Inside the Loewe TV dream factory
15th Nov 2009 | 12:00
Exclusive access into the premium TV maker's home
Situated in the heart of Germany's Bavaria region and with a population of just 19,000, Kronach seems an unlikely base for one of the world's premium TV manufacturers.
There's little in the unassuming but pretty town that shouts out 'minimalism, individuality and innovation' – the brand values Loewe holds so close to its heart. In fact, there are mostly just trees. Lots of trees.
But it's this natural resource that tempted Loewe to the place in 1946, after World War II brought on a forced hiatus for a company whose ties with television manufacturing stretch as far back as the invention of the medium itself.
The reason the locale was chosen: the abundance of wood was needed to make the casing for the company's TVs.
While wood has made way for brushed aluminium and cathode tubes for liquid crystal, the factory still sits at the same location, albeit much more expanded – housing the 1,007 people it currently takes to make the company's high-grade kit.
INDIVIDUALITY:Loewe's Individual range lets you choose the TV for you
Everything from design to R&D, component checking to problem fixing, is done on the campus and all within walking distance from each other.
Loewe's base is nothing like the vast endless factory settings of the Japanese TV manufacturing giants. There's an air of family ties to proceedings, which is understandable given most of the workers come from Kronach and its surrounding areas.
In the factory you're likely to see fathers and mothers working alongside their sons of daughters. In fact, Loewe prides itself on the knowledge that just under 10 per cent of its factory workforce are women, with 150 workers putting in flexible part-time hours to work around family commitments.
TechRadar was recently invited to see the Loewe setup for ourselves and walking through the white corridors of the company's white buildings there's a sense you've stepped into one of Loewe's advertising campaigns - or one of their galleries - you can almost hear the mantra 'minimalism, individuality, innovation' echo throughout the place.
WHITE NOISE:Loewe's all-white Gallery concept stems from its headquarters
The Loewe of today is a brand that many in the UK won't have heard of. Pitching premium products to those who can afford them, high-street retailers are unlikely to stock anything the company produces – with Loewe favouring its own Loewe Galleries.
You can currently find these Galleries in the likes of Selfridges and Harrods in London, and there's been expansion in further reaches of the UK, with six new outlets in locations across the country opening up including Chichester, the Lake District, Manchester and Sheffield. With a total of 250 galleries across the world the Loewe name is spreading and fast.
Those with an eye on the AV history books will have noticed that Loewe crops up a number of times due to the innovations the company has brought to the TV world.
Not only is Loewe a founding member of IFA (Berlin's tech extravaganza and one of the oldest industrial exhibitions in Germany) but it actually created the world's first cathode-based TV way back in 1931.
PACK IT IN:Workers pulled 10 hour days after this year's IFA
And the list of firsts doesn't end there: the first home entertainment centre was developed by the company in 1938, consisting of a TV and integrated record player; it was the first to come to market with the portable television (25cm in size with built in radio!); Loewe launched the concept of 100Hz TVs way back in 1994; and if you think the latest batch of web-enabled TVs are cutting-edge, then think again as Loewe launched its version, the Loewe Xelos @ media, back in 1997.
But the today's Loewe has changed tack somewhat. Instead of chasing headlines with claims of 'world's firsts' the company has stripped back, with its focus now on creating the best possible products within its sector, with more of a focus on design.
Currently the Loewe factory makes 1,400 TV sets a day, which get packed on to 12 trucks, ready to distribute the panels to their relevant destinations.
LEADER OF THE PACK: 12 trucks a day cart off the factory's output
The current crop of TVs are created 98 per cent by machines, with workers adding in the finer details like circuitry by hand.
BACK OFF:Some of the TV's circuitry is fitted by hand
The component fitters have a fiddly job with each board in the TVs containing around 3,700 components to make the displays work. Once everything is in place the circuit boards go through a massive oven for soldering, primed at 250 degrees, for three minutes.
Throughout the creation of a TV regular spot checks are made to make sure everything is working properly.
ART ATTACK:Loewe's Art TVs line up ready to be tested
These range from visual (where computers match up the circuitry to see if anything is out of place) to practical, where a software programme will put the boards through the sort of rigmarole they will need to get used to in the home.
SCREEN TEST:Computer algorithms put the TVs through their paces
Once circuitry is in place, the fascia and panel can be fitted. As the company doesn't make the glass themselves, they take their pick from LG, Sharp and Samsung created panels.
ON DISPLAY:The Reference screen needs two men to lift into place
In the past Loewe used to deal only with Sharp (who own a 29 per cent stake in the company) but the Korean manufacturers have upped their quality and the panels used are now chosen from those companies on a size basis.
Watching the factory team put together a TV is a fascinating process. While there's a huge amount of care and dedication to the products – even the stickers on the boxes have to be aligned in the correct way – it's all done with such ease and speed.
For future Reference
There's two distinct parts to the Loewe factory, and you notice straight away when you move from one to the other. The majority of the main factory floor is taken up with rows of workers at their own workstations with just enough space to manoeuvre for the task in hand. These are all creating the company's older ranges of TVs – the Art, Individual and Connect.
LINE OF FIRE:Numerous spot-checks are made throughout production
Through a set of doors the light gets brighter, the air cooler and the whole atmosphere that little bit more intense. In the newest part of the factory, the floor has been kept for the company's flagship Reference TVs.
The workers who put the system together are given more space and freedom to make sure the Reference is the best it can possibly be.
LOEWE LOVE:The Reference is so premium, it has its own factory floor
Boasting 200Hz technology, an ultra-thin 52-inch display, picture optimisation and an integrated hard-disk recorder for archiving purposes, it's the companies most advanced TV yet and design-wise the most stunning thing they have released.
But in this time of recession, can companies like Loewe weather the economic storm? The outlook isn't great with the manufacturer's share prices dropping 9.9 per cent after it released lower-than-expected figures this year. This has lead to Loewe lowering its sales outlook for the rest of 2009.
When TechRadar spoke to Loewe CEO Frieder C Löhrer in the company's headquarters he admitted that the market was tough but he explained that "In difficult times, it's good to prepare for better times."
And prepare it is. With development underway for LED TVs, the arrival of the company's 200Hz tellies and even some rumblings about 3D, Loewe is looking at all aspects of bringing new technologies to the high-end consumer but only when they are ready for it.
To find out more about Loewe's product range, point your browser to www.loewe-uk.com/uk.