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PITTSFIELD, MASS. — Anticipating explosive growth in polycarbonate demand for optical media applications, GE Plastics is creating a development laboratory at its Pittsfield headquarters devoted to that burgeoning market.

``We see 53 percent average annual growth'' in PC consumption between now and 2002 for optical media, Robert E. Fines, the firm's general manager of marketing in the Americas, said March 26 in Pittsfield.

Data storage applications, in particular, will be ``absolutely huge,'' he said. ``It's the next big wave of polycarbonate usage,'' Fines said of applications including recordable compact discs and digital versatile discs.

By May, GE Plastics plans to start putting together an optical media lab within its 96,000-square-foot Polymer Processing Development Center.

Plans call for a 4,000-square-foot lab with four single-cavity injection molding machines and two downstream lines in an isolated, clean portion of the building, Gerry Podesta, marketing manager for consumer electronics and information systems, said in a telephone interview.

``We will install the molding machines beginning in August and have a full complement in 1998.''

Initially, the lab will have at least two 30-40 ton presses. GE Plastics will use equipment from various manufacturers to replicate molding processes and typical downstream operations for several disc formats.

``Today, our only CD machine [in the United States] is at the Mount Vernon site,'' Podesta said. The company also has CD machines in Japan.

Growth will be relatively flat for audio applications in optical media, such as basic compact discs and its newer minidisc cousin. Data storage is where the action will be, according to Fines.

GE also announced recently that it started up a $1 million extrusion line in Mount Vernon, Ind., to make Lexan OQ, optical-grade PC resins.

Correspondent Roger Renstrom contributed to this story.