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7 March 2013

Quebec-based 5N Plus closing ex-Firebird InSb operations in Trail, British Columbia

Specialty metal and chemical product producer 5N Plus Inc of Montreal, Quebec, Canada has decided to close its indium antimonide (InSb) manufacturing operations in Trail, British Columbia over the next few months, laying off the 75 staff and aiming to then sell the building, according to a report in the Trail Daily Times in February.

The operation in Trail was founded as Firebird Semiconductors Ltd in 1991 to resurrect the compound semiconductor technology developed at Cominco Electronic Materials Group after Cominco sold the division in 1989 to Johnson Matthey Electronics (which then closed the plant in 1990, moving its operations to Spokane, WA, USA, where an employee buyout subsequently formed antimony-based substrates maker Galaxy Compound Semiconductors Inc – bought by IQE in 2010).

Trail-based Firebird’s products included indium antimonide (InSb) wafers (scaling up from 3” in 1993 to 4” in 2002 then 5”) joined later by the pure metals antimony, tin and indium (the latter for in-house use, from 2006). Firebird also developed epi-ready gallium antimonide (GaSb) substrates in 2004 and started germanium development in 2005. Applications for antimony include III–V compound semiconductors used in the production of diodes, infrared detectors and Hall-effect devices.

After changing name to Firebird Technologies Inc in 2004, in late 2009 the firm was acquired by 5N Plus. 5N focuses on specialty high-purity metals such as tellurium, cadmium, selenium, germanium, indium and antimony and also produces related semiconducting compounds such as cadmium telluride (CdTe), cadmium sulphide (CdS) and indium antimonide (InSb) as precursors for the growth of crystals for electronic applications, including solar photovoltaic, radiation detector and infrared markets.

In a $10m investment, in May 2011 the Trail operation re-located from its 14,000ft2 facility into a new 40,000ft2 facility near Trail airport, aiming to double staffing and increase productivity 20-fold, focusing on expanding its commercial product lines to germanium and GaSb.

“The biggest challenge we had there was to attract and retain competent personnel,” said Jean Mayer, 5N’s director of legal and corporate affairs, in the Trail Daily Times. “It’s an isolated area, and we found it was difficult to retain personnel compared with the bigger player in the area, Teck.” Even though 5N Plus offered competitive employment conditions, the plant could not attract the people it needed to sustain it, Mayer added.

Trail-based Teck Metals Ltd (a subsidiary of Vancouver-based mining firm Teck Resources Ltd) has a contract to supply germanium and indium feedstock to 5N’s Trail operation. Teck Metals’ plant includes one of the world’s largest fully integrated zinc and lead smelting and refining complexes, producing germanium, indium and cadmium as co-products.

Most of 5N’s Trail activities will be consolidated into 5N Plus’ US subsidiary Sylarus Technologies in Utah (which produces germanium substrates for solar cells). “Part of the activities will be moved to our head office in Montreal, the rest will be transferred to the US,” Mayer said. Some staff at Trail will be offered jobs within the firm, he added, but nothing is finalized yet.

Tags: 5N Plus InSb





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