Inside the world's most advanced LCD factory

Sharp's Sakai plant is helping make big-screen TVs cheaper

A robotic forklift picks up a sheet of glass thinner than a credit card and as big as two table-tennis tables, and effortlessly swings it 90 degrees before gently placing it into an oven where it will bake at 200 degrees Celsius. It's a graceful and finely engineered process and one of several that takes place minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day in Sharp's LCD factory in Sakai, western Japan.

The factory, built at a cost of ¥430 billion (US$5 billion), is the most advanced display factory in the world and on Monday Sharp opened it to reporters for the first time.

Operations at Sakai began in October, just in time for the competitive year-end sales period, and the factory is already a key supplier of panels for big-screen TVs and one of the reasons why LCD TV prices continue to fall.

At the center of the plant's claim of world-class status is the size of glass sheets processed. Typically several LCD panels are made on a single sheet of glass to benefit from economies of scale before the glass is cut to produce individual screens. The Sakai plant handles sheets measuring 2.88 meters by 3.13 meters -- almost double the size of those at Sharp's other factory -- so LCD panels can be made more efficiently and prices lowered.

The glass panels are made by Corning at a plant next to Sharp's LCD factory and transported on a conveyer that connects the two. Across the street Dai Nippon Printing and Toppan have factories that produce color filters for the LCD panels. In total 19 companies contribute to a sprawling facility at the center of which sits the LCD factory. Sharp also has a solar cell factory on the land, and there is unoccupied space for expansion.

The LCD factory itself covers an area of 14.4 hectares, or about 20 football fields, and is split into several floors.

Looking down from fifth-floor observation windows into one of the clean-room production areas, the sheer scale of the operation was obvious. Photo etching machines, each about 3 meters high and about the size of a tennis court, are lined up one after another for about 200 meters. Inside each sits a 200-ton camera, the largest in the world, according to Sharp.

In other production areas, robots the size of trucks pick up crates holding about 50 sheets of glass and whisk them to other areas of the factory for processing. A wet area is used to wash the glass, drawing around 100,000 tons of water per month through a recycling system while in another area machines check the more than 100 million transistors on each finished panel for faults.

Secrecy abounds inside the plant and on a tour cameras, cell phones and even audio recording equipment were prohibited. Precise details about the operations are closely guarded competitive secrets to the point that "We can't tell you" was a common answer to reporters' questions.

Sharp says its Sakai operations have a comparatively lower impact on the environment than other plants. The larger glass sheets mean more efficient production and a central energy control center collectively manages the energy needs of all the factories on the site. Solar panels on the factory roofs supply 9 megawatts of power and there are plans to double this, while Sharp has also had a hand in constructing a nearby solar farm for Kansai Electric Power.

Sakai can currently handle up to 36,000 sheets of glass per month. Each sheet has enough space for 18 screens in the 40-inch size or 8 screens in the 60-inch size, and two sheets are sandwiched together in each finished screen. The plant is capable of making around 324,000 finished LCD panels per month for 40-inch LCD-TVs or 144,000 panels for 60-inch LCD-TV sets.

It's a vital part of Sharp's TV business and soon will play a similar role for Sony. On Dec. 29 Sony will invest ¥10 billion for a 7 percent stake in Sharp Display Products, the company that runs the factory, and gradually build its shareholding to 34 percent by the end of April 2011.

The investment will give Sony guaranteed access to a portion of the screens coming off the Sakai production line and follows an earlier joint venture deal with Samsung Electronics for previous-generation technology.

Plans call for production capacity at Sakai to double to 72,000 glass sheets per month from October 2010, at which time the factory will be operating at full capacity.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Topics: LCD television
Comments are now closed.

Latest News Articles

Most Popular Articles

Follow Us

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Resources

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Compare & Save

Deals powered by WhistleOut
WhistleOut

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?