I had the good fortune to head off to Japan two weeks ago to tour the Sharp Corporation Kameyama No. 2 Factory where they make their LCD panels. The plant is unique in its environmental initiatives and in the high calibre of the panels it produces. I was really hoping to check out the factory floor but Sharp has many secrets its wants to protect and as such the access I was granted was fairly restricted. I did get to see various parts of the production process through polarised windows and also watched videos of robots busily doing their tasks along the production line, giving me good idea of how their panels are produced.
Naturally, since the access was restrictive, many questions about their manufacturing techniques were left unanswered. However, I did get a chance to talk to one of the technicians, albeit through an interpreter, and got to ask questions about how TFT (Thin Film Transistors) works and what their position was on removing Motion Jitter when watching video on an LCD TV. While many of the answers I received were informative, the jitter question remained unanswered. This was mainly due to fact that the translator wasn't able to convey what I was saying effectively, even when I reiterated it into simpler terms. It's a shame that there was a language barrier there as I would have loved to sit down with a Sharp engineer and pick his brain.
As it stood, I walked away from the tour with a better understanding of the manufacture process but also with a whole new world of questions too. I was impressed with the sheer size of the plant and also with their quality control and environmental initiatives.
During the manufacture process, the single biggest concern is dust. Even the smallest of dust particles can ruin an entire piece of mother glass (about eight 50in TVs). As such, the factory has many proprietary technologies in place to reduce the dust count until it becomes the equivalent of 4 pollen particles per area the size of a football field. They take this stuff very seriously.
The environmental initiatives employed at the plant make it rather much cleaner than most factories in that one third of the power used at the plant is produced by solar power. The outer walls and roof of the plant are covered with specially designed solar panels which draw a consistent rate of power to accommodate for the factory's needs. Since Sharp are the world's leading supplier of Solar Panels, it makes sense for them to use them in this way. They believe that the need for solar panels and the demand for them will only increase in the coming years as people look for viable and clean alternative power solutions.
During the LCD production process, water is used to clean and polish the different layers of the glass, a process which makes the water toxic. Sharp has developed a purification process which is not only environmentally friendly, but also biological. They use micro organisms, oyster shells, charcoal and other natural substances to filter the water. In each stage of the water's journey through the five purification processes, the waste material in the water is removed and water is recycled back into the factory water supply to be used again. This process is quite remarkable given that it is the simplest of sciences, working hard for big business.
Overall, the trip to the Sharp factory was rather fun and informative but by no means extensive. Sharp claims to be the No.1 manufacturer in world. To protect that spot, they were very careful with their secrets. I just wish I could have somehow convinced them to give me a closer look at the mammoth machines they use on the floor. I tried "cross my heart and hope to die" and "I'll be your best friend". I even tried the Peter Griffin "Come on!" but they just wouldn't allow it...