Site: Sony Corporation
6-7-35, Kitashinagawa
Tokyo 141, Japan

Date Visited: October 4 and 5, 1993

Report Author: N. Naclerio



P. Barela
W. Boulton
N. Naclerio


Yoshiyuki Kaneda

Yoshiyuki Yamada

Takehisa Okada

Junzo Wachi

Yunosuke Hayakawa

Yoshiko Numata

Koichi Motegi


Sony Corporation has $34.4 billion in worldwide sales, of which $10.5 billion is in the U.S., $8.9 billion is in Japan, $9 billion is in Europe, and $6 billion is in Asia and other areas. Sony has 126,000 employees with 35 manufacturing plants in Japan, 13 in North America, 14 in Asia, and 14 in Europe. The company is organized around business sectors including audio products (audio components, general audio, automotive, and personal communications); video products (personal video, home video); television; personal information systems; and business and professional products. Our host, Mr. Kaneda, was responsible for component technologies (including semiconductors, electronic devices, batteries, and recording media) and factory automation.

Mr. Kaneda described the borderless, global marketplace in which Sony competes for new and existing markets. He stated that in addition to building creative products, it is necessary to develop production innovations and equipment for advanced assembly and ultraprecision in order to maximize the company's value added and profits.


Precision Manufacturing And Concurrent Engineering

Mr. Hayakawa stressed the importance of precision manufacturing and concurrent engineering in order to produce compact, lightweight, and highly reliable products. As an example, for the TR5 camcorder (introduced in 1989), product planning began with a vision of a video recorder that would fit in the palm of one hand. This fixed the external dimensions of the recorder and drove the size of the circuit board and recording head. Development work began concurrently at the design divisions for issues of high-density component packages, assembly, PCB, IC, tape transport mechanism, recording cylinder and head, lens, and high-density recording tape. Simultaneously, development began in the respective production technology organizations.

In the area of printed circuit board technology, the product requirements meant the use of the very latest surface mount technology. Subsequent versions of the TR5 reduced the PCB size by 75%. In order to achieve 100 Ám solder lands with 100 micron spaces, Sony developed a low melting point solder with more uniformly shaped and sized solder particles and a new metal screen technology for more uniform printing. The TR1 camcorder introduced in 1992 achieves 20 components/sq. cm, or about twice the component density of the TR5. Sony feels that future products will require 30 components/sq. cm. Discrete surface mount components as small as 1.0 mm by 0.5 mm are currently being used. Surface mount technology is also used in Sony's larger products because it is less costly, higher performance, and can be manufactured with higher quality and reliability than through-hole technology.

Another example of the need for precision manufacturing in the camcorder is in the recording head. In the manufacture of the very narrow head with 0.3 micron head gap, it was necessary to cut ferrite material to a thickness of 2 microns and a height of 110 microns. This required the development of a spindle to precisely control a diamond blade. The head is wound 55 times with 30 micron wire that must pass through small slots in the head. This required the development of a precision winding machine. The development of these machine tools proceeded concurrently with the design of the product which could not have been built with production equipment available in the marketplace. Therefore, according to Mr. Hayakawa, "manufacturing of the required production equipment must be done in-house. This has become a truly creative activity because it makes the manufacturing of creative products possible."

Sony has turned its expertise in factory automation into a new product area. Sony sells most of the equipment it develops to outside customers. We toured the FA demonstration center and surface mount (SMT) assembly training center where customers come to learn how to operate an SMT line. Sony's FA group has grown to about $500 million a year in revenue, with 80% of that still coming from internal Sony customers.

Materials And Process Technology

Also cited as important were materials and process expertise. As an example, the design of the compact disk player was cited. The heart of a compact disk player is the optical pickup head. In designing the head, Sony considered alternative methods of precision assembly with regards to suitability for automation, reliability, and contribution to size, weight, and cost reduction. Adhesive bonding was the best method for size, weight, and cost reduction, but was poor in the areas of reliability and automation. Because it offered significant product advantages, Sony decided to focus on improving the productivity of the bonding technique. Key parameters to optimize were surface preparation, bonding agent, and process control technique. Sony developed a light ray cleaning method to improve surface wetability and selected nine different bonding agents for joining various components in the pickup head. Sony now manufactures 60% of all the world's optical pickup assemblies.

Added Value and the Importance of Manufacturing Key Components

Mr. Hayakawa stressed the importance of manufacturing key components of a product from the viewpoint of value added. In the case of a compact disk player manufactured by Sony, only 10% of the value added comes from assembly. In contrast, the key devices (optical pickup, semiconductors, lenses, motors, transformers, and PCBs) account for 55% of the total product cost. Similarly in the case of the 8 mm camcorder, assembly is about 12% of the added value, and key devices (CCD, ICs, drum, PCB, magnetic head, motor, lenses, viewfinder, and sensors) make up about 60%. Sony manufactures about 60% of the key devices for the compact disk player and about 45% of the key devices for the 8 mm camcorder, and it intends to increase both percentages in order to increase profitability.

