Automated CD-R Recording, Duplication or Replication?
based on a presentation at REPLItech
San Jose, CA USA, June 6, 1996
by Katherine Cochrane
NOTE! The pricing information in this article is VERY obsolete! See your dealer for current prices. For more up to date information about new models and capabilities, please see the section in this website on CD-R Duplicators or visit our new CD-Info Webstore product catalog.
Also see our series about disc labeling.
Over the past year the option of duplicating CD-Recordables as a viable alternative to CD replication has blossomed, and several new and previously existing CD-R automation devices are available. Today we'll explore some of the reasons for this, and talk about the reasons for choosing one or the other methods of creating multiple copies of discs.
First, some definitions
CD-Recordable, or CD-R
This method of producing CDs uses a desktop recorder to put a premastered image on a disc that has a polymer dye layer, using a laser to burn the data into the dye. Recorders are available that work at single speed (76 minutes for 650MB of data or 74 minutes of audio/video including time to record leadout), 2x, 4x and 6x. 2x drives are the most common, requiring 39 minutes for a full 650MB disc.
This is the process of making a glass master from a premastered image, creating stamplers from the master, then pressing discs with the stamper using injection molding. Once the stamper is made and the machine is set up, a disc can be produced in a matter of seconds.
Duplication produces many copies of a disc at once. Duplicators use CD-R media, and usually a bank of recorders controlled by a single processor. The number of recorders that can be in a single array is limited by SCSI protocols, and usually cannot exceed 17 plus one reader for the source material.
At least two days, usually more, up to weeks or even months is needed for creating master, stampers and scheduling press runs. Don't forget to include shipping time to and from the plant as well, and if they have to send the premaster to another facility to have the master made, that can add hours or even days to the turnaround time.
Everything must be delivered to the replication plant together up front -- label artwork, packaging, premaster.
Mass replication is generally unavailable for short runs (less than 100-300, sometimes 500) because of the setup requirements. Every time an injection molding machine is stopped, some materials and time are lost, so manufacturers prefer to do large runs so the unit cost for small runs will be higher. Also, during a busy season many replicators do not like to schedule small runs at all because large runs are more profitable and less trouble for them. Some replicators will contract for a small number of discs, but actually charge for a minimum number and throw away the excess.
However, when large numbers of discs are required, replication is certainly the most cost-effective solution, with unit costs as low as $1.50 including mastering for large quantities on long turnaround times.
Single CD recording
This method is time-consuming -- 50 full CDs produced on a single recorder at 2x would take over 30 hours just for recording copies from a previously premastered image file. Automation in the form of a robot loader can streamline this process and allow unattended recording, but the recording time doesn't change.
Automated Single Recorder Systems
Some examples of automated recorder systems are Kodak's CD-R Transporter, which works inline with Kodak 2x or 6x recorders, MTC America's new Trans/Corder, which uses an internal half-height recorder, and MediaFORM's Genesis CD-R Autoloader. The prices mentioned are manufacturers' list prices, given for reference only. Also, each of these systems is configured differently so putting one price next to another without taking the configurations and features into account is probably meaningless.
The Kodak Transporter
This machine, which can handle up to 75 discs on a spindle before reloading, can also be integrated with a disc printer that uses a loading tray, such as the Rimage Perfect Image wax-transfer printer or Data/ware's new inkjet model. The Transporter Inline System with 2x recorder and Rimage printer and controlling software lists for $24,000, and with a 6x recorder for about $32,550. The Perfect Image printer by itself lists for $7,750, and the required driver software, CD Engine, lists at $750.
The Trans/corder is manufactured by Nistec Corp. of Japan and is marketed in the US exclusively by MTC America. It accepts up to 50 blanks at a time, loaded from a spindle. The Trans/corder retails for $7,999 including a Philips 2000 2x recorder/4x reader. Future plans include an option of using a Yamaha 4x recorder instead, but at this time that is not available. This unit requires an external Windows 3.1 PC (minimum configuration: 486/33 MHz with 8MB RAM and 850MB hard disk drive.)
