December 23, 2009
| by Lisa Montgomery
It all started out so innocently. Those 27-inch flat-panel TVs were plenty for most A/V enthusiasts. But as with anything high-tech, our passion for in-your-face video grew, as did the size of the displays themselves.
Today, 42 inchers are the norm, says Jeff Cove, vice president of technology and alliance group, Panasonic Corp. of North America. He expects the consumer demand for increasingly larger displays to only continue. With each new jump in size, plasma and LCD factories must reequip, and in many cases relocate and rebuild, to facilitate better, more efficient methods of production.
Panasonic, for one, is on its fifth plasma factory (called P5), which began operating in November 2009.
“[The factory floor] of P1 of a few years ago was large enough to handle the production of a single pane of 42-inch glass,” Cove says. “By the time we got to P4 about two and a half years ago, we had the space and capacity to cut eight 42-inch pieces from one sheet of glass.”
The P5 factory, which is located next to P4 in Amagasaki, Japan, is designed to produce an even bigger sheet of glass for sixteen 42-inch cuts. To handle that capacity, the new P5 factory is close to 100,000 square meters larger than P4 (190,000 square meters compared to 284,000 square meters). Approximately 53 U.S. football fields could fit inside P5 versus just more than 35 football fields inside P4, according to Cove.
It’s the same story with Samsung, a leading manufacturer of LCD glass. The company’s plant in Kameyama, Mie Prefecture, which started in 2006, makes substrate glass of 2.1 meters by 2.4 meters in size. The newest plant, which opened in October in Sakai City, makes substrates that are 1.6 times larger. Each new substrate yields different TV sizes. For example, the smaller substrate produced at the Kameyama plant is cut for a 30 and 40 display sizes; the newer, larger substrate produced at the Sakai City plant is optimally cut for a 40-, 50- and 60-inch TVs, explains a Sharp spokesperson.
The current capacity of this factory is 36,000 sheets a month, he continues, and that is expected to increase to a maximum of 72,000 sheets per month by October 2010. As for the size of the factory: It covers 314 acres—a far cry from the 82-acre Kameyama factory.
Why go to all this trouble just to crank out a few extra pieces of plasma glass? “The more displays we can get cut from a single sheet the more money we save in production costs,” says Cove. Those savings eventually trickle down to the consumer.
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.