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MEMC to axe 1,300 staff and merge SunEdison project arm

Silicon-wafer giant MEMC has announced plans for around 600 job losses in its solar operation as part of a major restructuring programme.

MEMC will also scale-back production, and merge its SunEdison PV project development arm and its Solar Materials division into a single business.

The US group says the moves will “better align the business to current and expected market conditions” in the solar industry and the semiconductor market – its other key sector.

MEMC will cut its workforce by 1,300 worldwide – 250 of them in the US – representing about 20% of its total employees.

About 41% of those will be in the semiconductor business and 47% in the Solar Materials operation.

SunEdison will be merged with the Solar Materials division from the start of 2012 “to focus on providing our downstream solar customers the highest quality and lowest cost systems, and achieve improved operating efficiencies”, says MEMC.

The group’s Merano, Italy, polysilicon plant, with up to 6,000 tonnes of annual capacity, will be idled and “may close altogether unless dramatic feedstock, power, and other cost reductions are achieved in the near term”.

MEMC will also reduce production capacity at its Portland, Oregon crystal facility and will limit the ramp-up of the Kuching, Malaysia wafering plant to 300MW.

The group expects to take a hit of $700m relating to the restructuring, and warned it may make a loss in its financial fourth-quarter.

MEMC expects the changes to bring benefits of more than $200m a year from the end of 2012.

"We believe these actions strengthen MEMC in the near term and position us for more profitable growth in our core businesses – semiconductor wafers and solar energy systems," says Ahmad Chatila, chief executive.

"Changed market conditions require that we improve productivity across all segments, and in solar move to a more balanced manufacturing model aligned with our downstream business.”