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U.S. Will Seek to Block Proposed Sale of Thermco Systems

Times Staff Writer

The Department of Justice said Friday that it will attempt to block the proposed sale of Thermco Systems, an Orange-based producer of semiconductor furnaces, to its Massachusetts archrival on grounds that the combination would violate federal antitrust laws.

A Department of Justice press statement said Thermco, with estimated 1987 sales of more than $20 million, is the nation’s largest producer of diffusion furnace systems used to thermally process silicon wafers into semiconductors. The proposed purchaser, BTU Engineering Corp. of North Billerica, Mass., is the second-largest producer, with estimated sales of more than $10 million, the department said.

“If BTU acquires Thermco, the market for such diffusion furnace systems would be dominated by one firm with over 70% of sales. As a result, purchasers of such diffusion systems could face higher prices,” Assistant Atty. Gen. Charles F. Rule, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, said in the prepared statement.

Thermco, a 25-year-old company that employs 461 workers in Orange, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Pittsburgh-based Allegheny International, which earlier this year filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

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Known primarily as the manufacturer of Sunbeam and Oester brand appliances, Allegheny International months ago announced its intention to divest its non-core businesses, including the industrial technology group to which Thermco belongs.

Allegheny officials could not be reached late Friday for comment on the Justice Department’s plan to file a civil antitrust suit to stop the proposed sale.

However, Wayne Slaven, Thermco’s vice president of operations, said he believes that the sale to BTU effectively has been scuttled. He said Thermco managers are relieved at the prospect of not being purchased by a company that they have long fought in the marketplace.

“It would be like Ford buying General Motors,” he said. “If you battle somebody on the open market for years and they become your archcompetitor, there are some hard feelings.”

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He said Thermco management had been waiting anxiously since Allegheny entered into an agreement last January to sell Thermco to BTU. “That is all history, and we are going back to work to make some money,” he said.

Slaven added that there have been other interested buyers for Thermco. “I assume we are still for sale,” he said.


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