MediaFORM Genesis CD-Generator
The Genesis autoloader system requires blanks to be loaded into caddies before being stacked in the autoloader. Up to 25 caddies can be loaded at one time. This system uses a Yamaha 4x recorder, so each disc requires only 19 minutes recording time. It has a Plextor 4x reader, and is available in standalone or PC-controlled configurations. The PC-controlled system lists for $7,995 and the standalone unit is $10,995.
Using multiple recorders controlled by a single computer offers time savings over both single recording and replication. Since several discs are recorded simultaneously, more copies can be produced in a shorter time than with a single recorder. Because there is no need to produce a glass master and stampers, the difference in production time for a small number of discs favors duplication over replication.
There are also cost savings over replication for fast turns & small jobs, since these, when available, are priced at a premium for both mastering and replication. The difference between a job scheduled for a 2-week turn versus an identical one on a 2-day turn can be four or five times as much or even more for the short-turn job.
Every step of the duplication process can be done in-house, so sensitive data never needs to leave your control.
Duplication is the fastest way to produce more than two identical discs. The initial image must be premastered, then each set of copies can be produced depending upon the number of recorders available in your duplication system in the same time that one additional disc can be recorded in a single-recorder system.
Replicating CDs can take from one day to three weeks or more, depending upon how close you are to the mastering and replication plant and how much you are willing to pay for a fast turn, as well as on the scheduling constraints of the replicator. For smaller jobs of less than 100 to 500 discs, it may not be possible to get the job done without buying more discs than you need, depending upon the replicator's policies.
This is a very difficult aspect to analyze. There are so many factors that play a role, a pure one-to-one comparison is impossible except in very well-defined hypothetical situations. The best approach may be to outline several possible scenarios, and plot a curve to find the breakeven points. The cost figures for replication, in particular, are highly variable depending upon particular manufacturer and your negotiating abilities, as well as the usual calculations based on turnaround time, quantity, labelling and packaging.
According to Chuck Alcon of MicroBoards, the consensus of a panel he participated on at SIGCAT last month was that for fewer than 150 discs duplication or automated recording was more cost-effective than replication, but for more than 150 CDs replication was a better choice. This assumes that security and time requirements are not at stake, of course. Others on that panel included Joseph Cannariato of Nimbus, Glen Sanderse of Compact Data, Inc. and Tracy Files of KAO Infosystems. The moderator was Matthew Leek of New Z Productions.
How they work
Duplicators usually require a separate premastering station to create the source file, which can be a CD, CD-R, or sometimes a tape (DAT or U-matic, depending upon the system's configuration) or an image file transferred directly to the duplicator's hard disk drive. The image file is generally stored on an internal hard disk, and the system's dedicated CPU and proprietary software sends the image across a SCSI bus or multiplexor board to an array of recorders, which make simultaneous copies.
Some examples of duplication systems
As with the automated recorder systems, the prices mentioned are manufacturers' list prices, given for reference only, and each system is configured differently so comparisons on the basis of price alone without taking the configurations and features into account is probably meaningless.
Rimage/Duplication Technology CD-R duplication systems
These systems can be configured for tape, M.O. or other kinds of media as well as CD-R. Each system is custom built, so "typical" systems don't really exist. A "base system" consists of a tower enclosure, color monitor, keyboard and mouse, 2GB HDD, 1 Yamaha 4x CD-Recorder, CPU & software for a list price of $11,500. Each additional driver or "channel upgrade" is CDR, controller, cable, hw & sw for $3500. Maximum number of recorders is 9 CD-Rs in one enclosure. Daisychaining is "sort of" possible, using a rackmount system rather than the tower, for up to 12 drives. Later this year Rimage plans to offer twice as many drives per system using a new controller card.
The base configuration of this system lists for $9750. This includes a 4x Plextor reader, Pentium 100 MHz CPU, monitor, keyboard and mouse, and a 2GB HDD, and can accept up to 6 recorders in 1st enclosure ($2450/ea w/cable, SCSI host). Additional enclosures that hold up to 8 more recorders can be added to the system at $2000 each, up to maximum of 16 recorders per controller.