In the case of the Video Walkman, Sony's palm-sized TV/VCR, Sony procures the display from an "associate" company. According to Mr. Kaneda, the miniaturization technology for the electronics and tape transport mechanism was more important than the display technology in realizing the products. The only flat panel displays manufactured by Sony are for use in camcorder viewfinders. Sony feels that LCD technology is only applicable to moderate-sized displays and that its Trinitron CRT technology is superior for wide-screen, high-definition applications.

Effectiveness of Automation

In addition to processes that require automation in order to achieve precision that cannot be achieved with human hands, Sony cites several other benefits from its use of automation. These include reductions in factory start-up time, in manufacturing defects, and in manpower requirements.

In the case of the optical pickup head for the compact disk player, early manufacturing involved manual assembly and adjustment by highly skilled technicians. Worker training limited Sony's ability to ramp production and expand overseas. Automation of the line took a lot of preparation, but was accomplished in four months. Replicated lines in Singapore and France took only two to three weeks to bring up to speed. The operators got one month of training in the Japanese factory prior to startup of the overseas plants.

In the case of color television production, robots were introduced to replace 99% of the manual parts insertion. In addition to the reduction in labor costs, the defect ratio was reduced by 90%, the PCB rework rate was reduced by 75%, and the increased product uniformity allowed Sony to greatly simplify final product adjustments.

In the case of the Walkman a completely automated assembly and adjustment system was installed. Defect levels during initial manual assembly were 0.2% in the first week and 0.1% in three months. However, during the first week of automated assembly, the defect rate dropped to a steady 20 PPM. The introduction of subsequent Walkman models into the same factory required additional investments of 9.1%, 3.5%, and 1.5%, respectively, for the product changeovers. In addition, the time to bring up the new systems dropped from six weeks to five weeks, then to three weeks, and finally to one week.

As a result of Sony's skills in automation, coupled with its focus on design for manufacturability, it was able to increase sales by 121% between 1987 and 1990 with only a 35% increase in the number of direct operating employees. Manufacturing processes are first established and streamlined in terms of manpower, equipment, and materials, then the final system is automated. Because of the heavy use of automation, an increasing fraction of the operators at Sony are involved in maintenance and indirect operations. Sony employs over 1000 people in its factory automation and precision products group and 300 in production technology within Mr. Kaneda's organization.

Quality and Reliability

According to Mr. Kaneda, any product introduced into the marketplace must have high quality and reliability. Sony tries to reuse well characterized components from previous products in order to achieve high quality in newly introduced products. As much as possible, basic failure mechanisms are identified in the prototyping stages. Once failure mechanisms are understood, stress tests can be designed using heat, environment, or time.

Product Lifecycles

Product lifecycles are determined by market conditions. On average, minor product changes occur about once a year. However, in the case of the Sony Walkman, new models are introduced every six months or less. Major model changes that require the introduction of new technology occur only once every three to five years. Sony is working to prolong the product's life in the marketplace.

Advanced Packaging Technology

Sony has a 3 dB theory. That means that the next generation of any product should cost half as much and be one-third the size and weight. In order to reduce the size of the next generation of products by 30%, multichip module technology will be required. At the time of the JTEC visit, Sony was not using MCMs in any products because they were too expensive. However, Sony was planning to develop the equipment and processes necessary to manufacture them more cheaply.

Product Design

A standard design system is used within Sony. The company does not enforce this on external suppliers; they can maintain their independent design styles. Internal and external suppliers are both generally part of the product team from very early in the product life cycle. External suppliers are expected to make investments in new production technology. FA people are always an integral part of the product team. Product design includes reducing the number of components and standardizing components as well as manufacturing methods. Design for assembly difficulty is measured by design and production engineers using a standardized methodology. Design for assembly software was in use at the time of the JTEC visit, and design for disassembly software was expected to be available within one year. The focus on disassembly is driven by end-use markets such as Germany where some stringent requirements are already being discussed. Full 3-D modeling is available for design of products.


