Camarillo-based Siemens Solar Industries, whose parent recently filed a lawsuit alleging that it was a victim of fraud in purchasing the solar energy concern, has installed an automated manufacturing system aimed at increasing efficiency in the production of solar cells.
Siemens Solar, the world's largest supplier of solar products, says it spent several million dollars for the custom-made system, called the SSI U-Cell, but won't say whether there's a link between the investment and the difficulties cited in the lawsuit.
The new system is designed to increase output and improve quality control in producing solar-powered cells, both now and in the future, when the cells will be thinner and more powerful, Siemens said.
"The SSI U-Cell offers flexibility, functionality and future capabilities that are expected to result in complete cost recovery in less than two years," Jim Goode, vice president of manufacturing and engineering, said in a statement.
The U-shaped assembly line uses robotics and computers to perform such tasks as holding the wafer-thin cells at storage points when the line becomes overloaded. Tens of thousands of the cells can be produced daily using the system, Siemens said.
Goode's statement made no mention of a lawsuit filed in U. S. District Court in New York last month by Siemens Solar and its parent, Siemens Corp. (USA).
The complaint seeks nearly $150 million in damages from Atlantic Richfield Co., from which Siemens purchased the former Arco Solar Inc. in 1989 for $35.9 million.
The lawsuit charges that Arco failed to disclose that a key product under development by the Camarillo firm would be more difficult to produce than expected and was not commercially viable.
Arco has denied the charge.
A Siemens spokesman, Paul Morrison, declined to say whether the effort to improve efficiency is aimed at solving the problems cited in the lawsuit.
"We'd prefer to look at SSI U-Cell as evidence of our commitment to remaining in the solar market," he said. "The market is continuing to expand."
Most of Siemens' cells are sold to utilities for bringing power to remote areas.
"But some utilities are starting to use solar energy in their main grids as well," Morrison said.
Siemens Solar has 500 employees, mostly in Camarillo and some at a plant in Vancouver, Wash.
The company and its American parent are units of the German electronics giant Siemens AG, which has annual sales of nearly $49 billion.