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Planar shuts down photonics projects

23 Aug 2002

Planar Systems is halting all photonics activities with the loss of 20 jobs.

Planar Systems, a US developer of flat-panel displays, has announced that it is to close its photonics operations. The business was launched early last year to deploy the company's thin-film deposition and liquid-crystal technology into what was then a promising telecommunications market.

The project's 20 full-time positions, located in Beaverton and Lake Mills, Wisconsin, will be eliminated. A pre-tax charge related to the closure, estimate at approximately $4 million with a cash portion of about $0.5 million, will be recorded in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2002, and the business is expected to close within three months.

The photonics project succeeded in producing highly competitive thin-film filters, for wave-guide multiplexers in fiber-optic networking systems, using patented atomic layer deposition technology. Liquid-crystal switching devices, designed for optical switching mechanisms, also exceeded technical expectations. But since this programme was conceived in 2000, the slowdown in the telecommunications industry has left few market opportunities for those products for the foreseeable future, the company says.

"The photonics business was the second project to emerge from our idea incubator called Quantum Programs, and we know we're going to win some and lose some," said Balaji Krishnamurthy, Planar president and CEO. "We took a calculated risk on what seemed to be a major opportunity, and I believe we made the right call knowing what we knew then."

"The engineers and scientists involved in the photonics programme achieved all the necessary technical milestones, but we did not anticipate the severity of the telecommunications downturn," he continued.

The company will also consolidate its electroluminescent (EL) display panels into a single factory. Manufacturing of all the company's EL panels will be transferred to its Espoo, Finland, facility and the Evergreen EL plant in Hillsboro, Oregon, will be closed within the next 12 months.

The move is prompted by the declining demand for monochrome displays. Said Krishnamurthy, "EL-based solutions remain a superb solution for certain applications and we will continue to serve those needs, but as the market changes to demand more full-color products, Planar continues to change too."

Phillip Hill is editor of Displays Europe magazine and a contributing editor to Opto & Laser Europe and Optics.org

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