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USA - Fisher closing not seen as hurting other plants

CHAMPAIGN – Vesuvius USA's operations in Champaign and Charleston won't be greatly affected by the closing of the company's facility in Fisher, a Vesuvius official said Friday.
Some products or processes at Fisher may move to Champaign or Charleston, said Patrick Rietz, vice president of human resources for Vesuvius in Champaign. But otherwise, the closing of the Fisher plant should have "no direct impact at this point" on the Champaign facility at 1404 Newton Drive.

Vesuvius makes products used by the steel industry. Products made at Charleston, Fisher and Champaign are combined to produce a system that steelmakers use to control the flow of molten material. Some products have applications in foundries as well. The Fisher plant, which makes slidegate refractories, is scheduled to begin closing in early March, affecting 98 hourly and salaried employees there, the company said. Slidegate refractories act as valves to control the flow of steel as it exits steelmaking vessels. Vesuvius has seen "a substantial and sustained downturn in demand for products" because the steel industry is not producing as much, Rietz said.

Most of Vesuvius' reduction in volume is linked to the slowdown in steel production, but some is due to technological advancements in product durability, he added. Most of the production at Fisher will move to Monterrey, Mexico, but some products or processes will go to plants in Charleston, Champaign, Chicago Heights, Dillon, S.C., and Tyler, Texas, Rietz said. None of the production is going to China, he added.The Vesuvius facility in Interstate Research Park on Champaign's northwest side employs about 130. It includes an engineering group, a sales support team, a machine shop and a variety of administrative functions.

About 14 employees in Champaign have been laid off temporarily, but the layoffs weren't related to the Fisher closing, and the company hopes to call those employees back, Rietz said. Manufacturing and engineering work done in Champaign supports mechanical designs and also supports production of mechanical valve systems, primarily used in steel applications. The Charleston and Fisher facilities manufacture ceramic components, but the two plants involve different applications, use different technologies and aren't in competition with each other, Rietz said. About 125 people work at the Charleston plant.

Vesuvius USA is part of the Brussels, Belgium-based Vesuvius Group, the ceramics division of the London-based Cookson Group. Ceramics are essential to processes involving high temperatures, such as the processes used by the steel, glass and foundry industries. The Vesuvius Group employs about 12,000 people and has about 80 manufacturing sites worldwide. In April 2008, the Cookson Group acquired Foseco and incorporated it into Vesuvius, merging the two largest ceramic specialists for molten metal handling.

Following the recent downturn in markets, Vesuvius reviewed its manufacturing capacity and concluded it needs to consolidate operations.

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