We recently had the opportunity to visit Hisense South Africa‘s television assembly and fridge manufacturing plant in Atlantis in the Western Cape, to see just exactly how they go from factory floor to your front door.

And it’s a fascinating process.

The Atlantis plant was commissioned in 2013, and to date Hisense has invested R350 million in the land, buildings and productive assets. Capable of producing 400 000 television sets and fridges a year, it can produce 16 different television models and six different fridges.

It is also a huge assets to the local community, as 98% of the factory workers are from Atlantis. The idea behind the high number of locals, is that skills from the Chinese parent company can be transferred so that workers can ply their trade at any factory – not just Hisense – and also run the factory without the help of Chinese officials.

In terms of televisions, the Atlantis plant, which is the only Hisense assembly facility in South Africa, can make televisions from 32-inches up to 85-inches. Most models are powered by Android 4.2 and make use of a dual-core chip.

Perhaps most interesting is that Hisense’s development is one of a few credited with helping to reinvigorate a depressed area and bring much needed manufacturing jobs to the country. Since it opened, Samsung has also announced plans to manufacture in South Africa, and Hisense has said it intends to extend the factory line to include smartphones.

The birth of a television

Every television set needs a printed circuit board (PCB) that make up the brains of the operation.

Circuit board
Every television set needs a printed circuit board.

These boards are printed on-site and make up the technological back-bone of every set, as it is where the CPU, cables, software and all the transistors are housed. The parts that make up a PCB are incredibly small, which is why a pair of heavy-duty machines are tasked with inserting the smallest of parts.

The video below demonstrates the speed at which these machines operate, and its just astonishing to see the level of accuracy required. At the very end of the manufacturing process, the boards are inspected by a clever camera that detects minute defects. If any thing is detected, it is passed on to a worker who takes a closer look with a number of magnifying cameras and glasses.

After all the mechanical printing, probing and inserting, the final printed boards look like this:

PCB
The end product of the machine-produced boards.

 Inserting components

The printed cards are then carted in anti-static trolleys to a another section on the facility, where a row of workers insert the bigger electrical components. Interestingly, from the video below, you will notice that all the workers in this particular line are women. Hisense employs women for this particular part of the assembly process because it says women are better at paying attention to detail and accuracy.

The final board, after it has been printed, the additional components have been inserted by hand, and the contacts are soldered on.

Circuit board
The final board.

 Testing the components

After all the contacts have been soldered on and gone through a quality control process, the individual boards are tested for its functionality. The video below shows how one factory worker tests the RGB, HDMI, UHF and network ports.

One the connections have been established, he tests the boards functions by going through an on-screen menu for colour correction and basic operations. Hisense has about five or six people that test these components, and if done correctly through years of practice, it should take about a minute to complete the test.

Final assembly

Once the boards have been cleared of any defects, they are transported to the final assembly line. From here, they are screwed into place on a metal plate on the back of the panel that will eventually form the completed television set.

The LED panels used for the television sets are not made in South Africa, but everything else that goes into the set is.

As you can see from the video above, the panels make their way across the factory floor on a large conveyor belt. Workers stationed at various point along the belt are responsible for different tasks, such as inserting internal video cables, screwing on the speakers and taping down the loose wires.

Final test

After all the components have been inserted, taped down and screwed on, a final quality check is done. The A/V cables are connected and a worker checks the overall display quality through a set of mirrors.

From there, the sets are moved along the conveyor belt to a different room, where it is boxed, accessories added and shipped to the warehouse.

Charlie started his professional life as a motoring journalist for a community newspaper in Mpumalanga, Charlie explored different journalistic angles since his entry into the fast-paced world of publishing in 2006. While fostering a passion for the arts, Charlie developed a love for technology – both which allowed him to serve as Entertainment and Technology Editor for an online publication. Charlie has since been heavily involved in consumer technology for various websites and publications. He thoroughly enjoys World War II films and cerebral documentaries; aviation; photography and indie music. Oh yes, and he also has a rather strange obsession with collecting coffee mugs from his travels.