Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How RCA Lost the LCD

From the IEEE Spectrum article, "Today, companies in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan dominate the LCD industry. Meanwhile, the corporation that started it all has faded from memory, purchased by General Electric in 1986. Nevertheless, RCA’s technological legacy can be seen in every LCD wristwatch, calculator, laptop, and television. All of these screens trace their origins to that firm’s laboratories and factories. As much as they are portals to the digital future, liquid crystal displays are also reminders of a past filled with possibilities for the once-dominant American electronics industry. And in their story are lessons for any technology company willing to learn them."

Masahiro Kadomatsu, the former chairman of Asahi Glass used to remark about how US scientists could be so inventive while US management could be so awful, particularly being short sighted. At one point in time, Kodak was the world's sole source for liquid crystal, Corning's sunglases plant in Harrodsburg, KY was the sole source of LCD substrate glass. RCA developed the liquid crystal chemistry as well as switching mechanisms such as IPS and Westinghouse, invented the active matrix driving technique. Of these 4, only Corning retains a place in the LCD manufacturing supply chain. For the others, particularly for RCA, bad results from management decisions overwhelmed great technology coming out of their labs. There was a period of at least 50 years when every new major consumer technology went through a period where it only existed at RCA's Sarnoff Labs, now Sarnoff is no more. For a more complete history of LCD development see "Liquid Gold: The story of Liquid Crystal Displays and the Development of an Industry", there is an Amazon link to the book in the Recommended section on the sidebar. The book was written by Joe Castellano, a former RCA researcher and the inventor of IPS.

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