A Trail company that started on a whim in a business incubator in Glenmerry about twenty years ago is moving into a new facility in the city’s industrial area to make room for new growth.
Formerly known as Firebird Technologies, 5N Plus Trail is one of three companies in the world that grows high-quality indium antimonide crystals that are sold as wafers and further refined into components for highly sensitive heat cameras, infrared windows and even infrared missile systems.
The homegrown firm that spun off in the early 1990s from Teck’s research division hit a peak at its former Glenmerry location but when Quebec-based 5N Plus purchased the Trail business two years ago, the vision of Firebird’s future reached new heights.
5N Plus Trail has just left its 14,000-square-foot Glenmerry facility for a new 40,000-square-foot building just past the Trail airport.
Before the business moved over to its new facility, the Times got a sneak peak at its operations.
From humble beginnings in 1991, the Trail company made its mark by specializing in the blending of metals that are then grown into crystals. Sold as small discs, the wafers have semi-conducting properties and are capable of “seeing” heat.
The semi-conducting, metallic crystals are fashioned into optical components for heat-reading lenses, navigational aids and other technologies and shipped to major technology players like LG Communications and Lockheed Martin.
“Trail is great because a lot of us grew up here, the lifestyle is fantastic, but the biggest reason is Teck,” said CEO Don Freschi.
“With Teck Metals literally being up the hill, it’s huge for us because they supply us with some of our critical raw materials. It makes our shipping less expensive and we have guaranteed supply.”
Now with a $10 million investment from 5N Plus, the new Trail facility will continue making five-inch indium antiminide wafers, which retail for $5,000 each, but will also focus on producing germanium and gallium antiminide.
“We made these products about five years ago but we stopped making them
because we didn’t have the finance to back us to go further,” he said. “We needed a new facility and other equipment to really take it on.”
Customers, politicians and those with a keen interest in science and technology will gather today to take a tour of the new facility.
“It’s huge – coming into a new environment like this and having the backing and support from a big company, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Freschi. “We’ve been very fortunate, 5N Plus believes in our technology and our expertise and now we get to prove it to them and take it forward.”
New crystal growth apparatuses and purification equipment, which can’t be explained in detail due to proprietary reasons, have been set up at the new facility.
The germanium operation has already started up, and the company will fully transition into the new facility over the next eight months.
5N Plus Trail is working toward keeping young, skilled workers in the region, while attracting new residents.
“The facility is built for 100 plus employees and we’re hoping to get there over the next few years by bringing in our new product line,” said Freschi.