Pat Pilcher goes behind the scenes at Seoul's LG factories.
Day 3: Changwon and Gumi
Today was a 4am start. This actually sounds a lot worse than it was as the 3 hour time difference between Korea and New Zealand meant it felt like 7am.
We're heading south to Changwon where LG's appliance factory cranks out washing machines and then to Gumi where TVs are made using the panels we saw being made at the Paju display plant.
Speaking of which, TVs are everywhere in Korea. Most cell phones have an extendable second antenna to receive mobile TV broadcasts, even buses have TVs built in.
The constant barrage of Korean TV news reminds us that Changwon isn't all that far from where the Korean ferry disaster happened.
Changwon is 120km away from Seoul but getting there was a only short hop thanks to KTX trains - the Korean version of Japanese bullet trains. We speed toward Changwon at 180kph in absolute comfort.
The factory complex at Changwon is massive. Its showroom has an improbable number of washing machines, fridges, dryers and dishwashers.
The appliances range from a dishwasher the size of a suitcase for apartments through to smart fridges that probably have an IQ higher than yours truly after a 4am start.
The clothes dryers are ingenious. LG's boffins back at the Seocho R&D facility realised that they're big electricity guzzlers. Because of this they re-engineered them, significantly improving energy use with efficient heat pump technology.
Another nice touch is what looks like an oven warmer drawer on the bottom of the dryers. It turns out they're for drying shoes rather than keeping dinner warm. Our guide tells us that this is only available for the Korean market, but I reckon it'd be pretty popular in damp New Zealand.
We head over the factory production line. It's like entering the Orc weapons foundry out of Lord of the Rings.
Huge multi-story hydraulic presses pound sheets of flat metal into shape as washing machine chassis. The boom they make is immense, and is felt before it is heard.
A huge number of people are on the production lines. I wonder what the coloured lines on the factory floor are for and get hauled out of the way as a robot following the coloured lines carrying components rolls up behind me.
The sights and sounds are startling. At one point washing machine drums are water tested. A huge pipe fills them with 40 litres of water in the blink of an eye. Mere seconds later they're emptied and moved on.
We finally arrive at the end of the production line at the warehouse. It's a cavernous space easily the size of several football fields, but it's filling fast as the factory cranks out a new washing machine every 9 seconds.
Later we head to Gumi, where LG make TVs and computer monitors. Compared to the deafening chaos of Changwon, the TV factory seems peaceful.
People and robots are rotating, soldering, assembling and working on a multitude of different TV models all at once.
It's pretty surreal seeing the LCD and OLED panels we saw being made yesterday in Paju being attached to chassis and shipped out to the world's electronics stores.
We walk up to a production line that has a steady stream of TVs on a conveyor belt. At a selected spot on the belt each TV powers up and goes through a set of diagnostics and then powers down.
Closer inspection reveals infra-red transmitters located along the conveyor belt. These send commands to the TVs while sensors pointed at the screens check each TV is performing properly.
The pace is frenetic and yet incredibly efficient. The people on the production line have been doing this for some time and their movements are economic and timed to coincide with the production line.?
Further down the line the finished TVs are packed. A robot arm picks up each TV and spins it vertically while a person slides a bag and a box over it. A robot slides styrofoam packing down the sides of the box while another person inserts a bag containing the cables, remote, batteries and a manual. I wonder if this people/machines combo packed any of the TVs I'd reviewed.
Boxed TVs finally hurtle towards an improbably large machine whose sole purpose is to tape the boxes shut. Interestingly there are a multitude of different sized TVs in boxes on the conveyor belt.
Sensing a potential train wreck looming, I wait to see how the machine handles all these different sized boxes. It turns out that the machine isn't troubled in the slightest. It scans each box, adjusting its size and configuration.
The factory is incredibly efficient. Each person, machine and TV component has its place. Nothing is wasted. Having seen how the tech is planned at LGs R&D plant and how the display panels are made and finally assembled into TVs Unboxing will probably never be the same.
Pat was hosted in Korea by LG Electronics