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Other qualitative factors must be reviewed to determine if in-house mastering is a viable alternative for your company.

Work mix
Depending on how quickly you need to turn a job will impact your decision to keep mastering external or bring it in-house. Typically, if you have five days to turn a replication project (assuming that you are not responsible for the outsourcing of booklets and inlays which take an extended period), internal mastering is not a bottleneck in your manufacturing process. However, if your customers' turn time expectations are less than three days, internal mastering is can be very beneficial.

Reliability with Current Third-Party Mastering Vendor
If your external mastering vendor has provided you with excellent quality and on-time delivery, the decision to bring mastering in-house becomes more of an economic decision. If your third-party mastering provider has been less than reliable, you should immediately switch to Synchronicity Mastering Services so we can show you what superior quality, customer service and support are all about.

Equipment Choice
Regardless of what the equipment manufacturer states, mastering equipment is not "plug and play". This is true of modular systems as well as in-line systems. As a result, plan on a two to three month installation, more with some of the newer beta version in-line systems.

Further, your decision to purchase modular or in-line system should be based on the future vision of your company and the upgrade capabilities of the equipment that you are considering. Does your company need to stay current with evolving technologies (i.e. DVD, CD-R, DVD-R, DVD-RAM)? Can the equipment you are considering upgrade to faster cutting speeds? Can this equipment accommodate your potential future expansion plans?

Ability to Attract and Retain Skilled Engineers
No matter which equipment you choose, you will need to bring special talents into your operation. Not only will your operators need to be skilled, you will need to employ mastering engineers that are talented in process troubleshooting as well as a technical engineers to work on the equipment (which is far different than replication equipment). Depending on your geographical area in which you replicate, these talents may not be readily available. Plan on working with a good placement service (and budget for the 50% placement fee) and paying more than expected for these unique skill sets.

Requirement for Redundancy
Given that the economics above are based on a single installation, your mastering will be impacted if a single process or piece of equipment is down. If your installation has little or no redundancy, plan on a large stockpile of spare parts, 5% more preventative maintenance time as well as 10% downtime associated with equipment repairs.

Local Waste Treatment Regulations
Certain states and counties are more strict than others as it relates to waste emissions. You will want to check with local authorities long before you place purchase orders for equipment. This due diligence could easily impact which equipment and processes you choose to pursue.

Appetite for Risk
There are two risks associated with bringing mastering in-house. One is a short-term in nature and the other is long-term.

Start-up Risk
As many replicators are painfully aware, bringing mastering in house is often more challenging than initially anticipated. Delays and deferrals come from many angles from the infrastructure not being ready to equipment delays to on-site OEM technical support scheduling issues. Once the infrastructure is in place and all of the equipment is finally delivered (note that your installation will not commence until 100% of the equipment is on site) the assembly begins. Teams from multiple vendors need to be coordinated to have their processes ready in the appropriate sequence. This synchronization is not always executed as planned. Processes between the encoder, the LBR, the developer, the metallizer and plating need to be dialed in. All easier said than done.

Assuming all goes well, equipment "acceptance" is usually within two to three months. After equipment acceptance, the OEM technicians depart and you are on your own. This is when the real challenge begins. The yields that were evidenced at acceptance drop; the equipment issues that weren't apparent when the OEM technicians were there surface. Assuming you employed the right skill sets, you will be able to manage your way through these issues. However, if you were more cost conscious on your management team, you will be in for a rocky start-up. Don't assume that your OEM will be able to drop everything to accommodate your current situation. They have other installations and customers that need to be attended to, perhaps as a priority over your issues.

Technology Risk
There are other technologies that will eventually replace CD and DVD replication (including mastering). The question is when.
All mastering OEMs are performing research and development tests with Deep UV mastering where up to 100 gigabytes of information (154 times the capacity of a CD; 20 times the capacity of a single DVD layer) can be stored on an optical disc. Given the eighteen month expected release date of this enhanced mastering technology, this should be factored into your investment decision-making criteria.

Other non-optical technologies remain on the horizon as well. Foremost is the internet. Although it has not yet become the de-facto standard to replace physical media, with DSL and cable modems becoming more prevalent, digital downloads are projected to take up to 20% of the software and audio market in 2001. In addition, flash media is becoming more prevalent. As a matter of fact, many optical media manufacturers are getting into this small format removable storage business. Although today mostly only used in handheld devices, the capacity of flash media is increasing and is projected to have a negative impact on the optical disc industry.