In the GDR era, students were able to learn a profession in parallel to attending high school. For Rüdiger Zschoke this meant that he labored at the furnace of a steel mill producing stainless-steel while also gaining his academic qualifications for university. Later, after his military service, he studied materials engineering. “In March 1989 I had my degree,” he says today, “then I started immediately at VEB Spurenmetalle Freiberg. The plant was a major supplier of silicon and gallium arsenide wafers for microelectronics in Eastern Europe.”
He started his career at a time of great upheaval. “From November on, we kept on seeing colleagues disappear and leave for the West,” says Zschoke, “but we were able to carry on working.” He himself initially worked in packaging-cleaning operations. For while the silicon wafers must be free of any dust particles, the same applies to the packaging in which they are transported.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the company lost many customers in Russia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. And in the West, VEB Spurenmetalle was not competitive – WACKER Burghausen’s production was significantly better and cheaper. Consequently, in 1990, VEB Spurenmetalle converted into Freiberger Elektronikwerkstoffe Produktions- und Vertriebsgesellschaft (FEW). This, in turn, was put under the control of the East German privatization agency, Treuhandanstalt.
In the following years, Rüdiger Zschoke experienced the “Trust agency” trying to outsource and sell parts of the plant. Of the 1,800 former employees only about 300 were left by 1995. “It was uncertain whether the plant might even be closed down altogether,” relates Zschoke.
In the fall of 1995, the good news came: Wacker Siltronic AG – as it was then – would take over the core business and set up one of the world’s most advanced production lines for 150 mm wafers in the existing facilities. Today Rüdiger Zschoke says: “When WACKER came onto the scene, we breathed a sigh of relief because we had perspectives again.” Zschoke specialized in the cementing of silicon wafers and was appointed group leader in 2001. A year later, the excavators arrived in Freiberg: the result was a line for 300 mm wafers, which started up production in 2004. Rüdiger Zschoke: “The entire workforce campaigned for this plant, from the employee council to the managers. We all stuck together and of course we are thrilled that we can produce the latest generation wafers in Freiberg.”
Today, the Siltronic site in Freiberg has around 900 employees. Since the merger of the two Siltronic operations in Burghausen and Freiberg in March 2013, Rüdiger Zschoke has been in charge of production line technology. He still works in Freiberg, but now also has responsibility for employees at Burghausen, too. The 50-year-old enjoys traveling – he remembers with particular pleasure his first official trip after reunification which took him to Liechtenstein.
Since then, he has been to Japan, Taiwan, the USA and many European countries. But home for Rüdiger Zschoke is Freiberg, where he is currently expanding the basement of his house. And here he remains faithful to WACKER as well: “All the products I use contain ingredients from WACKER – from building protection agents to tile adhesives.”