Visiting the Sony Factory in Thailand, Ayutthaya

Visiting the Sony Factory in Thailand, Ayutthaya

Competition within the Digital Imaging category has been fierce in the recent years, with a noticeable shift of customers willing to pay more for smaller yet more capable and durable camera bodies. Sony's newer camera products tell a similar story: in June, we saw the release of the NEX-3 and NEX-5, two compact digital cameras with DSLR-sized APS-C sensors and interchangeable lenses; more recently in August, we saw the launch of the Alpha-33 and Alpha-55, both of which hold new patented mirror box that contains translucent mirrors, reducing the traditional DSLR girth by almost 1/4.

Hence, it was unsurprising that these cameras set the stage for the focal point of our visit in Thailand. The 24,307m2 Sony factory in Ayutthaya (also known as STT-A) has been in production since 1988, traditionally focusing on on TV manufacturing. Part of Sony's strategy to streamline manufacturing and keep costs down by choosing the most suitable locations (a decision based also on available expertise, and supplies), the company decided to shift production from TVs to digital cameras in 2009; it is now one of the two DSLR manufacturing plants for Sony with the other located in Gifu, Japan. Since then, the factory has been producing the new NEX-3, NEX-5, A33 and A55 cameras. E-mount lenses (SEL16 & SEL1855) and A-mount (SAL1855) kit lenses that are bundled with the main units are also manufactured at the STT-A factory.

The lenses are assembled in a dust-free Clean Room to ensure optimum quality. The camera body and other key parts are made in Thailand with the exception of the sensors - these are imported into STT-A for assembly from Japan. (Photo courtesy of Sony)

As these products are made for worldwide distribution - with Europe taking the lead with 41%, Asia 27% and Japan 15%. The 3,400 workers (as of last month) work through two shifts per day, with 215,000 sets made in the month of October. There's more work and expansion to come; by February next year, production of Sony's Cyber-shot cameras will be integrated into the STT-A factory production line. 

 In the Quality Assurance room, workers test the cameras' imaging capabilities with resolution and color charts. During the introductory period, every set is tested. Thereafter, 20 sets per line per shift are tested. (Photo courtesy of Sony)

While the shift of production does not necessarily mirror Sony's shift of focus in terms of products, it is prevalent to note that hybrid/mirrorless cameras of the same caliber are increasingly gaining traction from consumers as reflected in sales in Asia, especially Japan. That corresponds well with the factory's more centralized location in the SEA region as it is able to deliver products, that also cost lesser to make and quicker to a highly price-sensitive market. While the demand for their bulkier and more extensive DSLR counterparts is still there, it would seem that the growing market share for hybrid/mirrorless cameras is a formidable force to tackle - not only in terms of upping your competitors but also considering resources and locations for production.

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