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GE Plastics has introduced a polycarbonate with a higher melt flow for optical media customers in the Americas.

Lexan OQ1030L PC resin has ``the highest melt-flow grade of Lexan resin available to GE Plastics Americas' optical media customers,'' said Clarence Nunn, GE Plastics' industry manager for global media and data storage. The new material's melt-flow index is ``10 percent higher than our current OQ1020L resin product,'' he said.

Nunn said new-format digital versatile discs need a high-performance media substrate for processing at temperatures lower than those for standard Lexan resin, now used for making read-only-memory and audio compact discs. A DVD can store a full-length movie on a disc that is the same size as an audio CD.

The new material allows processors to better control: birefringence, allowing a laser to read the DVD pit correctly; dishing, caused usually from excessive heat and material stress; and pit replication, achieving an exact match of surface.

Customers told Nunn that having a higher-flow material was critical to achieving their quality requirements.

Pittsfield, Mass.-based GE Plastics produces the new and existing optical-grade PC resins in Mount Vernon, Ind., and, also for the optical disc industry, makes other versions: OQ1020LN in Bergen-op-Zoom, Netherlands, and OQ1020C and OQ1050C in Chiba, Japan.

In a related development, GE Plastics is taking a two-tiered approach in upgrading technology development and manufacturing resources for the optical media industry.

As previously reported, the company is creating an optical media development center in Pittsfield. It also has started a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, called the Maxi Lab, at Mount Vernon.

``We are looking to future formats to drive growth beyond the year 2000,'' Nunn said in a telephone interview. ``Rewritable formats will require more stringent material processes.''

The 4,000-square-foot Pittsfield center will work mostly with the latest consigned molding and downstream systems and have access to polymer physicists and analytical equipment at the Schenectady, N.Y., corporate research and development center of parent General Electric Co.

``GE Plastics will be able to pioneer new developments in process optimization and advanced optical media formats,'' Nunn said.

Meanwhile, in Mount Vernon, GE manufactures a family of optical-grade PC resins and generates potential research concepts for next-generation products. The goal is lower birefringence.

The optical media center, within GE Plastics' 96,000-square-foot polymer processing development center, will apply advanced manufacturing techniques, plus seek to identify new processes and enhance new materials.

``We won't do mastering or printing, but we will look at everything in between,'' Nunn said. ``We are looking to have all [optical-grade] formats,'' including magnetic optical and phase change.

GE will install at least two 30- to 40-ton single-cavity presses to replicate processes and downstream operations for several disc formats. Installation will begin in August and end in 1998.