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MD-Data manufactured in MPO (France)
Photo : © MPO
On and after this month, the MPO society, which stands for Moulages Plastiques de l'Ouest (Villaine-la-Juhel, France) proposes a new double product : the Mini-Disc of Sony. Its service includes both the pressing of pre-recorded discs, and the supply of virgin recordable discs as a raw material. After being one of the first independant society in Europe to stamp and press Compact Disc audio, CD-ROM and LaserDisc, once again, MPO innovates. The innovation is real for a enterprise specialized in pressing. Even if the manufacture of pre-recorded Minidiscs is classic, and is realized on a line parallel to the Compact Disc one, the case of the recordable Minidiscs is other. This technology is completely different and requires special knowledges, different from the ones needed for the pre-recorded ones. Recordable Minidiscs are of the magneto-optical type ; making these Minidiscs requires the engineering know-how of the successive thin layers deposit, and of quality control. Both of these are completely different from the ones found in the Compact Disc manufaturing process. MDO engineers have solved these problems and developped their own technologies and the needed materials, whithout forgetting the obligation to stay 100% compatible with the specifications written by Sony. MPO has recently obtained from Sony the authorization to make recordable Minidiscs. It prepares now to sell them on the national and international markets.
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M. Loïc de Poix, CEO of MPO
If MPO is today the only independant society to manufacture recordable and pre-recorded minidiscs, it's not by accident. Its leaders, among them M. Loïc de Poix, CEO, et M. Marc de Rieux, director of the research and development department, began to show interest in this new medium very early. In 1992, MPO has signed with Sony a first license agreement about pre-recorded minidisc. This license allowed it to produces stampers and press Minidiscs for consumer uses. In july 1993, after lengthy negociations, MPO obtained from Sony a second license, for realizing and producing itself recordable Minidiscs. A research team was set up in MPO in order to design layers for a recordable/erasable structure which respects Sony standards. Composed of four engineers working with M. Marc de Rieux as their leader, this team has cooperated with an external research laboratory. This laboratory had already tuned a magneto-optical layer working with optical erasable disks. After some months experiment and composition modifications, the MPO engineers obtained a reliable magneto-optical recordable/erasable structure of their own.
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Press for Mini-Disc dubbing
and MD-Data substrate production
at MPO - Photo : © F.P.
Parallel to this, MPO equipped itself with a first, and then a second dubbing line, set up in the Averton (Villaine-la-Juhel) factory. These are completely dedicated to Minidisc; one for the recordable, the other for the pre-recorded. These lines are composed with injection presses designed for 2.5 inches diameter media, with machines for the deposit of several thin protection and recording layers, and at last a part dedicated to packaging discs in cartridges with a metallic shutter. Because contrary to CD-audio or -ROM, the Minidisc needs a metallic centring ring and a cartridge with a metallic shutter, this needing specific machines at the end of the line. The Minidisc production capacity of MPO is 3.500 magneto-optical disks pro day or (NoT : rather and ?) 10.000 pre-recorded disks pro day, thanks to an advanced automation. One of the specificity of MPO, which already showed up about the CD-ROM and the LaserDisc, is that they like to control all steps of the production, even the most technical ones, and in order to achieve that, they are not afraid of investing. For instance, MPO does itself the pre-processing of pre-recorded disks, which needs the numeric data compression according to the Sony ATRAC (for Adaptive TRansform Acoustic Coding) algorithm; it controls too itself all steps of the stampers making. M Loïc de Poix thinks that it is a security for the client that the manufacturer controls the production line from the start to the end, because only one furnisher is responsible for the whole work. >From its point of vue, MPO finds in this situation the flexibility given by the independance from the classical intervening parties. But this policy has a price : the whole material and the cost of the research was an 40MF ($6.500.000) investment. As we could see when we visited these new installations guided by MM. Loïc de Poix and Marc de Rieux, all is done to achieve an optimal result, which exceeds Sony's tolerances, as tests prove it. Although the production team has now taken over from it, the MPO research team still follows its Minidisc products. It equipped itself with a atomic microscope to control by sampling the production disks ; it conducts tests of abrasion of the varnish which supports the magnetic head of the recorder/reader of Minidisc. On its side, Sony has given its agreement only after evaluations of the disks produced by MPO. This agreement doesn't prevent MPO from being still owner of the magneto-optical layer, and they could use it later for other media, like for instance MD-Data or optical numeric disks.
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M. Marc Desrieux, MPO research and development leader
To sell their recordable Minidiscs, MPO bets on two ways. The first one is the OEM one, which consists to produce media for one or two industrialists, who sell it under their name. The second is the already in place distribution networks. MPO is currently at the end of negociations with two different circuits. But there are in MPO itself some means the leaders want to exploit : these are the different subsidiary companies set in Europe, Northern America and Asia which will be asked to sell recordable minidiscs on these markets. (NoT : the new "Hi-space" label minidiscs, sold in France at least, are apparently produced by MPO.) As we said at the beginning of this article, once again, MPO is on a totally new market, and begins manufacturing of recordable media for the first time. Discussions with MPO leaders show that it's a well studied investment, which open perspectives much wider than the sole Minidisc, which is the mean to access markets of different diameter recordable media. First samples of MPO recordable Minidiscs will be available in a few weeks.
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