Sci-Tech

A rare look inside Nokia
China's test center

Flip and slide: Tests involve assessing the lifespan of the sliding/flipping mechanism of the handsets. JP/Hyginus Hardoyo
Flip and slide: Tests involve assessing the lifespan of the sliding/flipping mechanism of the handsets. JP/Hyginus Hardoyo

Nokia China opened its doors and factory in Beijing early this month to a group of journalists from Southeast Asia.

For the first time in its decade of operations, the company gave its guests a chance to have a close look at and interact with its testing center, design studio and manufacturing process.

That Nokia is a leading company producing quality mobile phones is something just about everybody already knows. But knowledge of the details of just how each Nokia device is made and tested is possibly less widespread.

A brief visit to the company, following a rare invitation to journalists, gave a chance to see a series of its processes, from its stringent testing and creative design to seamless manufacturing.

On arrival at the building compound, the journalists were greeted by Louise Ingram, Nokia's regional head for corporate communications, and David Tang, Nokia China's vice president. Tang eagerly discussed the great achievements his company has made in China.

"Over 180 million Chinese people use Nokia devices every day," Tang said, disclosing the importance of China's position, as it constitutes the largest single country market for Nokia in the world.

Nokia's sales in China last year, for example, reached a value of 6.42 billion euros, accounting for 13 percent of Nokia's global net sales, he said.

In line with Nokia's ever-growing presence in China, Tan described the Finnish mobile phone producer's vision of bringing the Internet to rural areas where the Web is not currently accessible.

Even though made-in-China products still tend to be perceived as being of inferior quality, Tang assured the journalists that this is not true of Nokia China, as the company has adopted the same high-quality standards practiced by Nokia factories all over the world.

The first impression on entering the Nokia China Campus, which is located in Xingwang Industrial Park in the Beijing Economic and Technology Zone, is that it places a strong emphasis on providing a pleasant working environment for its employees.

Designed with large open spaces and bright interiors encircled by glass windows, the building is equipped with various facilities, including a business center, modern gym, massage parlor, ATMs, cafeteria and restaurants.

Combined with a wide range of entertainment areas, the pleasant and functional working environment is expected to enable employees to work to full capacity, thereby making them productive and able to create products of excellent quality.

As well as holding the testing center, design studio and factory, the campus also houses the company's China headquarters.

The highlight of the visit was to the tightly guarded test center, where the journalists were guided through several rooms where key tests are carried out on the phones.

The test center in China constitutes one of 10 test centers operated by Nokia around the world.

All claim to be operated under the same rigorous quality control standards.

This is where you discover answers to those things you're curious about when it comes to how the company considers any mishaps befalling their mobile phones.

For example, what happens if a handset is kept in the pocket of a pair of jeans for a long time? How about if you drop it onto the pavement? What if it is exposed to moisture? Or comes into contact with a chemical substance?

As Kenneth Hans, manager of the test center, said, "A Nokia phone is put through over 200 rigorous tests before it goes to the market."

The range of tests involves testing responses to being dropped, scratched or exposed to extreme temperatures.

Tests are developed and conducted to resemble real-life situations. Durability tests, for example, include measuring the device's resilience when dropped from a certain height - a shirt pocket - onto a concrete surface.

It even has a machine that simulates what happens to a handset carried in pockets to clothes: When the device is carried in a back pocket, it may bend when the user sits down. One machine is used to simulate the effects of the bend and twist that the device experiences. Another uses real denim to simulate turbulence inside the pockets.

Other tests involve assessing the durability of a handset's keypad by pressing the keypad repeatedly to ensure it keeps working; another tests the flipping mechanism for phones with hinges to ensure that the handset maintains its mechanical and electrical functionality.

To help protect handsets against the elements, weather conditions are also simulated to test the device's resistance to extreme temperatures and high humidity.

The design studio revealed fewer secrets, not offering much in the way of visuals or data, except to show the place where creative minds gather to think up devices that can be both aesthetically and functionally pleasing to users.

The team of 25 designers tap their creativity in comfortable, neatly arranged compartments, each with a set of desks and computers.

Also in the studio is a library holding design books along with a glass case displaying nearly every product Nokia has ever released, even those bricks in the old 3210 and 5110 series.

The designers use an acrylic wall to illustrate any ideas derived through brainstorming activities.

The last stop on the visit was to the manufacturing center and assembly lines, which took up at least two floors. As it adopts the same standards applied in Finland and other parts of the world, the factory is clearly clean and well maintained.

The factory operation is made possible through the support of Nokia's partners, most of which are big-name industry players such as DHL of the US, which deals with supply logistics, Sanyo of Japan, which supplies batteries, and Friwo of Germany, with its chargers. They are among the 20 partners of Nokia China housed in the Xingwang Industrial Park.

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