How to make the world's best home appliances: LG factories with their own eyes

Frankly speaking, all electronics assembly plants, regardless of manufacturer, look the same.

If you saw one, consider that you saw everything. Assembly line, people in lab coats, assembly lines several hundred meters long and mandatory stands for testing products for drop, temperature and mechanical stress. During my life I have been to several such factories - in China, South Korea and Ukraine. Where they collected laptops, phones and other small electronics. Different companies - LG, Samsung, Toshiba, Jabil, and approximately the same type of workshops. But for the first time I visited a factory where they assemble large-scale household appliances (albeit stuffed with electronics) - washing machines and refrigerators with Internet access and interaction with other components of a smart home. And it is worth saying that progress has touched this part of the world of modern electronics: at LG factories it is forbidden to lift more than 5 kilograms (goods are transported by robotic trolleys), all components (except electronic) are produced by third-party partner companies, the logistics work is designed so that spare parts warehouses and almost no finished products, and conveyor workers receive $ 2,500-3,000 a month.

Changwon: South Korea's Industrial Zone

It is forbidden to shoot at the factory itself, that's why everythingwe left our cameras and smartphones on the bus, and all these pictures were provided by the LG Electronics representative office, but you can appreciate the scale of the enterprise. We were in two different factories located in Changwon, which is 40 kilometers from Busan Resort. This is a relatively young city (received status in 1980), the rapid development of which began in the late 70s of the last century. LG and Samsung enterprises are located in the district, here, for example, they assemble Hyundai Rotem high-speed trains used in Ukraine.

To say that LG plants occupy a huge area is to say nothing:

At the entrance to the factory we are met by the inscription "WorkSmart, Do it Right, Be First ”(Work wisely, do everything right, be the first / best). Such inscriptions, on the one hand, always cause irony and remind of motivating posters in Barney Stinson’s office, on the other hand, they unequivocally remind everyone, including factory personnel, of how leadership is achieved in the global market. The first factory where we were produced five types of devices: top-loading, front-loading washing machines, dryers, LG Styler steam cabinets and vacuum cleaners. We didn’t see the assembly line of vacuum cleaners, but we shared a curious fact: LG has three lines of vacuum cleaners whose name forms the word ART (art): A9 - vacuum cleaners in the form of a CordZero bar, R9 - robotic vacuum cleaners and T9 - ordinary vacuum cleaners - “canisters” "(Tank).

How to assemble LG washing machines

LG began to manufacture washing machinesIn 1969, in 2003, the company began a landmark export to the United States. Now there are 11 LG factories in the world outside of South Korea where vacuum cleaners are manufactured. Usually, the decision to build such a plant is made on the basis of sales volumes and the specifics of a particular market, since these large devices and logistics (transportation costs) make up a significant share in the cost of such equipment. Any washing machine occupies a place in the cargo container like hundreds of smartphones, in total costing a couple of orders of magnitude more expensive and, accordingly, bringing the company much more profit. Model configurations vary from country to country - for example, top-loading washing machines are popular in the United States. In addition, they like huge equipment, often placed in the basements of houses. There are fewer apartments in Europe and Asia, and here buyers more often prefer small-sized models with front loading. In Asian countries, where large families are more likely to buy washing machines with two independent compartments for washing.

Previously, the washing machine assembly line includedabout 300 components. Today, their number has been reduced to 49 units, the production of which is not even carried out by LG itself, but by its partner companies. At the same time, partner factories that manufacture all these hoses, cables / tubes and inverter motors are located within a radius of 5 kilometers from the LG plant to reduce shipping costs. By the way, when opening its factory abroad, LG creates the conditions for opening its plants and partners. Thus, giving money to them, and stimulating the growth of the economy of their country. 100% of the components of the washing machines produced at the factory are manufactured in South Korea. Only selected materials from neighboring China and Japan can be imported. LG itself controls only the most important thing - the electronics that control the washing machine, and the appearance (actually, the case) of the model.

The plant employs about 1000 people (women20-30%), about 60 people work simultaneously on one assembly line (a total of 7). The working day lasts from 8 to 17 hours, every two hours the conveyor stops for a 10-minute break. And for an hour - for a lunch break. For processing (if the order for production is large) they pay extra separately, but processing cannot last more than 2-3 hours a day.

The company is constantly working to reduce noise inworkshops (we listen to the story of our factory guide through wireless headsets, and the LG manager, acting as a translator, uses a radio microphone) and takes maximum care of the comfort and safety of workers. For example, they are forbidden to lift spare parts weighing more than 5 kilograms - for this, semi-automatic robots with electric motors are designed that can carry loads of up to 200 kilograms. They move along special rails mounted on the floor. Their routes are indicated by bright ribbons pasted on the floor of the workshops. Each robot has its own driver, controlling the beginning and end of the movement. While we were walking around the workshop as a group, they stopped their cars and waited with varying degrees of patience on our faces, while we, staring 360 degrees on the sides and scribbling notes in notebooks on the occasion of the abandoned smartphones, gave way. As we were told, the battery charge of such a robot is enough for a full day. Everywhere at the factory (something similar I saw at the Jabil factory near Uzhgorod) there are signs with safety reminders. The phrase Foolproof (“protection against the fool”) was constantly catching my eye.

