From the outside, it’s not as cool as Apple’s huge donut-shaped campus, but Samsung Electronics’ South Korean design center is still a pretty interesting place, and not just because, among other things, the coolest smartphones with foldable displays are on mobile devices. the market is born here.
If someone had asked me 15 years ago what I thought of Samsung, I probably would have answered without hesitation that they framed the iPhone very cleverly, referring to accusations that the South Korean manufacturer blatantly copied Apple’s debut in 2007 year with its first smartphones. mobile. A decade and a half is quite a long time, especially in the technology sector, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that if the roles have not changed, now the roles have equalized.
Apple, for example, has been far from being famous for its innovations for some time now, for example, the features of Android competitors are included in their new phones with a delay of several years, and while there is no doubt that Apple smartphones are still very popular, Samsung has already many years is the leader of the world market of mobile communication. A company that is already far away in some areas Tim Cook ahead of the company led by
The Galaxy Z Fold5 and Galaxy Z Flip5 were officially unveiled at the end of July, the manufacturer held a large-scale presentation at his home in Seoul, South Korea, where 24.hu was also the official representative. During the trip, we were not only able to get our hands on new devices in front of almost everyone, but also looked behind the scenes, entering the company’s development center called Samsung Digital City and the complex where tireless robots assemble the manufacturer’s latest miracle phones.
From nothing to the top
South Korea is one of the most developed countries today, which is a good result considering the fact that more than seventy years ago, the Cold War’s bloodiest conflict, the Korean War, essentially destroyed what was then an extremely poor country. Founded in 1938 and still operating as a retail company at the time, Samsung was instrumental in the relatively rapid rise of South Korea, which is now considered one of the twenty largest companies in the world. Of course, this also required the company itself to benefit significantly from the resources the government had made available since the late 1960s so that the country could catch up with countries that were considered technological superpowers at the time, such as Japan or Germany.
It’s worth noting here that Samsung is a huge conglomerate, and only one of its subsidiaries is Samsung Electronics, which specializes in tech products.
The corporate empire is present, among other things
- in the construction industry,
- in the production of batteries and displays,
- in the field of insurance
- also provides financial services,
- but they deal with hotels,
- with shipbuilding
- as well as fashion items.
The conglomerate accounts for almost twenty percent of South Korea’s GDP, as well as about the same amount of exports.
Samsung Electronics was founded in 1969 in Suwon, 30 kilometers from Seoul, where it initially produced black and white cathode ray tube televisions. The subsidiary’s research and development center is still located here, called Samsung Digital City (not to be confused with Seoul’s Samsung Town, which serves as the base for a conglomerate made up of several skyscrapers), and there is no name. an exaggeration, since the headquarters is essentially a city within a city.
The walled area extends over several million square meters, has a multi-lane road network and pedestrian crossings, and is home to almost 140 buildings, employing an average of 37,000 employees, a significant number of whom are transported from the area to their workplace by the company park with at least 500 buses every day.
In the center of the “city” there are five large office buildings, the tallest of which has 40 floors, and the construction of the last tower was completed in 2014. Of course, the complex of buildings is not as spectacular as Apple’s round campus, but the design and services available to employees can still be envied.
Office buildings are connected by a green area called Central Park, but you can also travel underground between the buildings, and dozens of cafes, restaurants and all kinds of shops try to satisfy the needs of workers. You can stop by Dunkin Donuts for coffee or donuts anytime, or do some easy shopping before heading home. And that’s not all: the Digital City, among other things, has its own fire department and hospital, and 900 children are brought up in kindergartens here. The last two services are part of the benefits, and the caregivers and childcare professionals are also Samsung employees.
The complex gives the impression of a utopian city: the streets are clean, green spaces are well maintained, people go about their business under multi-colored umbrellas on the sidewalk. There are approximately 10,000 yellow, purple, green and blue accessories on campus, and there is a storage room in front of each building where you can take or leave one of them. During the summer monsoon in South Korea, heavy rain can fall from the sky at any moment, but umbrellas come in handy even in weather like the one we had during our visit: temperatures from 30 to 34 degrees and humidity above 80 percent . Going out into the sun is literally on fire, so it’s no surprise that employees take umbrellas with them even for a walk of several hundred meters.
