe anyway.

Mammut/Snowpulse is working on developing their own carbon cartridge which is still a ways off, and unless they figure out the DOT magic bullet, it will likely only be available in Europe at first. In the US, there are currently no carbon cartridges available from any manufacturer, including ABS, due to lack of approval from the Department of Transportation; who knows when that will change…


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18 Responses to “Snowpulse and Mammut Airbag Incompatibility with ABS Cartridges”

  1. D. January 10th, 2012 2:24 am

    One comment Nick, apart from the technical details: ABS definitely do care their own cartridges to be used only with their own backpacks!

  2. 3j January 10th, 2012 8:44 am

    does anyone know if black diamond will be coming out with an air bag in the near future?

  3. Lou January 10th, 2012 9:01 am

    3, anyone that knows, if they told you they’d have to do away with you. And yes, rumors are out there. My favorite is the one about an avy airbag system based on the automobile type of inflation, so it’s doesn’t need a gas tank. Super light! Plug and play activation device so you can leave the activator at home, then just stick one in there when you get to your destination. Shucks, perhaps they’ll even standardize the inflation source, and you’ll be able to grab one when you get a beer. Lou

  4. Will January 10th, 2012 9:46 am

    I have read the ABS announcement about the incompatbility issue with the ABS Carbon Cylinder, but nothing on the US metal cylinder. Can you further clarify which cylinders are affected?

  5. Nick Thompson January 10th, 2012 10:42 am

    ALL ABS cartridges filled after April 15, 2010 (Steel, Carbon, USA, Canada, Europe, everywhere) have a .2mm burst disc according to ABS.

  6. 3J January 10th, 2012 7:02 pm

    ha ha ha. thanks Lou, ill be on the lookout for that

  7. Brad January 11th, 2012 11:46 am

    Nick and Lou,
    Thanks for the clarification on this topic as information out there in general has been very vague. The question I still have after reading through all press releases and your write up is the following. – How, if the two cylinders (ABS vs. Mammut/Snowpulse) both use simliar but not exactly the same burst disc’s (thickness being the difference) can the snowpulse system be considered fail-safe with the snowpulse canister system but have the potential to fail with the ABS system. All the talk is about a piece of the copper disc becoming lodged in the hollow section of the snowpulse plunger (as reported with early ABS system) and preventing inadequate airflow. Thus, I do not understand how essentially snowpulse can work with the snowpulse system (and be considered fail-safe) but not work with the ABS system. In my mind, if the snowpulse plunger does not work with the ABS system it then should also not work with the snowpulse system. Anyone who can help clarify this conundrum it would be greatly appreciated.

  8. Nick Thompson January 11th, 2012 2:05 pm

    Good question, I’ve wondered that myself. TUV says it works, but is a .1mm copper thickness difference really making the difference between plugging or not? Hopefully we’ll find out more at the OR show when some of the European execs will be there…

  9. David Aldous January 11th, 2012 9:55 pm

    @Nick Thompson
    You could think of it as a 50% difference in thickness. Does that make it seem like a more significant difference?
    If they went to automobile airbag technology you would basically be carrying around a small explosive. I would imagine it would make flying with that pack significantly more complicated. How do you travel with the ABS activation handle? Doesn’t it have a small charge in it?

  10. Nick Thompson January 12th, 2012 8:27 am

    Good point about % difference.

    From the IATA table:
    “Permitted in or as carry-on baggage” and “Permitted in or as checked baggage”:
    “Avalanche rescue backpack, one (1) per passenger, equipped with a pyrotechnic trigger mechanism containing less than 200 mg net of Division 1.4S and less than 250 mL of compressed gas in Division 2.2.”

  11. Brad January 12th, 2012 10:12 am

    Your comment about the 50% difference does make it apparent, however the fact that your going from a thicker .3mm disc to the .2mm disc would lead me to believe that at 50% thinner, you have less chance of getting the puncture piece stuck in the plunger preventing maximum airflow into the venturi valve (using an ABS cylinder in Snowpulse bag). Hopefully Nick and Lou are able to get ABS and Snowpulse in a discussion at OR and finally once and for all hash out whether we have an actual problem or more of a liability issue (with ABS not wanting their canisters used in Snowpulse equipment)

  12. Mark W January 16th, 2012 9:57 pm

    I want DOT to get it together: America wants carbon!

  13. Pat April 9th, 2012 9:31 pm

    First a thought, then a question;

    1) perhaps the difference between .2 and .3 mm is that at .2 it is easier for mammut’s system to break off a piece of copper, rather than bend back as the picture in the “ride RAS” review shows?

    2) if the systems were previously interchangeable, would this mean the ABS cartridge could be “home fit” with the puncture disc from an RAS kit? Not sure about home-serviceability of ABS stuff and weather actual sizes of the parts is similar/the same?

  14. Nick Thompson April 10th, 2012 6:47 am

    1. could be.
    2. ABS cartridges don’t have a valve for refill on them. They can only be refilled at the factory. Would be nice if you could.

  15. borse shop April 12th, 2012 1:47 am

    Lou is a toughest fighter I’ve ever seen. For another question, the avy airbag system you recommended before, which brand should be your first choice? Or you can DIY?

  16. Karl May 6th, 2012 12:12 pm

    Interessting problem, a combination of Punching, Shear and high pressure on a relatively small surface. Would be nice to do some R&D on this, allthough the testing would be quiet difficult, i wouldn’t rely on CAE only design!

  17. Jules January 9th, 2015 11:50 pm

    Interesting article. I am currently in Japan and not able to source a replacement snowpulse canister but I do have access to a carbon abs canister(funny that, considering how short supply they apparently are in eu at the mo due to recall). Trying to weigh up my options (having no airbag system or an abs canister on my snowpulse 2.0 system) anyone got any thoughts?

  18. Nick Thompson January 12th, 2015 7:00 am

    I’d use the ABS canister personally. More chance of it working than no airbag at all. Having an airbag shouldn’t affect your decision making while out in avy terrain anyway.

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