Sony invests about $2 billion per year in R&D, two-thirds of which is product development. It has four corporate laboratories and nine development groups located within the product groups. Sony maintains R&D labs around the world. In the United States, there are two major technology centers - one in San Jose, CA, and one in Montvale, NJ - and several small laboratories, some of which are collocated with manufacturing operations. The research center in Yokohama consists of five departments: Semiconductors, Materials, Materials Characterization, Computational Materials Science, and Seeds Laboratories. The Seeds Laboratories focus on specific new materials or devices. The center has recently developed a blue laser diode for optical recording, new materials and devices for magnetic recording, and lithium ion batteries

As technologies mature, they are transferred to manufacturing organizations. For example, CCD imaging was a top priority in the early seventies. Once the first CCD camera was demonstrated, the group was transferred to a semiconductor production site to begin designing the pilot and production lines. Battery technology, MOCVD GaAs, and magnetic recording-related technologies have also been spun out to product groups, as was the plan for the blue laser diode in the near future. The main vehicle for technology transfer seems to be the movement of people. Researchers generally come to the research center directly from universities. After working at the research center for a number of years they go out to the product groups and remain there so that they can develop and modify the technology in the field of their expertise. From there, they go on to implement the technology in manufacturing. As a result, very few of these people return to the Research Center.

Most R&D is "needs"-oriented. Product ideas evaluated and selected by top management, at times by the chairman himself, necessitate specific technology development. For example, the palm-sized camcorder required a small sized CCD, a small lens, a high-density printed circuit board, and other key technologies. By specifying timetables and clear targets, R&D funds are allocated to those areas requiring the most acceleration. Currently, 20-30% of the center's R&D is funded by the product groups, and the corporation is trying to increase that amount to 50%. One engineer in every research group is assigned the responsibility for marketing the technology to the product groups. In addition, annual technology fairs are held to showcase ongoing R&D products to the product groups. A new corporate "development laboratory" has been established to further develop new products that might not fit into any existing product group.

We did not see any advanced packaging R&D being conducted at the Research Center. MCM development is reportedly underway within the semiconductor division and within the Production Technology Development Group's High-Density Mount Laboratory located in Tokyo. Sony Chemical, a subsidiary, is reportedly doing advanced PWB research.

One complex new piece of materials analysis equipment was being operated by an American who recently earned a Ph.D. at a leading U.S. research institution. He said that he came to the research center because it was the best equipped in the world for the work that he wanted to do.


O. Uchida - President
T. Kono - Senior Executive Director
H. Yamada - Engineering and Design

The plant was established in 1972 and currently designs and manufactures Sony's advanced 8 mm camcorder products. Products include 8 mm camcorders and tape decks and key components such as tape drums, tape transport mechanisms, and reference tape. The key components manufactured at Kohda are primarily exported to overseas Sony assembly plants. The plant also manufactures some low-volume products such as editors, special effects generators, and color printers. The plant employs 2,040 people including 200 engineers, half of whom are production engineers. The plant has a capacity to produce 550,000 recording drums and 250,000 camcorders per month. Overseas plants primarily do final assembly and manufacture some commodity products like standard quality recording tape.

The tape drum, transport mechanism, and PCB are key components of the camcorder because they determine the picture quality, reliability, and intelligence of the unit, respectively. Other key components such as the CCD, LCD viewfinder, and ICs are manufactured at other Sony plants. The most advanced production technologies are employed including precision processing, automated assembly, high-density surface mounting, and automatic picture quality adjustment. The plant was ISO 9002 certificated at the time of the JTEC visit; it received ISO 9001 certification in November 1993.

The majority of the operation is automated with Sony FA and precision assembly equipment. According to Sony, the level of automation for various tasks are: 98% for SMD placement, 100% for drum manufacture, 98% for standard tape deck assembly, 71% for compact tape deck assembly, 100% for CCD assembly, and 75% for camera adjustment. The lower level of automation for the most compact tape deck is due to the need for lots of adjustments. Much of the final product assembly that does not require much precision is done manually. Two exceptions are video adjustment and system testing, which is fully automated using a very impressive system.

The SMT factory we visited was producing PCBs for the TR1 camcorder. Each card contains approximately 1400 components. The primary bottleneck in the plant is the flow of materials to the assembly machines, which have to handle up to 100 part types. The CIM system identifies which placement machines are going to run out of parts and notifies an operator approximately 30 minutes in advance. When operators reload the machines, bar code readers verify that the correct parts have been loaded. Only one PWB type at a time is manufactured on any one SMT line. Minor product changeovers take about 15 minutes, but a major product changeover could take two to four hours. Machine instructions are downloaded from a factory CIM system. It appeared that the majority of the SMT assembly time was consumed with the placement of small discrete devices. The engineering manager said that the company was looking at new methods of feeding the components to the placement head that would cut placement time and also looking at the use of thick-film hybrids with integral passive components for higher frequency applications such as HDTV.

The tape drum factory we visited is completely automated and produces the complete tape drum starting from bars of aluminum. The material handling system for the partially manufactured drums resembles vacuum cleaner hoses draped from station to station through which the tape heads roll. During the final assembly steps the recording head must be positioned in a groove in the cylinder with plus or minus one micron accuracy. In order to achieve this, a vision system inspects each drum and measures certain critical dimensions. One of perhaps 100 spacers is placed between the drum and the head that will result in plus or minus five micron placement accuracy of the recording head. The screw that holds the head in place is then tightened under computer control to achieve the final plus or minus one micron accuracy. This simple but elegant solution presumably achieves the necessary accuracy without the expense of machining every head to the final dimensional accuracy. It should be noted that the final assembly step just described, as well as several of the other manufacturing steps, are accomplished using specialized machines built by Sony.

