In the field of large-display televisions, liquid crystal display and PDP (plasma display) are competing with each other head-to-head. Until a few years ago, the PDP’s dominance was accepted as “common sense,” but currently, due to the advancement of LCD’s (liquid crystal display) technological innovation, it is rapidly expanding its share. The driving force for such a change has been generated by the Kameyama Plant constructed by Sharp Corporation, a top manufacturer of LCD televisions. It realized integrated manufacture from liquid crystal panels to final television assembly, a production process unprecedented in the world. The manufacture process adopts the 6th generation glass substrates (1500 mm x 1800mm) having an area equivalent to six panels for 37-inch TV in size. Currently, Plant No.2 is under construction at an adjacent site. This plant, planned to begin operation in October 2006, is scheduled to adopt the world’s largest 8th glass substrates (2160 mm x 2400 mm)
Sharp Corporation http://www.sharp.co.jp/
Founded in 1912 by Mr. Tokuji Hayakawa who started his own business of metal processing in Honjo, an old low-land town in Tokyo. In 1915, his factory developed a “sharp pencil (also known as mechanical pencil),” which became the origin of the company’s current name. After the war, they manufactured the first Japan made television, and started to grow as a general home electric appliances manufacturer. In 1964, they developed the world’s first desktop calculator, and in 1973, liquid crystal was adopted for the display of their calculators, establishing the basis for the company’s core business today. The construction of the Kameyama Plant began in 2002 which began its full-fledged operation in 2004.
Liquid crystal has characteristics of both liquid and crystal (solid). Below is a magnified image of liquid crystal display.
On large-size glass substrates, liquid crystal for television display is processed in multi-layer.
“Kameyama Model – World-Class Technology of Japan” says the description on a plate placed next to Sharp’s large-size LCD TVs arrayed in electric appliance shops. This sales promotion sign was originally put up by one mass sales store, which was later found by one of Sharp’s sales representatives, who liked the idea. Eventually Sharp unified its logos and color (blue). Mr. Yano looks back with a deep sense of accomplishment, “Finally, a factory name became a brand.”
It was back in 1973 when the liquid crystal technology was commercialized for the first time in the world through application to Sharp’s calculators. Mr. Yano entered the company the year before that and participated in the development of liquid crystal calculators. Ever since then he spent his life for further development of this technology.
Therefore, this “engineer who is dedicated to liquid crystal” had more reason to be astonished at the statement made by Mr. Katsuhiko Machida, newly appointed as president in 1998, “All televisions Sharp manufactures domestically will carry liquid crystal displays by 2005.” This declaration indicated that all large-size TV sets will also be equipped with liquid crystal displays.
“Honestly speaking, I was dumbfounded by that announcement. At that time, the largest LCD TV we could produce was 15-inch. We forethought back then that 30-inch would be our limit.”
“Nevertheless,” continues Mr. Yano, “an engineer tends to think of things in terms of what he is capable of proving. It was as if the company’s president pushed my back to encourage me to take up the challenge. Since he clearly presented us with a goal to work for, we could actually go at the development with ease.”
Consistent with that strategy, a project team was set up in 2002 with Mr. Yano as its leader, and the construction of the Kameyama Plant began in the same year.
The road leading to the development of large liquid crystal display TVs was never a smooth path. For example, the plant was going to have a production process of six liquid crystal panels of 37-inch simultaneously on a glass plate (glass substrate) measuring 1.5 m by 1.8 m. The thickness of a plate is just 0.7mm, which can sag considerably when it is held up and therefore it can break. The problem was how to carry it from one production line to another.
“The only way to solve this problem was to ask the carrier equipment maker to manufacture a carrying system based on a totally new concept. Not only we ourselves but the suppliers of factory equipments and raw materials had to think “seriously” to achieve the goal.”
The slogan Mr. Yano often reminded his staff of was, “Let us make it an unforgettable piece of work.” This phrase was also passed on to the suppliers or outsourced businesses which supported the project, in an effort to solicit their cooperation as well.
The new plant adopted an integrated production system from liquid crystal panels to finished products. It was based on the idea, “Instead of collecting good quality parts for assembly, let us manufacture the best possible parts here and assemble them, because we are aiming at the No.1 TV in the world.” In addition, Mr. Yano goes on to explain the effect of an expression, “suriawase (coordination of multi-angle opinions)” which does not sound fit to a cutting-edge plant like theirs.
“Staff from a number of different fields got together in the same plant, such as liquid crystal specialists, semi-conductor engineers, TV professionals, and so forth. So, we could build up products together, as it were, through free, unreserved discussion among those in upper process, lower process, onsite workers, engineers in laboratory, you name it. It was this process of ‘suriawase’ which helped us to bring the performance to the limit.”
The company which led the world with liquid crystal technology also has had bitter experiences of the rise and catch-up of Korean manufacturers, etc. Therefore, the team members were firmly determined to launch a counterattack this time, without fail. A clear goal set up in a top-down decision-making process and a production site charged with monodzukuri spirit in combination eventually gave birth to “world-class technology.”
In January 2004, ahead of schedule, shipment of large-display televisions began from this plant. Right next to it awaits the second plant to begin its operation with the worldwide market in view. At the beginning of the 1980’s, Japanese manufacturing was given an accolade of “Japan as No.1.” From the factory surrounded by nature comes the sound of heartbeat of revival softly yet steadily.