Panasonic plant's end foiled; Cornell Dubilier purchases its assets

  • Headquarters: Liberty City, S.C.
  • Founded: 1933 from merger of Dubilier Condenser Co. and Cornell Radio
  • Products: Capacitors, including aluminum electrolytic, clad mica, film, pulse, and high-voltage capacitors used in many electronic devices to store, filter and regulate electrical energy
  • Industries: Cornell Dubilier products used in aerospace, lighting, motor, power conversion, telecom and welding equipment
  • Distributors: Arrow Electronics, Digi-Key, Future Electronics, TTI
  • Facilities: United States, Mexico, China
  • 2008 revenue: $21.7 million
  • 2008 employees: 450
  • Top competitors: EPCOS AG, Murata Manufacturing Co. Ltd., Vishay Intertechnology Inc.
  • Source: Yahoo! Finance, Hoovers Online

A remaining division of Panasonic's once expansive East Knox County manufacturing operation that was for sale and then closed in April when a buyer couldn't be identified has found new life.

Cornell Dubilier Foil, a longtime customer of Panasonic Electronic Devices Corporation of Americas' aluminum foil plant in Forks of the River Industrial Park, has purchased the aluminum foil plant's assets and resumed production of the specialty product used in electronics. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Panasonic spokesman Clark Brandon said Cornell Dubilier, which is headquartered in Liberty, S.C., restarted foil production Sunday using about 30 employees who formerly worked in the facility for Panasonic.

Panasonic has been phasing out its East Knox County operations in recent years and shifting that work to other plants. It was trying to find a buyer for the Forks of the River facility and began discussions with Cornell Dubilier a year ago, but a deal could not be worked out, according to Brandon.

Panasonic then announced it was closing the plant, but Brandon said negotiations with Cornell resumed a couple of months ago, leading to the sale.

Cornell has purchased an 89,000-square-foot manufacturing building, equipment and 11 acres in Forks of the River. Brandon said that while Panasonic sold the Knoxville assets, it did not sell the entire business line, which it now runs from other facilities.

"They've been an excellent customer to work with over the last 20 years," Brandon said of Cornell Dubilier. "It has worked out well for both parties. Cornell is a very strong company.

Cornell Dubilier's new plant processes specially treated aluminum foil used in instrumentation that produces power. The foil is a key component in aluminum electrolytic capacitors. Brandon said Cornell Dubiliers products are used in large turbines that produce wind energy and in some solar energy equipment.

Panasonic said Cornell Dubilier decided to buy its foil division when Panasonic decided to end U.S. production of formed aluminum capacitor foil, which created a foil supply chain problem for Cornell.

"Last year, this (Forks of the River) facility produced 10 percent of the world's electrolytic foil with the industry's most modern and efficient equipment. This acquisition guarantees Cornell Dubilier a consistent supply of our most critical raw material," Jim Kaplan, Cornell Dubilier Foil president, said in a statement.

"With worldwide shortages of electrolytic foil and long-term allocations of this material, Cornell Dubilier's continued growth was becoming unsustainable. This addition of the foil facility will significantly reduce lead times, secure our supply chain, and give Cornell Dubilier a stronger leadership position in the global electrolytic market," Kaplan added.

Doug Lawyer, vice president of economic development for the Knoxville Chamber, said the acquisition is a winning situation for all parties involved by preserving some 30 jobs and returning the foil plant to operation - and the tax rolls.

At peak production in 2002, Panasonic Electronic Devices Corp. employed some 725 workers locally. The company laid off 140 foil plant workers when that division closed.

Panasonic's lone remaining operation is engineering, program management and strategic marketing for the company's speaker operation, which continues to employ about 30 workers in Forks of the River. The speakers are for the automotive and marine industries. Speaker and capacitor production in Knoxville ceased earlier this year.

According to Panasonic, plans were to close the foil plant and transfer that production to Asis. Some foil equipment was sold to an Asian foil producer, but enough equipment remains for Cornell to operate.

Brandon said Panasonic now hopes to sell a 250,000-square-foot building on 30 acres to a commercial user and then lease back space for the speaker engineering operation.

"Panasonic had been in our community for more than 30 years," Lawyer said. "Now, a new corporate citizen is putting that building back to use. Cornell needs this foil. It's a raw material for them. And now they have a work force that understands the process."

Cornell Dubilier has facilities in New Bedford, Mass., Calexico, Calif., Mexico and China.

Business editor Bill Brewer may be reached at 865-342-6319.

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Comments » 3

whizkidtn writes:

I'm glad the story has a happy ending for many of those employed there. Wish you continued success.

Galaxie500XL writes:

Glad to see that Panasonic wasn't able to move this to Reynosa, Mexico, like they did with the rest of their operation...

Good to see some American jobs were saved!

jsmit154 writes:


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