Hopes Dimmed, Pacific Scientific Hits Off Switch on Solium Unit


Pacific Scientific Co., a manufacturer that once saw dimmable fluorescent bulbs as the light of its future, said Wednesday it will shed the business to concentrate on its core electrical and safety products.

The decision to unplug the Solium products comes 2 1/2 years after the Newport Beach company first touted its fluorescent systems to Wall Street as an energy-saving alternative to incandescent lights and a potential $50-million to $100-million annual business.

Instead, the bulbs have produced little but losses, along with investor lawsuits accusing Pacific Scientific of overhyping the systems.


Pacific Scientific recorded nearly $12 million in losses after taxes on Solium in 1995 and 1996. The company said it will take a charge of about $13 million in the first quarter this year to cover the costs of getting out of the fluorescent lighting business.

In February, Pacific Scientific Chairman Edgar S. Brower, a strong booster of the technology, retired early and was replaced by Lester “Buck” Hill, an electronics executive.

Hill quickly decided to try to sell Solium to a lighting fixture company where it would fit more naturally than with Pacific Scientific’s main products, which include

electric motors, aircraft seat and shoulder belts, and fire and contaminant alert systems.

“Continuing the Solium business would result in ongoing losses and the need for significant additional cash investment over some period of time,” Hill said.

The company didn’t identify potential buyers. Pacific Scientific also said it might enter a long-term licensing agreement if it can’t put together an outright sale.

In addition to fluorescent lightbulbs that resemble conventional incandescent bulbs, Solium products include screw-in converters that allow its bulbs to be plugged into table lamps.


Company officials had envisioned a time when shoppers would pick up packs of bulbs and dimmers at Home Depot, and efficiency experts would install remote-control office systems that could, say, dim the lights when the sun emerged from behind a cloud.

They now admit that, until recently, the systems failed to meet specifications. For example, the lights wouldn’t come on quickly enough. The company also failed to line up major distributors, or purchase orders from prospective buyers.

Of Pacific Scientific’s $295 million in sales last year, just $2.4 million came from Solium.

The Solium factory in Randolph, Mass., has 75 workers. Most already are doing work for other company divisions or will be retained as key employees for the buyer, the company said.

It now sees future growth in areas such as motors for factory automation and the precision measuring devices used to monitor tiny particles in the “clean rooms” where computer chips are made.

Solium was introduced in October 1994 with considerable hoopla. The company then posted record quarterly sales and earnings, and within weeks its stock had nearly doubled in price.


But 1995 and 1996 brought little but disappointing news. In October 1996, Pacific Scientific was hit with the first of three lawsuits accusing it and Brower of overstating the prospects for the Solium technology.

Investor suits are pending in federal and state courts. The company reiterated Wednesday that it will continue to defend itself vigorously.

Pacific Scientific shares closed Wednesday at $13.125, up 75 cents, in trading on the New York Stock Exchange.