It’s not just these helpful accessories that keep employees comfortable: On the bus heading for the central buildings, we pass football and basketball courts, which are also designed with employees in mind, and at the bottom of one of the larger buildings, there’s a gym that rivals gyms. domestic malls, as well as a huge swimming pool and climbing wall waiting for workers. In addition, there is also a large dining room with a projector that takes up the entire wall at the entrance, showing the daily menu, from traditional Korean dishes to Subway-style sandwiches. Choose from 90 different meals per day including breakfast, lunch and dinner.
At the gates of the future
The press is not even allowed into the towers (or higher) for a reason: in fact, we are inside the brain of Samsung Electronics, behind the entrance gate, maintained by strict security, specialists are working on the company’s darkest secrets, developing devices of the future, such as phones, televisions and other gadgets that the company is likely to reveal only a few years later.
To give an example, the company released its first smartphone with a foldable display, the Galaxy Fold, in 2019, but nine years of development preceded the commercially available version. All this took place within the walls of the Digital City (every Galaxy device is “born” here), and there is a fairly high probability that in one of the laboratories on the levels above us, even when we were there, engineers were working on the same technologies, the fruits of which – perhaps , still unimaginable today – we won’t be able to get our hands on it until the end of the decade.
That said, innovation is not only about professionals trying to come up with solutions that will eventually become part of commercially available devices, but the company is also devoting significant resources to the development of already existing technologies and manufacturing processes.
At first glance, this doesn’t seem as exciting as making a rollable display, but it’s quite a challenge for a manufacturer, such as the fact that the components needed to run phones can fit into smaller and smaller spaces from time to time. time, while productivity not only decreases, but also increases exponentially.
A less interesting detail for one-time users is how to optimize production so that there is as little waste, unnecessary raw materials and, of course, time as possible – although these are important things that not only affect how much a given device will cost, but also how much can be made from it in a given period of time. In addition to new technologies, Digital City is the cradle of increasingly advanced manufacturing solutions, which, among other things, allow Samsung to be the absolute market leader in the segment of smartphones with foldable displays.
It is not enough to develop a device, it must also be produced in sufficient quantities and delivered to stores, all so that at the end of the whole process the company will make a profit. Samsung is currently unbeatable in this regard: there are smartphones with foldable displays from other manufacturers that are even better than the Z Fold and Z Flip in some characteristics, but due to manufacturing difficulties, they often do not even officially leave China, but are not available or difficult to obtain. on the European market.
The mesmerizing charm of monotony
Although during the visit we did not manage to visit the real Digital City witch’s kitchen, we were able to see what exactly the connoisseurs had prepared. However, this is another industrial city of Gumi, a three-hour drive from Seoul, where another large Samsung site is located.
Although the complex is smaller than Suwon’s Digital City, its design is the same professionalism: neat parks, a well-maintained road network, buildings for various purposes and, of course, the inevitable colorful umbrellas. Here, however, we have already reached the places where the “magic” happens: for example, the room where the efficient processes conceived in the development center were translated into reality. Cars are lined up side by side as far as the eye can see, and behind the plexiglass, industrious robots pack Samsung’s famous flagship devices like the Galaxy S23 Ultra or wonder phones with flexible displays.
Each machine is responsible for a separate element of the process (for example, a memory or a sensor is inserted), and devices move along the pipeline from one machine to another, and as we pass by them, we can witness how the components gradually become a recognizable device. In this case, the machines not only perform assembly, but also check the inserted parts, and sometimes it happens that an unfinished mobile phone ends up in the storage area of \u200b\u200beach station, which indicates that the system has detected some kind of “abnormality” with this instance.
The process is almost completely automated, the specialists only control the machines, and as the final chord of production, in the case of one of the Galaxy Z Fold models, we could observe how workers manually stick a protective film on the inside of the screen. display on devices that are going to be packaged.
The whole procedure is extremely monotonous, but still capable of bewitching the person subject to it, since the most complex system, working with the precision of a clockwork, tirelessly spits out ready-to-sell smartphones. All this is the result of developments in Suwon, and the Gumi plant visited is actually a test environment that, after successful use, will be adapted to other Samsung plants, thus ensuring the production capacity and quality already mentioned above.
The system is not yet perfect (just like the company’s mobile phones are not developing as much as we would like), because during our visit it just happened that at one of the stations the entire production process stopped, as a result of which a number of cars began to flash. red lights. At the same time, engineers fixing a problem in minutes and innovative devices rolling off the assembly line despite their faults are good evidence that Samsung Electronics has long since left the period when we were still talking about it. it’s like a company shamelessly copying its competitors.