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VENTURA COUNTY REPORT / JACK SEARLES

Siemens Continues Efficiency Upgrade at Camarillo Plant

April 27, 1993|JACK SEARLES

Siemens Solar Industries, the world's largest supplier of solar energy products, has installed two major efficiency improvements at its headquarters plant in Camarillo, bringing to three the number of such upgrades in the past month.

In one move, Siemens installed a new system for slicing blocks of silicon crystal into ultra-thin wafers used in producing solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity. The wafers are 15 thousandths of an inch wide.

The new saws, developed especially for Siemens, are faster, cleaner and more cost-efficient than the diamond system they will replace, according to Mark Stimson, the firm's marketing communications manager.

He said the new $7-million cutting tools will increase the capacity of the Camarillo plant as much as threefold. "The solar market isn't yet large enough to demand that much capacity, but we expect to recover our entire investment in the new process within five years," Stimson said.

In the other upgrade announced last week, Siemens installed a new automated wafer-cleaning system, costing $3 million, that the company said will increase capacity and protect the work environment by replacing a Freon-based system.

Stimson denied that these upgrades, and another production change announced in late March, are related to a lawsuit in which Siemens and its parent firm contend they were victimized in purchasing the Camarillo plant from Atlantic Richfield Co.

In the March upgrade, Siemens spent several million dollars for an automated system to turn out solar cells.

None of the improvements, however, will help solve problems in thin-film technology that prompted the legal action against Arco, Stimson said. "They're totally unrelated to the lawsuit," he said.

Siemens Solar, which has 500 employees, is a unit of the German electronics giant Siemens AG, whose annual sales approach $50 billion.

In February, Siemens Solar filed a lawsuit in U. S. District Court in New York seeking nearly $150 million from Arco. In 1989, Siemens purchased the former Arco Solar Inc. plant and its solar-power business for $35.9 million.

The action charges that Arco failed to disclose production and profitability problems at Arco Solar. Arco has denied the charge.

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