Production begins with huge sheets.metal, which gives the desired shape to the press - this procedure takes 7 seconds. The assembly line of the assembly line stretches for 300 meters; it takes only 5 minutes to complete the passage of the washing machine. Every minute 6 washing machines roll off the assembly line. One assembly line per shift is capable of producing 2500-3000 machines, the total capacity of the plant is about 20,000 washing machines per day. There is simply no warehouse for finished products - the cars are immediately loaded and transported to the port of Busan, from where they are sent to one of 170 countries of the world. The percentage of marriage, as I was told, is at the level of 0.4% - all washing machines have time to test on the assembly line. If the marriage is discovered, the car is dismantled, the cause is found out and the contractor is informed to correct the situation. There are no separate warehouses for components - they are constantly brought in for assembly. Every 20-30 minutes - small components, and every 2-3 hours - coarse-grained. In total, up to 5,000 tons of components are brought to the plant per shift.

How to assemble LG refrigerators

The factory was even more impressive, wherecollect LG refrigerators. Following the Japanese electronics manufacturers, South Korean companies are trying to transfer production to other countries, but the most high-tech devices (for refrigerators, for example, the older two-door models, stuffed with electronics and the Signature series) are produced only in their homeland, where the whole process is better controlled, and They also work out new technologies, which are subsequently transferred to other enterprises around the world. Therefore, if you have an LG refrigerator for a couple of thousand dollars, then it was almost certainly assembled at this factory. By the way, it is in this place that the realization of a simple fact comes: to transport such a colossus to the other end of the world, for many thousands of kilometers, probably costs a pretty penny. There is a feeling that the price of such a refrigerator costs 30-50%. This is not for you to transport and not a smartphone to transport.

In general, refrigerators are produced in South Korea with1956 year. The first factory for mass production of refrigerators LG built back in 1976. In 1984, LG first launched a kimchi refrigerator, the national Korean appetizer of Beijing cabbage, without which no meal can do. Kimchi in Korean families is harvested in large volumes, and special refrigerators (they differ in a larger temperature range than traditional ones - up to -1.5 ° in the main chamber and up to -20 ° in the freezer) allow you to better store kimchi at different stages of its preparation and storage . In 1998, LG mastered the production of "American" versions of refrigerators - with two side-by-side doors. In 2004, the first refrigerator appeared with a door to the door (in the first generation it was a reclining bar shelf). In 2006, LG refrigerators introduced water and ice dispensers. In 2016, the Signature premium line was launched, designed not for the mass market. And refrigerators also appeared in it. Today's Signature refrigerator is equipped with built-in cameras, a transparent display on the door acting as an Android tablet (read more about it in the previous article on LG smart home technology).

LG currently produces 10 millionrefrigerators per year. This is done by 8 factories in 7 countries: Russia, Poland, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and South Korea. As in the case of washing machines, the decision to open production in another country is made when it has its own huge sales market and its own characteristics. For example, the bottom location of the freezer, which we consider the most practical, is most popular in Europe. In the USA, as I mentioned, two-door models are in demand.

What affects this plant? Firstly, the size of the assembly line is its length of about 500 meters and it is curved in the form of the letter P to optimally accommodate in the shops of the plant. There are 5 such lines at the plant. One production line provides production of up to 2100 refrigerators per day and about 500 000 per year, releasing a new refrigerator from the conveyor every 16 seconds. The new refrigerator, like the washing machine, begins its journey with the press, where its body is formed. A special elevator is used to climb the conveyor line. The entire conveyor refrigerator runs in 2.5 hours. During this time, they manage to solder the compressor to it with a blowtorch. In the process, the refrigerator passes through 6 cameras and sensors that read the QR code and check the correct configuration of each specific product. It sounds fantastic, but at the same time, different models of refrigerators are assembled on the conveyor. Each can have its own equipment (for example, whether there is a water dispenser or not). Depending on the country, different refrigerant gas can be pumped into the refrigerator.

In the middle of the assembly line there is a board inreal-time demonstrating the operation of the conveyor. When we were in the workshop in the middle of the working day, there were numbers on the scoreboard: goal - 2100, plan - 1300, fact - 1129, that is, the conveyor was working behind schedule and workers were clearly waiting for overtime hours. In general, at this plant, the level of automation that does not require human participation is, as we were told, 35%. This indicator is planned to bring up to 50%. In 2022, LG plans to launch a new, fully computerized factory, where people will only service the equipment that makes the assembly of refrigerators. Now preparatory work is in full swing there - they write the software necessary for such work and debug all production processes. The experience gained will be gradually transferred to other plants in other countries. And part of the automated conveyor is already working at this plant.

In the dry residue

South Korean "dragons" are clearly following the path,beaten by Japanese companies, leaving the most technological production at home and opening factories around the world where there are consumer markets under them. In large household appliances, transportation is important and greatly affects the cost of the devices. At the same time, LG produces the most technologically advanced models only at factories in South Korea. The real revelation for me was that in its own washing machines and refrigerators, LG produces only critical components - inverter compressors, housings and electronics, outsourcing everything else. At the same time, keeping contractors on hand to simplify logistics. To reduce costs, production conditions have been created under which the plant does not have storage facilities for storing components and finished products - everything is transported in real time and immediately shipped to the port. The assembly itself comes from ready-made component blocks - each part is not soldered on the conveyor, working only with large-knot elements. Contrary to popular belief, the conveyor is stopped several times per shift to take a break. At the same time, the scale of production is amazing. It is terrible to imagine how difficult it is to organize such a colossus so that it works like a clock. Separately, it is amazing that on the conveyor they can simultaneously assemble different models for different markets: with different configurations and designed for different markets. The accuracy and scrupulousness of the work is controlled by electronics, which are increasingly trusted, planning to launch fully automated production in 2022, where the human factor will be minimized if not absent. That is what production in the 21st century should look like.

To be continued