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Silfex provides unique technology jobs for west-central Ohio

In the middle of Preble County, surrounded by the small town of Eaton and the cornfields beyond, stands an anomaly: Silfex. An anomaly because, as one of only a handful of U.S.-based companies that grow silicon crystals, you might not expect to find it here.

Yet, Silfex has managed to grab more than half the world-wide market for custom silicon parts used in machines that make memory and logic components -- at the same time other U.S.-based companies have found the required investment too daunting or been content to leave the business to foreign firms, says Michael Snell, general manager.

Silfex, a division of Lam Research Corp., started life in 1971 as Bullen Ultrasonics, a family-run business that specialized in ultrasonic machining technologies. In 1999, silicon crystal manufacturing was added. In 2006, Fremont, Calif.-based Lam Research Corp. -- one of Bullen's major customers -- purchased the company's silicon-growing and fabrication operations.

Silfex recently completed a large expansion of its silicon-growing operations and enhanced its capabilities for bonding, cleaning and clean room manufacturing. It employs some 250 in Eaton and another 50 at a sister plant in China, Snell says.

Snell says there are lots of good reasons to keep Silfex in Eaton, including the fact that "when you get to be this size, it's extremely costly to move. But our workforce is also an advantage. We have the experience and the work ethic in this area that we need."

He says the fact that Ohio has enjoyed relatively low electricity costs is another advantage. The silicon furnaces used to melt raw material and grow silicon into large, glassy crystals use megawatts of electricity -- so much that Snell says Dayton Power and Light plans to build a substation nearby.

Source: Michael Snell, Silfex
Writer: Gene Monteith

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