Tracing 50 Years of Korea’s Electronics Industry Development

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Memoir of TFT LCD
Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

The eighth installment in a twelve-part series - Ed.

Kim Hong-in

President of Korea Nitto Optical Corporation, Kim Hong-in

A Fateful Meeting

Tokyo, 1990 - a New Project Business Plan Researcher from Samsung spotted the strangest yet most incredible device while visiting NTT Docomo. Not only was it the first time for him to see the small flat screen, but this black and white display also showed a man jumping rope without an after-image. "This is what they call TFT LCD," a reporter who accompanied him to the site said.

When a New Business Plan Researcher from Samsung Questioned What Art Thou

When most Koreans were still trying to get their hands on basic color televisions, Japan had already shifted their focus to thin film transistor liquid crystal display (TFT LCD). Shortly after the visit, the researcher Kim Hong-in found a venture company Hoshiden whose technology strength was equivalent to Sharp. And Sharp was the number one LCD company at the time. "1990 was the third year of the former chairman Lee Gun-hee since his succession of Samsung Electronics. When I learned that Hoshiden wanted to have Samsung as an investor to further develop their technology, we organized that nation's first LCD panel exhibition at the Okura Hotel in Tokyo. We invited the chairman Lee Gun-hee to this exhibition," Kim Hong-in continued, "The moment he saw the 8.4-inch color LCD screen with zero after-image, he said, 'This is it!'"

This is IT

Half of the TFT LCD technology is semiconductor technology. The Golden Age for semiconductors was the early nineties for Samsung. During a blind meeting with Hoshiden's TFT LCD that led to a prosperous partnership by sharing the common ground. Meanwhile, Samsung sought to launch the TFT LCD Project as the next generation business.

"It is then we learned Samsung SDI, the Braun tube maker, has already been exchanging TFT LCD technology with an American venture company. I suggested to Chairman Lee Gun-hee to send about 50 semiconductor personnel to Samsung SDI. However, he envisioned a bigger picture and encouraged SDI staff and engineers to join the semiconductor division," Kim Hong-in recalled.

Road Taken

Straight from guts and from a scratch, Samsung started to research and develop TFT LCD technology one by one. "I returned to Korea from Tokyo to be in charge of the project. The engineers and I stayed up most of the nights at the semiconductor factory and we succeeded to make a pilot line within six months. This is when we were recognized in the global market as an emerging company. Not only we succeeded to develop the top quality semiconductor products and we did it within a short period of time. Moreover, we also came up with a TFT LCD pilot line in six months. This was an inspiration for other engineers in the field around the world," said Kim.

Kim recalled, "Before I became a project manager of TFT LCD project, I was at the Tokyo base as a new project business plan researcher and planner. I had many friends in Japan and when I told them I am about to start developing TFT LCD, they smiled and said that every new business takes at least three generations to bloom fully." Mr. Kim continued to say, "That was indeed true. We considered this as more of a family business. I planted a TFT LCD seed with the other engineers and staff with frontier spirits, and then the second and the third project managers have continuously watered and tended the garden to see the TFT LCD fully bloom."

"To produce a TFT LCD panel that satisfies quality, cost, and delivery (QCD), we needed to improve three areas: driver IC, color filter, and glass. Even if we have our own LCD technology, we predicted that we would still be challenged on the subject of mass production if we kept on importing LCD components and materials. Having the mass production in three years was the company's top priority. We needed to look for companies that have much potential to invest and to develop next generation glass, driver IC, and color filter. It was hard to persuade them, but I knocked on their doors until they all agreed to do so. In three years, we were being able to compete against any LCD company in the world," Kim explained.

Legend and Legacy

Although it was quite a challenge to develop TFT LCD technology from a scratch, but the hard work was worthwhile. New plants keep sprouting in the display industry, shouting its thirst for better technology in the areas of 3D, AMOLED, and flexible display.

Kim Hong-in has kept a frontier spirit for 26 dedicated years at Samsung and is still involved in LCD business. He now is the President that produces polalyzing film and is the number one polalyzing film company in the world, Nitto Denko.

"In the process of developing TFT LCD on our own, there were overwhelming moments where we felt as though we were walking on a long and winding road. But we saw the future that lied ahead. We could clearly see that once we overcame the difficulties, we could compete in the global display market for the next twenty years. Now looking back, we all were happy front runners, gardeners, and producers. My personal journey will continue to plant seeds in new business areas, and I am sure many companies around the world including Samsung will do the same," President Kim Hong-in concluded.

Full Series Schedule
For those interested in past or future issues of this series, here isthe full schedule of the series:

July 2009: an overview
August 2009: The electronics industry is born
September 2009: Electronics industry gains momentum
October 2009: Color TV production opens a new vista
November 2009: Radios, cassettesand electronic watches change lifestyle
December 2009: The personal computer arrives
January 2010: TDX1 introduced into the local network
February 2010: TFT LCD allows determination of film thickness
March 2010: CDMA comes into commercial use
April 2010: U-technologies (part 1)
June 2010: U-technologies (part 2)
July/August 2010 : WiMAX opens

September 2010 : Era of IPTV

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