DISC DEMAND DRIVES GROWTH: KODAK BOOSTING CD-R CAPACITY

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Eastman Kodak Co. is investing $70 million this year to expand production of recordable compact discs at plants in Ireland and Mexico.

The firm said the expansions — designed to meet rapidly accelerating worldwide demand — will boost its CD-R capacity to 10 million units a month.

Kodak Cork Ltd. only last December began operating the 45,000-square-foot Irish plant, in Youghal, County Cork, with eight injection molding lines. But the firm already plans by May to add 12 more lines to mold and coat the polycarbonate optical discs, according to a company spokesman.

Recordable disks are used to record, store and distribute digital information on personal computers that use a CD-R drive. Kodak calls its discs ``Writables.''

Kodak said it is using Sumitomo injection molding equipment at Youghal, but revealed no other manufacturing details. The plant, Kodak's first European CD-R disc plant, will be expanded by 65,000 square feet.

The Irish plant, which now employs 250, expects to add 260 workers as a result of this expansion. By the end of 1998 Kodak expects the work force to grow to 600.

The company announced it also is expanding disc capacity at its CD-R plant in Guadalajara, Mexico. By year's end the Guadalajara plant will double both its area, to 127,650 square feet, and its number of production lines, to 28. The Mexico plant started manufacturing recordable CDs and photo CDs in April 1994.

Apart from the Mexican plant, the firm makes CD-Rs in a 60,000-square-foot section at the Kodak Park Gerber plant in Rochester, N.Y. Kodak also has a 15,000-square-foot custom screen printing and jewel-box packaging plant for these products at Harrow, England.

Production of Kodak's Writable CDs require a clean-room environment and involves seven stages from resin feeding and drying and injection molding to dye coating, metalizing, lacquering and durability coating.

Worldwide demand for such discs has grown dramatically since 1992, when the industry made 500,000 discs. Global demand for this year is estimated at more than 200 million discs.

``The European market is very significant to Kodak,'' said Cliff Trott, chief marketing officer and vice president, digital and applied imaging. ``This new plant [Youghal] puts our state-of-the-art manufacturing near our European customers, complementing our existing facilties.''

Kodak, which will have invested $140 million in production with the announced capacity expansions, claims to be the world's leading supplier of such discs, with about one-third of the global market.

Kodak's Cork plant also may be employed to produce the group's digital versatile discs.

Kodak has identified several untapped markets for CD-R, including Internet archiving, in which they will be used to download, store and archive massive content from the World Wide Web, said Larry Zimmer, worldwide general manager, CD/DVD products. Zimmer also sees potential for the products in personal audio recording, once means are established to protect owners' intellectual property rights.

Another Kodak unit also recently announced plans to build a plant in Ireland, this one in Limerick, to manufacture Advantix plastic film cassettes for the group's new Advanced Photo System still film cameras.

To date the entire global supply of Advantix cassettes has been from the Kodak headquarters complex in Rochester, N.Y. New production at Limerick has been prompted by rapid growth in demand for Kodak's photographic system.

Work is just starting on the new Irish factory, to be known as Kodak Limerick Ltd. When complete, it will produce all plastic parts for the cassettes, which also will be assembled and packaged there. The product will be shipped to distribution points in Europe and other regions of the world, according to Kodak.