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Mitsui Advanced Media Sheds U.S. CD-R Plant, Becomes MAM-A

On June 16, Mitsui Advanced Media Inc. made a low-key announcement that Computer Support Italcard s.r.l. (CSI) had acquired a majority position in the longstanding CD-R company now to be known as MAM-A, Inc. Located in Colorado Springs, Mitsui Advanced Media was formerly a wholly owned subsidiary of Japanese industrial giant Mitsui Chemicals, Inc.

This divestment follows a similar shedding to CSI last year of Mitsui’s CD-R plant located in France (now named MAM-E). According to Joe Weisenbach, MAM-A’s sales manager, Mitsui’s plan to sell off majority interest in its CD-R factories was set into motion several years ago by its since-aborted merger with Sumitomo Chemical Company as well as Mitsui’s desire to concentrate on its core chemical businesses and to meet new opportunities. As was the case with the sale of the European operation, terms of the Colorado deal were not released.

Established in 1996 during the salad days of optical storage, Mitsui Advanced Media was part of a thriving community of “made in the USA” CD-R disc manufacturers including Eastman Kodak, KAO Infosystems, TDK Electronics, and Ricoh Corporation, as well as several smaller enterprises. Thanks in large part to massive and relentless competition from Asian manufacturers, the U.S. plants have closed one by one. As things stand today, only MAM-A and, perhaps, MRT Technology (Ritek) remain, producing small quantities of CD-R discs in the U.S., while Imation continues to dabble in CD-RW.

On the other hand, due to market peculiarities and protective government measures aimed at most CD-R discs imported from Asia, the European Union has largely been spared the carnage that has befallen the U.S. media industry. CSI may be an unknown player in North America but with existing factories in Italy and France, it is currently considered the second largest European producer of blank CD-R discs. According to Michael Boreham, research consultant with U.K.-based Understanding & Solutions (U&S), CSI produces roughly 130 million discs per year or about 17% of Europe’s output. In the grand scheme, however, that’s just a drop in the bucket. For example, U&S estimates that worldwide CD-R disc shipments will reach 5.5 billion units this year. Although and interestingly, recent comments from Taiwanese producers put that number at 7 billion, while still other analysts propose closer to 11 billion units.

By all accounts, the Colorado factory is tiny by world standards. MAM-A declined to provide details, but outside sources familiar with the existing plant estimate its capacity at between 24 and 36 million discs per year. Weisenbach indicates that the company had its best sales year in 1999 at $37 million; by 2002, annual sales had dropped to $23 million.

Given MAM-A’s size, Caroline Baines, principal consultant with U&S, says, “The best play is for them to operate in a niche where target companies are quite picky about the media they use… and service applications requiring a local supplier.” This sums up MAM-A’s strategy: “The majority of discs we sell are 74-minute,” says Weisenbach, “and we still make gold [reflective layer] discs.” MAM-A also offers discs with surfaces suitable for use with Rimage’s Everest printer and, in the near future, plans to manufacture DVD-R media. Weisenbach points out that MAM-A’s customers really won’t notice any changes from the shift in ownership. The subtlety of the transition indeed appears to be calculated to maintain existing relationships and achieve just such an effect.

While MAM-A’s position as an important local and regional media source is undeniable, it remains to be seen whether other manufacturers will reduce its business by gradually cherry-picking sales. This process has already begun to affect traditional Mitsui strongholds; for example, Korean-based SKC offers Everest-compatible media, which Rimage is now aggressively promoting.

For more information, contact MAM-A, Inc. at 719/262-2453, or visit www.mam-a.com.

Copyright © Online Inc. / Hugh Bennett

EMedia, The Digital Studio Magazine, July 22, 2003

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