Silicon from the Great North - Wacker Chemie AG


Silicon from the Great North

In one of the most beautiful regions in Europe, on Norway's Hemnefjord, roughly 200 workers produce silicon – a raw material that represents a major portion of WACKER's revenue. The plant has been operational for 50 years, but the Norwegians have only been a member of WACKER's global team for four years.

Einar Olav Schei, Torbjørn Halland and Silje Lian Gridsvåg (from left to right) were involved in the integration of the Holla silicon plant into the WACKER Group in 2010.

It is 11:30 in the morning when Silje Gridsvåg calls. The 30-year old manager had just returned from lunch. “We start working at 7:00 a.m.,” she explains. The work day officially ends at 3:00 p.m. in the Norwegian town of Holla. It's already dark at that time during the winter months, she explains.

Yet in the production hall, a bright fire burns 24 hours a day. The much sought-after raw silicon is made in the furnaces there from quartz, coal and wood chips. Silicon has been produced at the Hemnefjord near Trondheim for half a century. The plant is located directly at the water, next to the dock. Huge freighters deliver quartz from Egypt, Spain and Northern Norway to this location.

The silicon plant is the largest employer in the community. Some employees have been here for 30 or 40 years, explains Silje Gridsvåg. However, the production facility, which previously was one of WACKER's major suppliers, has only been owned by WACKER since 2010, when it was acquired from the Norwegian FESIL Group; a move welcomed by most employees reveals Gridsvåg. As the director of human resources at that time, she had to prepare the team for a change in company ownership. In Norway, workers must approve such a change. “Not one of the 130 employees declined being transferred from FESIL to Wacker,” recalls Gridsvåg. “Our people trusted WACKER because they already knew it to be a reliable partner,” says Managing Director Torbjørn Halland, the then site manager in Holla.

The situation for the workforce of almost 200 has improved considerably in the past four years,” adds Silje Gridsvåg. “In the old days, partial layoffs were a regular occurrence,” she says. “When global demand waned, production was ramped down.” Since WACKER has been at the helm, the furnaces have been working at full capacity. They produce 50,000 tons of silicon annually, covering a third of WACKER's entire demand.

“We used to have trouble finding qualified personnel,” says Silje Gridsvåg. No wonder, since it is such a sparsely populated region with only three percent unemployment. However, when an additional shift was recently introduced, creating 13 new jobs, the plant received 135 applications. A development that Gridsvåg is delighted about: “Several applicants were from the very companies that always used to poach competent staff from us. In the meantime, good people prefer to come to us.”