Manufacturing of key COVID-19 testing component accelerates in Santa Rosa

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In a commercial building between Highway 101 in Santa Rosa and the Sonoma County Airport, workers are producing an obscure but essential component of COVID-19 testing equipment.

Now, the company producing the equipment is meeting global demand for precise testing during the coronavirus pandemic in addition to doubling its footprint to increase production. Pennsylvania-based company II-VI Inc. (pronounced by Roman numerals as “Two-Six”) has its thin-film optics research and production facility located on approximately 30,000 square feet at 3640 Westwind Blvd. since acquiring an early innovator in a telecommunications technology cluster of North Bay companies that once employed more than 30,000 people.

But with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic early last year, the company said it would dramatically increase production of its products involved in the genetic sequencing of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) used to detect the disease. exposure to the virus.

PCR technology has been around since the 1980s and has become a common laboratory tool for looking for genetic material in samples. This involves precise and rapid heating and cooling, called thermal cycling, to make millions of copies of the sample for optical detection. Other II-VI facilities in the United States and around the world manufacture thermoelectric components for nucleic acid amplification assays, and the Santa Rosa plant manufactures the special fluorescence filters that allow detection of the virus after amplification.

Company officials could not be reached for comment on this story.

In February, the company announced that it would begin to expand its manufacturing footprint in Santa Rosa, with a plan to double its manufacturing capacity of optical filters for PCR instrumentation and access networks over the next five years. optics for 5G wireless.

The high bandwidth and low delay of 5G wireless is envisioned to make fast movie downloads, driverless vehicles, and high-demand cloud computing more a reality, but doing that will require fiber-optic systems to connect cell towers to larger data. networks. And fiber optic networks depend on special thin-film optical technology.

Optical communications make up 67% of II-VI’s business, with life sciences accounting for around 2%, according to the company’s latest annual report. The company also manufactures advanced compound semiconductors, including new designs for high capacity battery storage and vertical cavity surface emitting lasers (VCSELs) used in smartphone facial recognition and gaming sensors.

In order to expand the production of filters for the life sciences and data communications markets, II-VI renewed in January its lease at 3640 Westwind and signed a new one for nearly 43,000 square feet of building 3750. Westwind, a two-story glassed-in building on the corner of Airport Boulevard, according to Ron Reinking, a Newmark agent involved in the case.

The roots of II-VI in Santa Rosa go back to the early days of the North Bay Telecommunications Equipment Group of startups and established companies known as Telecom Valley.

Glenn Yamamoto and Mike Scobey, former executives of OCLI, based in Santa Rosa, launched Cierra Photonics in February 2000. Cierra developed a process for using advanced energy deposition to mass produce optical components using a manufacturing approach chips similar to that used in the manufacture of computer chips. .

A technology partner since September 2002, British firm Bookham Technology acquired Cierra in July 2003 for £ 2.25 million, or around $ 3.75 million at the time. Bookham and Avanex Corp. merged in 2009 to form Oclaro.

II-VI bought the Santa Rosa-based thin film business from San Jose-based Oclaro in November 2012 for $ 27 million in cash.

Since then, II-VI has grown significantly, reaching $ 2.38 billion at the end of its fiscal year in June 2020, up almost 75% from the previous year, including the acquisition of Finisar in September 2019. The company could roughly match that revenue this year. fiscal year because it reported revenue of $ 1.49 billion for the first nine months of fiscal 2021, with a projection of $ 752 million to $ 802 million for the fourth quarter.

But a pending merger with Coherent, which would add capability in laser technology, would bring combined revenue to $ 4.1 billion as of fiscal 2020. Bain Capital has committed $ 2.15 billion in equity financing. to support the merger.

Launched in 1971, II-VI takes its name from the elements of the periodic table used to make its first infrared optical crystals. The group II elements used were zinc and cadmium, and the group VI elements sulfur, selenium and tellurium.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Prior to the Business Journal, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. He graduated from Walla Walla University. Contact him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.


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