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Hutchinson plant expansion nears completion

Eau Claire, Wis. - Hutchinson Technology Inc., a designer and manufacturer of disk drives for computers and other electronic goods, is nearing completion of a 70,000 square foot plant addition to serve the growing market for disk drives.

Following its completion next month, Hutchinson will install new processing technology currently being developed by company engineers, and will tentatively have the first production line started in early 2007.

Connie Pautz, director of corporate communications for Hutchinson Technology, said that the expansion of the plant was made possible by projections of long-term growth in the disk drive market. According to Pautz, disk drive shipments increased by 22 percent from 2004 to 2005, and analysts are projecting a longer-term growth of 10 to 15 percent.

The expansion also was necessary to deal with developments in disk drive technology. Technology such as laptop computers, camera phones, MP3 players, and video iPods mean that disk drives are getting smaller. That, in turn, places increasing demands on suspension assemblies - precise metal springs that hold a disk drive's recording head at microscopic distances above the drive's disks - so new methods of production have to be developed.

"It's a dynamic industry, subject to swings in demand," Pautz said. "The content that is available to consumers… is exploding, and disk drives offer the most cost-effective outlet for all that stuff."
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The expansion is taking place in Eau Claire rather than the company's locations in Minnesota and South Dakota because the facility is Hutchinson's newest factory.

"The Eau Claire operation is our only plant that is totally integrated - photo-integrating, tracing, and assembly," Pautz said. "We were really on an accelerated structure to get this done in 18 months, and this just seemed to make the most sense."

Pautz added that since the production process is a prototype being handled by engineers, Hutchinson has no data about how many jobs the new factory addition will bring to Eau Claire, though that will change as it moves closer to mass production.

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