In a five-storey building in the central Korean industrial city of Gumi, a young woman may be snapping together your brand new Samsung Galaxy S5 right now. We took a small group trip to Samsung's Galaxy S5 factory line to see how your phone is coming together.
About 120 miles south of Seoul, Gumi is a government-designated factory city that churns out electronics for export. Samsung's "smart city" complex makes some of the company's top smartphones, and it's flanked by similar factories owned by LG and other major Korean industrial firms. If your phone says "Made in Korea," it probably comes from Gumi.
The Galaxy S5 parts come shipped in from around the world; what happens in Gumi is primarily assembly, testing, and packaging. Robots that look like giant plotters spit chips and diodes from long strips of plastic onto circuit boards, with some components as tiny as two tenths of a millimetre. Once they're mostly assembled, they're handed over to humans to remove some little bits of tape, press some boards together, snap on the backs, test voice quality and put the S5s into their boxes for shipping.
Robotic trucks trundle along, pick up the boxes, read barcodes, and bring them to the shipping floor. Unlike some other phone companies, Samsung does almost all of its manufacturing in-house rather than outsourcing to big Chinese firms like Foxconn.
One of the most striking aspects of the line was how almost all the workers I saw were young women. Checking out the factory roster, it looked like the assemblers were almost entirely women, while the "repair" staff were almost entirely men. A Samsung rep later told me that the Gumi assembly job is considered a solid position for girls to take out of school. Some quit when they get married; others go to an extension university right on the Samsung campus and get degrees.
I've been to other mobile phone factory lines in China, and – big surprise – Samsung's Korean facilities are newer, brighter, physically smaller, and more tightly focused. Using a "cell system" where four staffers work in tandem rather than a traditional assembly line, the Gumi factory can churn out tens of thousands of phones a day, Samsung said.
Take a look at the pictures below to see who might be assembling your Galaxy S5...
We travelled to the Gumi plant on Samsung's helicopter shuttle service. Any Samsung employee with a business-critical reason can take the shuttle, which hops between Samsung offices in Seoul, Suwon, and Gumi.
Samsung's campus in Gumi makes smartphones, fibre optics, and other electronics. Yes, there's a park in the middle with a red British telephone box in it. No, it doesn't have an actual telephone in it.
Samsung Galaxy building
The Galaxy S5 phones are assembled on two floors of this building, as well as in other plants around the world. This building was assembling phones for Korean and Japanese carriers, as well as AT&T in the US.
Samsung Galaxy S5 packaged
One of the jobs of the women on the production line is to take the finished S5s and put them with their manuals and cables into the boxes for shipping. A phone drops off a conveyor belt and she assembles the components. When she has enough phones done, a cart comes by to pick them up.
Samsung Galaxy S5 screen testing
Many of the manufacturing tests are automated, but humans double-check some aspects that have subjective elements, such as screen quality and audio quality for calls.
Samsung Galaxy S5 assembly
Humans are still better than robots at some delicate assembly tasks where the amount of pressure applied is critical, Samsung said.
Samsung Galaxy S5 camera checker
The tester here is making sure that your Galaxy S5's camera isn't grotesquely off.
Samsung Galaxy S5 assembler
This staffer just put the backs on the phones; they are then picked up and sent over to the women who put them into boxes.
Samsung Gumi staff lounge
The Gumi plant has a library, video games, university extension courses, and three cafeterias called "Noodle A," "Noodle B" and "Noodle C."