Eyes On The Prize
Panels go through all manner of inspection during the manufacturing process. Some of these will be done with automated equipment. Others are done manually, sometimes in yellow-lit environments where certain light wavelengths are filtered out so as not to interfere with photosensitive coatings.
I recall passing one normally illuminated area in which test patterns were examined by lines of technical staff, with the control systems running Windows XP. This is actually a critical part of the review process in which human ability to discern color accuracy is paramount. Interestingly, nearly all of these examination techs are women aged 18 to 22. After extensive testing, Samsung found that this particular group had better color discernment capability than any other group.
Under The Microscope
Presumably, you don’t have to be a 20-year-old female to spot imperfections with a microscope. I am a bit curious as to how technicians do this sort of examination with the larger glass sizes.
Looking For Flaws
Given the backlighting and dim ambient environment, I’m pretty sure these are a couple of the test stations for searching for dead or always-on pixel flaws.
Who Are You?
More panel inspection here, but there’s an interesting anecdote for this image. Jenny informed us that the rotating nature of worker shifts sometimes results in workmates rarely ending their shifts at the same time. On the fab floor, all you can see of the other person is his or her eyes. That may not seem like much, but it’s enough for workers to know each other on sight. The funny thing is that when these familiar-on-the-job workers go off-shift and back to their regular clothes, they often won’t recognize each other with the rest of their heads visible.
Nearing The End
This shot best captures the hustle and constant activity I observed within the fab. You can see here that the panels are assembled and are ready for final testing before being buttoned up in their bezel and final casing.
Where Are We Going?
The crazy thing is that this is only the beginning of Samsung’s display ambitions. Screens for your PC and TV? That’s so ten years ago. Sure, those categories continue to evolve and grow, but this company clearly has its eyes on far broader fields. During one presention, we were shown a concept video of all the ways and places Samsung envisions displays permeating our future lives. Naturally, I didn’t receive a copy of this video, but I did find a similar, if somewhat older one, on YouTube with which to make my point.
The ubiquity that Samsung imagines for digital displays almost feels like something from a Philip K. Dick novel. It’s riveting, inspiring, and a bit scary all at the same time. You can see some examples here. Think Google Translate is cool? Try a handheld equivalent that displays scanned and translated text in real-time. Notice that the menu itself is an LCD. The One Card is an LCD panel that changes appearance to look like any of your credit cards and accesses your accounts appropriately. My suggestion: Call this the “Credit Chameleon” and market it with a catchy Culture Club remix. Did you catch the drink glass with the integrated temperature readout? That mirror is a closet door that also contains an embedded display. And check out the holographic projector for playing with your girlfriends half-way around the world. How do you top that?
If Samsung had one goal in putting on this tour, it was likely to make an impression. If so, the company succeeded brilliantly. As I sat on the bus during the long ride back to the airport, I continued to study the South Korean countryside, noting very little litter and very few aesthetic flourishes, but lots and lots of construction. Things tend to move in cycles, and its clear that Samsung and South Korea are ascending. I found myself thinking about tennis, pondering how it’s common to push harder and elevate one’s game when playing a superior opponent. But in a match between the friendly rivals of America and South Korea, who now plays the better game? It bothered me that I couldn’t answer the question.
Samsung told us that it aspires to be the leading manufacturer in 20 product categories very soon. The company already dominates LCDs, DRAM, flash memory, optical storage drives, and in chipmaking is second only to Intel. Similarly, by volume, Samsung is second only to Nokia in global cell phone shipments. Just before my trip, Samsung announced that it would invest $21 billion across five major R&D categories, including $5 billion into solar cells, almost the same amount again into rechargeable hybrid car batteries, and $7 billion into LED lighting technologies. This investment is expected to yield 45 000 new jobs and a 2x return on investment within ten years. Will this investment pay off? If the coming decade plays out anything like the last one, there’s no doubt in my mind that Samsung’s estimates may prove to be conservative. After all, Samsung’s solar arm is part of the LCD group.
Today, we can anticipate a new wave of TV and monitor technologies that will make what’s currently on your wall and desktop look downright archaic. The 240 Hz panels look amazing; 3D is evolving at lightning speed; and Samsung thinks it has the key to full-color, full-size, and flexible AMOLED displays. Remember than only one-third of the Crystal Valley has been developed so far. Despite Samsung’s existing lead in global display tech, it may turn out that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.