Integrated Network Systems Corporation
Current maximum configurations of the RCDT Series: 10 Sony 2x recorders, $32,900 or 10 Yamaha 4x recorders for list price of $36,900. This includes CPU, 6GB HDD, 32 MB RAM, 8x CD-ROM reader, monitor, keyboard and mouse. The system is also available configured with as few as 2 recorders. Base price for the bare duplicator (no CD-Rs) is $23,900.
The JVC ROM-Maker Multidrive system operates on a master/slave principle. The master unit consists of an enclosure, 1 GB HDD, multiplexor board, SCIS interface, software, and up to five 2x or 4x recorders. Slaves are identical, except without the hard disk drive. Slaves can be daisy-chained. The ROM-Maker requires a controlling PC, supporting Windows, Mac or UNIX operating systems. The Windows and Mac systems are priced identically, with 2x master units' base SRP of $4595, including one recorder, and $995 for each additional 2x CD-R up to five in the master enclosure. Mac and Windows 2x slave units are $4095 with the first CD-R, and $995 for each additional recorder up to five. The 4x Mac/Windows master has an SRP of $4995 base cost and $1395 per additional recorder. UNIX master and slave base units are $400 more than their Windows/Mac equivalents.
Both MicroBoards and Media Source are dealers for Alea's CD-Maker. Each controller holds up to four Yamaha 4x recorders, and up to four 4-drive controllers can be daisy-chained up to a maximum of 16 recorders. SRP is $13,900 for the 4 drive system; with 8 drives it lists for $19,900. No SRP was available at this writing for the16-recorder system that is being introduced at Replitech by MicroBoards. The CD-Maker can be used to make premasters as well as controlling the duplicator.
Available from MicroBoards Japan or MediaFORM in North and South America as a four CD-R drive master-slave configuration, this system is priced at SRP $14,900 for the master, $14,500 per slave, allowing up to 9 slaves per master. It does not do premastering internally, so a separate premastering station or prerecorded disc is required.
This new 450-disc capacity system provides automated, standalone duplication driven by Alea's CD-Maker on the front end, and a proprietary robotic disc handler. They are waiting for 4x caddy-less drive such as TEAC (mid-July) before delivering 4x systems, but it is available now with Philips 2x recorders. Base SRP is $39,995 with four 4x writers. An integrated disc printer option is available for $8,995. The disc handler consists of three 150-disc spindles for blank media, one empty spindle (for collecting recorded discs), and a robotic arm in the center which moves media from the spindles into up to 16 CD-Rs. The recording system uses Alea's CD-Maker, which can also do premastering. The autoloader can also be used in conjunction with test or verification equipment in a media test station configuration. MicroBoards is an authorized dealer for this product as well.
CD Service Bureaus
One should not overlook the possibility of using service bureaus in any discussion of producing CDs. Many of these companies can offer a variety of choices in production techniques, either one-offs, replication or duplication. Many larger bureaus make single discs, duplicate them and also broker replication as well as selling the equipment to do recording or duplicating yourself. You can choose the appropriate method depending upon the job at hand by using a service, and you can avoid the investment in equipment and training for occassional or one-time projects.
For users who require frequent small runs of CDs, especially with quick turnarounds, CD-R duplication offers many benefits. Cost savings are one, but not the only reasons for choosing duplication. It is possible to produce hundreds of discs in a single day with low labor costs using an in-house duplication system, and by keeping the entire process under one roof, tighter security can be maintained as well for sensitive material. For those with smaller quantity requirements or fewer time constraints, the automated single recorder market has expanded to include several new machines for unattended production. Replication remains the most viable and cost effective method for creating many hundreds of the same discs, however. Each application should be evaluated on its own merits, and an appropriate solution chosen based on the full range of criteria, not simply on price.
Credit where credit is due...
Thanks to Copypro, INSC, JVC Information Products, MediaFORM, Media Source, MicroBoards, MicroTech, MTC America, Rimage Duplication Technology and Rimage Systems Group for information included in this presentation. However, the author takes responsibility for the entire contents, and especially for any errors in this paper.