The Drive for LCD
While in Japan attending the CEATEC Expo with a group of industry journalists, our host, Sharp Electronics, offered us a closer look at the company’s new products and an insider’s perspective on the company’s direction in the flat panel market. A focus of the trip was a visit to Sharp’s newest LCD panel manufacturing plant, Kameyama 2, which began operations in August of this year.
First, a little history: Takashi Nakagawa, Sharp’s executive director and general manager of international business, reminded us that in 1998, Sharp’s president predicted that all CRT sales in Japan would be replaced by LCD by 2005. That goal is close to being achieved—Sharp is the number one LCD brand in the Japanese market, where 32-inch TVs dominate. Worldwide LCD TV demand in 2006 is in the area of 42 million units, and Sharp expects that to reach 122 million by 2010. With numbers like that, any manufacturer of flat panels that hopes to be a major supplier and competitor, Sharp included, needs to position itself early to take advantage of the coming surge. That means several things to a panel maker. Among those are predicting popular panel sizes and focusing your manufacturing around those sizes. It also means making sure you have the required capacity to meet the demand. Even if you make the right size TV, if you don’t make enough to satisfy demand, retailers will take their business elsewhere. It also means investing in picture quality development, and maintaining competitive prices. Those all can be difficult factors to juggle. A new flat panel factory can be a multi-billion dollar investment.
Last year, Sharp lost some face when the company was not able to meet demand for the highly desirable 40-inch size TVs that took off in the holiday shopping period. Sharp’s manufacturing at that time was focused on 32-and 37-inch TVs coming out of it’s Kameyama 1 plant (a Gen 6 factory), while other manufacturers, principally Samsung, were offering 40-inch LCDs at competitive prices. This year, Sharp plans to set the rules themselves. The new Kamayama plant, referred to as a Generation 8 plant, is optimized for 46- and 52-inch panels (both in 1080p resolution), unique sizes that Sharp hopes will set them apart from the competition and position them to take advantage of the plant’s Gen 8 mother glass (each panel is 2,160 x 2,460 mm and can yield six 52-inch panels) in the most efficient manner. Samsung and Sony also have plans to open up a Gen 8 plant in the near future.