SAN FRANCISCO — Processors mold optical-quality discs with varieties of polycarbonate today, but two large competing acrylic producers want into the market.
Units of Paris-based Elf Atochem introduced a new acrylic resin during Replitech North America, held June 8-10 in San Francisco. The resin, VOD-100, was formulated for replicating digital versatile discs.
Cyro Industries of Rockaway, N.J., and one of its parents, Rohm GmbH, promoted DQ 501, an acrylic compound initially introduced at Replitech Europe in February for DVD replication. Cyro is a joint venture of Rohm of Darmstadt, Germany, and Cytec Industries Inc. of West Paterson, N.J.
The competitors are major producers of polymethyl methacrylates and, stemming from a World War II division, split worldwide rights to use the Plexiglas trademark to identify their separate products.
``Plexiglas is our trade name anywhere in the world except for North and South America,'' said Hans-Jurgen Kress, Rohm's vice president of PMMA molding and extrusion compounds. ``Here, we use Acrylite.''
Elf Atochem's Atoglas Division markets its product as Plexiglas in North America and Oroglas in Europe and Asia, according to Johnny Zahr, business manager of the resins department with the Atoglas Europe unit in Paris. Atoglas has an annual PMMA capacity of more than 500 million pounds at plants in Bristol, Pa.; Louisville, Ky.; Rho, Italy; and Chinhae, South Korea.
``PMMA is the grandfather material for the optical media format,'' said Donald Hone, market development manager with Elf Atochem North America Inc.'s Atoglas Division in Philadelphia. The laser disc was first with a dual-layer construction, which is comparable to the DVD format.
``Polycarbonate is not the ideal solution,'' particularly in terms of birefringence, Zahr said. ``They have spent a lot of effort to improve the fluidity, the flow behavior [and] the pitch application of this product.''
Elf Atochem began work on the new resin in mid-1997 and has three European customers and three others in North America sampling the product. Research and development continues, and VOD-100 is now available in sufficient quantities for further evaluation, Hone said.
Rohm is supplying DQ 501 to one large processor and samples to others from its plant in Worms, Germany. ``All the big companies [replicators] are testing at various stages,'' Kress said.
Cyro is upgrading equipment to produce the new material at acrylic resin plants in Niagara Falls, Ontario; Sanford, Maine; and Osceola, Ark.
``We could supply from any plant, depending on the logistics,'' said Stephen Seifert, Cyro marketing manager for molding and extrusion compounds.
Kress said Rohm and Cyro together have an acrylic world market share of 31 percent and are making plans for a yet-to-be-announced Asian plant.
``We see the global market for optical storage probably by year 2003 in the range of over 200,000 tons,'' Kress said. ``Our target is to achieve within five years something between 10-20 percent market share — from basically zero. It is an ambitious goal.''
Kress said acrylic resin costs 10-20 percent less than PC, can accommodate more data than PC and has overcome past deficiencies through material and machinery improvements.
``Polycarbonate is a benchmark and, with a lot of the performance extras we have, a good target as well,'' Kress said.
PC resin operations within General Electric Co., Bayer AG, Teijin Ltd. and Dow Chemical Co. currently dominate the optical media market.