The assembly of the tape decks is accomplished with over 100 Sony precision assembly robots organized into 6-8 parallel production lines. During the time that JTEC panelists were touring the plant we saw a couple of events where a yellow light alerted an operator to come and assist with some operation. Generally, the operator spent no more than a minute or two before he had the machine back in operation. It appeared that there was approximately one operator per dozen robots in the plant. Our hosts told us that when a robot failure cannot be fixed quickly a new robot may have to be brought in to replace it. During the time a production line is down, all but a few high-precision operations can be replaced by human operators. Failures that take a robot down for an entire shift happen about once every six months.

In the final assembly operation, the tape deck, camera, and PCB are brought together. Once the major subassemblies have been brought together, the camcorders are powered up and focused on a series of images. A fully automated system makes 6-8 adjustments to the picture quality of each camcorder and burns the settings into an onboard PROM. Partially through the process, a robot inserts a tape into the camcorder and tests the record and playback functions. The fully tested and adjusted camcorders then proceed down an assembly line to a series of stations where operators manually perform the final assembly steps including the attachment of flex wiring circuits to the external case. This line produces approximately 1,200 camcorders per shift.

Product and production design for the 8 mm camcorder products is also located at the Kohda plant. The design center is located in the upper stories of the factory building directly over the production floor. The engineers work in a open space with lots of paper drawings and actual hardware lying around. A glass-walled room contains a mainframe computer and a number of workstations. At the time of the JTEC visit, CADAM, a 2-D mechanical CAD package was in use for the design of the robots and the mechanical assemblies. It is interesting to note that these two operations were going on at adjacent workstations, a sight not likely to be seen in the United States. The engineers rely on the reuse of common components across and within product lines to shorten development time. For example, Sony manufactures a family of tape transport mechanisms that are used in both its camcorders and its Watchman.


Sony is a best-of-breed worldwide consumer electronics company. Its leadership appears to be based on a combination of innovative products, precision manufacturing skills, and continuous improvement. Our hosts credit Sony's leadership in the manufacture of high-quality, low-cost electromechanical products to its leadership in precision assembly equipment, materials and processes, and factory automation. From what we saw, it certainly appears to be a leader in precision assembly. That leadership is further demonstrated by its ability to market its precision assembly and FA systems to other manufacturers. Sony's focus on in-house production and integration of factory equipment seemed fairly consistent with other companies we visited in Japan, but in stark contrast with the direction of leading U.S. electronics companies. While Sony's investments seem justified in areas such as machining the recording head or assembly of the tape transport mechanisms, where the company has succeeded in producing unique and competitive equipment, its investments seem less justified in areas such as surface mount assembly, where numerous companies produce comparable equipment.

According to Sony representatives, "creativity" has always been an important concept at Sony, one of the leaders in introducing new and innovative products to the market. In order to manufacture those products, Sony has been developing new equipment, and that is where its strength lies. It also has a flexible policy that promotes the effective use of existing manufacturing equipment available in the open market.

Like Sony's competency in factory equipment, its strong competencies in materials and processing appear to be a competitive differentiator in the marketplace. Examples like the development of solder paste for very-fine-pitch component assembly, or the exploitation of adhesive bonding for the compact disk optical pickup, seem to demonstrate the value of its process. Few if any U.S. electronics firms have comparable depth in the materials arena.

Sony also recognizes the importance of controlling the manufacturing of its critical components. However, according to Sony representatives, it is not Sony's policy to concentrate manufacturing of key components in Japan. In fact, its corporate policy promotes local manufacturing. This concept is valid for key components as well as products, and thus Sony has many key components plants located within the region of product manufacturing plants on a worldwide basis.

Sony, like other Japanese companies the JTEC team visited, seems almost obsessed with the use of automation to increase productivity and quality. The only tasks being done by humans were those that did not require much precision or perhaps were too expensive to automate, such as the final assembly of the camcorder case.

Our hosts seem to recognize the importance of electronic packaging as a competitive differentiator. They listed the PCB as a key component of both the camcorder and the compact disk player. Sony seems to be pushing surface mount assembly to its limits through incremental refinements rather than any revolutionary technology. Based on our observations, one of the biggest drivers for a change in packaging technology at Sony is reducing the number of discrete components needing assembly on PWBs. While digitization of the electronics and increased IC integration will certainly help, a substrate technology with integral passive components would drastically reduce part count and provide a significant area savings.

Published: February 1995; WTEC Hyper-Librarian