In a glitzy and gala ceremony today in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, Foxconn broke ground on the first large-scale TFT LCD fab outside of Asia, and the first in the USA, in a ceremony highlighted by the appearance of President Trump.
I had the good fortune, and apparently the right connections, to receive an invitation to the event, which was accompanied by an extensive demonstration of the technologies that Foxconn hopes to bring to the project, ranging from Artificial Intelligence to personal fitness, and from farming to brain surgery.
Invitees (I was given a “VIP” badge) were asked to park at a nearby mall, and were driven to a Foxconn site for a celebration ceremony. We did not observe the actual groundbreaking, which took no more than a few minutes, but saw it on a large-screen presentation:
(R-L: Paul Ryan, Terry Gou, Donald Trump, Scott Walker, Foxconn employee #1 C.P. Murdoch)
The building for the Groundbreaking celebration was a facility built recently by Foxconn for pilot production, training, and small-scale assembly of TVs. The facility was a 120,000 square foot (11,000 square meter) site a few minutes’ drive from the site of the future “Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park” where the TFT LCD fab will be located. For the site of the celebration, Google Maps shows only a partially completed shell, but the site entrance is a shiny new building:
Site of Foxconn Wisconsin “Wisconn Valley” Groundbreaking Celebration per Google Maps
Entrance to Foxconn Wisconsin “Wisconn Valley” Groundbreaking Celebration
Inside the building we were treated to an impressive presentation of Foxconn technology, covering a wide gamut of subjects. The presentation included a 1:1000 scale model of the future vision of the Foxconn complex. I decided to place my car keys at the bottom of the scene to give an impression of the size of the model.
Scale Model of “Wisconn Valley” Science and Technology Park
The scale model seemed to me to be about the same size as a Gen 10.5 glass substrate (2940mm x 3370mm). I may have been the only one in attendance to understand the irony, though, as most of the attendees had little or no knowledge of TFT LCD manufacturing or Foxconn’s recent decision to shift to a much smaller Gen 6 fab (1500mm x 1850mm). The scale model, though, still represents Gen 10.5 manufacturing, because near the center of the picture I can see the model of the Corning glass plant, the long building taller than its neighbors. Since Corning’s fusion forming process is a vertical draw process, their glass melting buildings tend to be much taller than typical manufacturing sites.
With a closer view of what Foxconn labels Area 1b (1a is a commercial site), the Corning site is on the left in the picture, TFT LCD and color filter fabs are in the center, and assembly operations are on the right.
Scale Model of “Wisconn Valley” TFT LCD area
Across from the technology demonstration was a pilot assembly line for LCD TV. We had heard from prior discussions that Foxconn was training workers on a pilot assembly line, and the line was ready for all visitors to see.
LCD TV Assembly Line at Foxconn Site
The facility included a manufacturing “command center” with extensive information available for analysis of performance:
Command Center in Foxconn LCD TV Manufacturing Site
One of the banners in the Command Center area indicated that the daily production plan was for 380 70” TVs. Undoubtedly this was not the actual plan for Thursday June 28th (because of the groundbreaking celebration), but it’s a plausible figure for production at an early stage as Foxconn works to ramp up TV assembly. I spoke with one of the workers on the production line, who was responsible for quality audits. The man said that he greatly enjoyed his work; he started the work in November and expressed pride in building a new venture.
At the end of the production line were some boxed Sharp 70” Aquos TVs. It’s unclear what was the destination for this product, since Sharp does not have the rights to sell Sharp brand TVs in the USA (Sharp sold the rights to its brand for TVs in the USA to Hisense in 2015, and the Chinese company holds these rights until 2020). Perhaps the TVs are destined for Canada, but they are labeled as “Assembled in the USA”.
70” Sharp Aquos TVs Assembled at Foxconn Site
While the TVs on the production line were from Sharp brand, we did see a representation of another brand associated with Foxconn’s efforts in the USA: Flying Eagle. Whereas we had heard a rumor that Sharp would introduce Flying Eagle brand TV sets in the USA later this year, and I saw a Flying Eagle logo on one of the production robot arms used on the assembly line, the Flying Eagle portion of the technology demonstration featured the use of displays in a type of virtual reality set-up for a fitness exercise, with performance indicators on screens to the left and right
Flying Eagle Technology Demonstration at Foxconn Groundbreaking Celebration
The technology demo also included Innolux, highlighted as a Foxconn company. One banner labeled Innolux and Sharp as “Foxconn Group LCD”, and claimed that this group was #1 worldwide in commercial and military aircraft cockpit LCDs, with >95% market share. The Innolux section also included a demonstration of “mini LED”, actually a full array miniLED backlight with 1296 zones. The 65” display had impressive performance of 1,000,000:1 contrast, 8K resolution and a color gamut of 94% of BT-2020.
65” LCD with Full Array MiniLED Backlight
After viewing the technology demonstration, attendees were asked to sit for speeches by the visiting dignitaries. I will cover those presentations in my next blog.