Site: Olympus Technology Research Institute
2951 Ishikawa-cho, Hachioji-shi
Tokyo 192, Japan
Date Visited: 11 March 1998
Olympus has a significant business in magneto-optic disk drives, both 3.5" and 5.25". Olympus, Fujitsu and Konica are the only manufacturers in the world for the 3.5" MO drives. These products are very popular in Japan with volumes of about 1 million units per year, but have not really been adopted in volume in other parts of the world as yet. Olympus is also working with TeraStor in the United States on an MO drive that uses a solid immersion lens to reduce the optical spot size by 2x, and thereby increase the capacity by 4x over conventional techniques. Olympus is one of many partners in the TerraStor group, and it is designing and manufacturing the upstream optical head assembly.
Olympus managers believe that MO drive technology can be extended. Their current plans are for 5.2 GB and then 10.4 GB capacities on a 5.25" double-sided disk. Beyond that, they believe that one of the magnetic super-resolution techniques, plus magnetic field modulation, will enable the capacities to be as high as 50-100 GB per disk.
The hosts mentioned several technology issues that must be addressed, such as the sensitivity of MO materials to 410 nm laser light and, of course, signal to noise at the very high densities. However, the biggest issue was that of standards and drive volumes. They believe that drives based on MO technology can be just as inexpensive to manufacture as drives based on phase change technology--given the same unit volumes. Today, the MO drives have received good acceptance in Japan for the high volume consumer product market and good acceptance throughout the world for the higher performance professional product market. However, recently, phase change drives such as the CD-RW have started selling well all over the world. The key question is, which will become the accepted standard and, thereby, achieve the high unit volumes? Many of the component costs, such as optics and lasers, are highly volume sensitive.
The hosts also discussed the likely market success of the TeraStor approach. Again, the big concern was volume. The TeraStor drives may become a fixed disk drive rather than one with removable medium because of the possible wear and contamination issues. Then, the key question is how will its costs and volumes compare with magnetic fixed disk drives and which will win? Here also, high volume is needed to bring down the manufacturing costs, and the market might not support both technologies with the necessary high volumes.
Olympus is currently one of the major players in magneto optical drive technology development and product manufacturing. Management takes the position that MO technology can meet the requirements of the marketplace, but only if it becomes the accepted standard and can enjoy the high manufacturing volumes that will enable drive manufacturers to achieve low prices. The next few years may be a turning point when one or the other technology becomes dominant for removable optical disk recording.