Mike Mitchell, who has worked at the company for the whole 25 years and is now executive vice president and CTO, speaks very fondly of his mentor who retired a few years ago. He says two of Frische’s sayings remain in his mind always: "If you are not having fun, you are doing something wrong" and "The only thing constant here is change."
Mitchell says, "If you look back at CD production in 1984, it was really touted as being extremely advanced technology from a manufacturing perspective. We have come a long way since then if you look at how the equipment has progressed and how the materials used to manufacture have progressed and how the methods of production have changed. Many of the benefits that were derived through the development of CD machines and materials have been carried forward to the other products. It was a learning building block kind of scenario."
Of course, it’s difficult comparing Sony DADC to smaller independent plants in terms of the whole supply chain view they have been taking in the last couple of years. "We’re trying to tie all assets together and give a comprehensive offering from concept to store shelves and beyond. That’s where our heads are right now, being an end-to-end supply chain company. Clearly being part of Sony is a tremendous advantage. Sony designs and develops new formats, consumer electronics and has many content companies as well and they all work together giving us a distinctive advantage," Mitchell says.
The Terre Haute plant which occupied 60,000 sq. feet of space in 1984 now occupies 1.3 million sq feet. In 1984, CD output was 300,000 CDs per day. While today’s outputs are constantly changing, last year, the equipment base was in place to make 500,000 CDs per day. UMD capacity was about 250,000 a day, and DVD capacity was 1.3 million per day. Blu-ray capacity last year was 700,000, and that number will reach about 1 million a day this year.
However, Sony DADC has also had its ups and downs. Think back to the Digital Compact Cassette. There also is SACD, which is still around and still loved by those who care about the sound of their music, but it never really made the main stream as hoped. Now there is Blu-ray, the format which is likely to be the last major physical format before the world goes mostly digital. During a worldwide recession, how tough will it be to make Blu-ray a success? One of my colleagues told me that she heard people are spending less money on food during this recession, but entertainment spending remains about the same. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I asked Mitchell if he thinks entertainment--specifically movie purchasing--is recession proof, and he said, "The environment is too dynamic to gauge in terms of being ‘recession proof.’" However, I asked him what DADC has done to get the Blu-ray format really moving. He said, "We’ve done a lot of replicator education in numerous ways with certain capabilities that we offer." That certainly is a change. In 1984, the biggest worry for the plant was making sure they could just get the format to work!
"I probably shouldn’t say this," said Mitchell, but."We played a little smoke and mirrors with the discs we gave away at our Grand Opening. They were good discs, but the sputtering process which was supposed to reflective-coat all of those discs wasn’t where it needed to be at the time. Someone was here all night using a small reflective machine that did five discs per batch," he jokes.
Today, however, Sony DADC is helping its competitors to make Blu-ray happen. Certainly working with disc manufacturing competitors is like nothing they have done before. "We are openly giving the benefit of our experience and technology and some of the pitfalls we’ve experienced," Mitchell says. "We’re trying to be a format steward approach rather than a winner- take- all coveted approach."
Even on the equipment side of the equation, Sony is working with the traditional machine builders, sharing technology and know-how with the primary companies. "We harbor a relatively sizeable engineering stream at all of our plants that is somewhat different than what our competitors might do. As yet, we haven’t sold any of the manufacturing technologies, other than the mastering—Phase Transition Mastering system which is pretty much the backbone of anyone’s Blu-ray mastering worldwide," according to Mitchell.
Other than format transitions, the other biggest change the plant is facing today that it did not face in 1984 is the effort to "go green." "I don’t think it is expensive to be Green," Mitchell says. "For example, through efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, less energy is consumed and you are actually saving on the front end."
In terms of reducing the carbon footprint, which is very complicated, he says companies have to take an holistic approach. He uses the analogy of the "Whac-A-Mole" game. You can’t whack one mole on the head, walk away, and then ignore the rest. "You have to really take a comprehensive basis and develop an action plan that encompasses everything you do at the plant." For example, Sony DADC reportedly has purchased 84-million kilowatt hours of renewable energy. Renewable energy credits are credits that are bought and sold on the open market that represent energy that is produced from renewable resources like solar, wind, or hydro. Also, the plant’s recycling rate is at 98 percent, according to Mitchell.
Even as the optical disc industry continues to face challenges, Mitchell says there are plant employees who have worked for the company 24 years, and Sony DADC has been lucky enough not to have had to lay off any one, so far, during this recession. So, you can bet that current president Michael Frey and Sony DADC Global CEO Dieter Daum will celebrate this anniversary with Mitchell and the only 25-year executive veterans, besides Mitchell, John Page (senior business analyst), Keith Moenter (director, organization performance and talent management), Ed Proffitt (senior manager, engineering), and Ken Walker (manager, facilities). Cheers to another 25 years in Terre Haute, Sony DADC!
Debbie Galante Block (debgalante at aol.com) is a freelance writer based in Mahopac, New York.