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Optical media tools: Among the most demanding on Earth

February 7, 1999

6 Min Read
Optical media tools:  Among the most demanding on Earth

AME's assembly shop is allowed to assemble molds only. It is not allowed to make any adjustments in doing so. Subcontractors are responsible for quality, even for components going into AME's latest twin-cavity and sprueless molds for DVDs.

Axxicon Moulds is the world leader in the development and production of optical media (OM) molds in all their various formats. A division of Axxicon Group NV, listed on the Amsterdam stock exchange, this Dutch moldmaker owns nearly half of the world market for OM molds with more than 2000 installed during the past 15 years everywhere outside of Japan. It expects to be making significant inroads into the Japanese marketplace in 1999. Approximately one-third of Axxicon's base of installed molds is in Asia.

Axxicon Moulds Eindhoven BV (AME) assembles and refurbishes OM tooling and manufactures spares. It also houses the company's Disc Technology Centre (DTC), where every single mold it builds is tested before shipping. It assembles molds from parts supplied by about 20 subcontractors, including Axxicon's plant in Helmond, Holland and, thanks to a new cooperative agreement, the GMM Matrijzen department of Philips Machinefabriken, also of the Netherlands (see below).

AME has refined its processes and logistical activities into an exacting, standardized science. Leadtimes are three months, even though tolerances for critical dimensions are to within ±2 to 3 mm. Its mission is to have all parts in stock for two-day delivery anywhere in the world, and it does so even though OM stampers are woefully non-standardized, and, like most moldmakers, it often finds each mold it makes to be a custom job.

Every OM mold component at AME has its own unique number. That makes fully automated, pushbutton component warehousing possible, speeding assembly and global deliveries.

Generally, Axxicon takes four hours to assemble a mold. All mold components are interchangeable. Subcontractors are responsible for delivering the quality that assures such interchangeability. Every component is packaged properly in its own standardized box for shipping. These robust, standardized boxes are designed to appeal to even the world's most quality-minded replicator.

Where Stars Are Born
Walking through the Eindhoven facility is like being on the set of a futuristic Sci-Fi movie. The shopfloor is cleanroom clean and brightly lit with different work areas partitioned-off in windowed rooms. The music employees play in the different rooms is, understandably, terrific. These rooms are also home to some of the most advanced CNC machine tools on the planet.

They can, for instance, use their machine tools to engrave identification codes, proof against piracy. Take a look around the center ring on the shiny flip-side of a CD and imagine the precision accuracies involved. There are filtered-air shrouds at AME in areas reserved for the more critical stages of polishing. There is air filtration in the assembly room, too. Get the picture?

Every single one of the over 300 OM molds AME builds each year is run through rigorous testing before it is shipped.

Testing Perfection
You may never see another mold sampling room like AME's DTC. At any given time, it can be running up to 10 of the latest versions of the world's best injection machines designed for warp-speed, micron-quality OM molding. Its presses come directly from the machinery OEMs, fully loaded. AME equips them with its own features, like software to monitor a mold's in-cycle breathing.

AME runs every tool it builds nonstop for four hours straight before it is shipped. There has to be a very good reason for stopping a customer's test run. It also tests its own latest designs at the DTC, like twin-cavity and sprueless molds for .6-mm-thick DVD substrates.

AME's machine tools have the precision capability of machining the near submicroscopic holes required to pull a vacuum in some OM molds for holding stampers into place.

The DTC's quality assurance and analytical instrumentation is equally out of this world. It is capable of scanning in nano-dimensions for thickness variations between the edge and plane of a DVD. It can graphically display microscopic pit deformations, appearing as surface cloudiness to the naked eye. Also, it can analyze the pits on a stamper and then compare the analysis to pits on a CD molded with that same stamper.

Twenty of AME's 80 employees are in its engineering department. They develop mold designs, processes, and assembly methods. The company's goal is delivering the best quality product at the lowest cost per shot. Its commitment to achieving this goal is evident in Eindhoven.

Major new product introductions of interest to optical media (OM) replicators have been developed at Axxicon Moulds Eindhoven BV. We can expect to see even more, thanks to its newly intensified $2 million research program. There is news on other OM fronts as well:

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