Sharp to open new LCD plant this month

Sharp will begin production at a state-of-the-art LCD (liquid crystal display) plant in Japan slightly ahead of schedule this month, the company said Tuesday.

The plant, at Kameyama in west Japan, is built alongside one that is already supplying panels for most of the large screen flat-panel TVs the company sells. Panels from the new plant are intended for TV sets that Sharp will sell around the world from September, it said.

Compared to the existing factory, the new one can handle larger sheets of mother glass. This is a base glass on which several LCD panels are formed and the use of larger glass typically means LCDs can be made more cheaply. The new plant processes so-called "eighth generation" glass, which measures 2.16 meters by 2.46 meters, compared to the existing "sixth generation" plant, which processes 1.5-meter by 1.8-meter glass.

The larger-size glass is best suited to 40-inch and 50-inch panels. Each 8G mother glass sheet can be used to make eight 40-inch class or six 50-inch class panels and initial monthly capacity will be 15,000 sheets of glass per month. This will double to 30,000 sheets per month in March next year when a second production line at the factory is due to start operations.

Sharp is both a leading manufacturer of LCD panels and television sets.

Last week it reported financial results for the April to June quarter and said sales of LCD panel and TV sets were strong. Total consumer electronics group sales rose 43 percent and panel sales jumped 20 percent on the back of consumer demand for flat-panel TV sets.

It's not only Sharp that is benefitting. Across the industry TV set makers are reporting higher sales of LCD and PDP (plasma display panel) sets as prices drop. The lower prices are thanks to more advanced production lines, like Sharp's new plant, and greater competition between panel makers.

In May shipments of LCD TV panels were up 124 percent compared to the same period a year earlier, according to DisplaySearch.

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Martyn Williams

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