Sharp to Start Most Advanced LCD Plant Next Month

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Just under two years after the start of construction, Sharp is ready to begin production at a cutting-edge LCD plant in Japan next month, it said on Thursday. The factory, in Sakai City in western Japan, is the world's most advanced LCD manufacturing base and it should help Sharp reduce the cost of making big-screen LCDs.

By opening in October, the factory will begin to operate five months earlier than expected, said Sharp Europe CEO Hiroshi Sasaoka, speaking at the IFA electronics fair in Berlin. Sharp has invested about ¥380 billion (US$4.1 billion) in the Sakai plant.

The factory gets its efficiency from being able to handle larger sheets of mother glass -- the basic sheets on which several LCD panels can be made. The factory accepts sheets 2.88 meters by 3.13 meters in size. Each sheet is 60 percent larger than those used at Sharp's Kameyama plant, which is currently its most advanced factory, and can be used to make six LCD panels in the 60-inch class, eight panels in the 50-inch class, or 15 panels in the 40-inch class.

The factory will initially process 36,000 sheets per month -- that works out to up to 216,000 60-inch class panels or even more at smaller size -- and production will eventually be raised to 72,000 sheets per month.

LCD panel makers are racing to use ever larger sheets of glass because production efficiency increases with each jump in size. That means screens can be made more cheaply, which in today's cut-throat market can be a critical advantage.

While it will only be used to manufacture larger size panels, the Sakai plant will help Sharp maintain competitiveness in smaller sizes too. Some large-size panel production will be shifted to Sakai from Sharp's Kameyama factory, freeing capacity and enabling small size panel production to be shifted from older plants.

Sharp also confirmed that it will launch a solar panel factory in March next year. The factory, which is also in Sakai City, will make thin-film solar panels.

Both factories are partially powered by solar energy. Sharp has panels capable of generating 18 megawatts of electricity on the roof of the factory and an additional 10 megawatt generation facility in a neighboring field.

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