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December 1, 2009

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Sharp invests in '10th generation' panels

HUGE sheets of glass are guided by robotic arms, sliding and turning in a towering germ-free plant, the world's first making giant "10th generation" panels for flat screen TVs.

Japanese electronics maker Sharp Corp's futuristic-looking plant doesn't have a single worker on the floor. Each sheet, measuring about 3 meters by 3 meters, is being made and tested by computerized machines.

Reporters were allowed a tour yesterday of the liquid crystal display plant, which began running last month, in the city of Sakai, near Osaka. No photography was allowed, and visitors had to pass a temperature-check at the gate and could look inside only through selected windows.

Each sheet is later cut into smaller sizes for panels for TVs. A 10th generation "mother glass" is big enough to produce 18 40-inch panels. Each generation of panels is defined by the step-up in size.

The sheer size of each sheet, or substrate, makes the plant more efficient for churning out bigger TVs than previous plants. Smaller TVs are still popular, but bigger TVs produce bigger profits.

Osaka-based Sharp is ahead of rivals - at least in size. Samsung Electronics Co of South Korea, the global leader in LCD TVs, makes the eighth generation sheets and is considering investing in plants for bigger sheets.

Sharp Executive Officer Taimi Oketani said the plant is best suited for 60 or 65-inch screens, and it was still unclear whether the world would start demanding even bigger TVs requiring even bigger mother glass.



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