Editors' note:Be sure to catch the other stories in this package: on, on the many pieces of the , on road-testing Samsung's , and on TVs and appliances in a .
GUMI, South Korea -- I stood behind a woman wearing what looked like oven mitts, watching as she picked up a Samsung smartphone and brushed the display with a sort of wand, using slow, gentle strokes.
Then she zapped the phone with a stun gun.
Surprised by the action, which caused the woman's hair to stand on end, I jumped. But no one else reacted to what turned out to be a routine scene in Samsung's key mobile manufacturing facility. The consumer electronics maker not only builds phones here, but also tortures them. The static electricity exercise is just one of a rigorous battery of tests that the company employs to ensure the durability of its products. After all, Samsung isn't keen on releasing devices that can't withstand a little wear and tear.
The Gumi facility, where hot devices such as the
In one of several small side rooms, a young man placed a tablet on a ledge hovering about three feet above a metal floor. Seconds later, the ledge shot downward, dropping the tablet onto the ground. This would happen about 300 times to make sure the tablet would continue working.
Many of tests are automated. I walked into a large, warehouse-like room lined with refrigerator-sized metal boxes, where two dozen workers dressed in jeans and khakis monitor the durability of Samsung's future and current phones. An eye-level window in one box revealed a
All this prodding and poking is for one goal: To make sure the devices last about three years, in any climate.
Such stringent tests are common in the electronics industry.In total, Samsung performs more than 7,000 tests on the mobile devices before they're mass produced on other floors in a building that resembles a high school. And it's not just high-end mobile devices that go through this process. Nokia puts its products through a series of comprehensive gadget torture chambers, and other handset makers do, as well. However, it's rare to get a glimpse of any company's quality and assurance operations, including those for Samsung.
The Korean electronics giant has the luxury to do this because it moves faster than almost every other technology company in the world. The big reason: It manufactures its own devices and builds the components inside them. Unlike Apple and others, which turn to Foxconn and an array of suppliers to put together their devices, Samsung makes 90 percent of its products and chips in its own facilities.
Shake and bake
I also got a chance to tour Samsung's home appliance testing facility, and later made my way to Suwon, Samsung's corporate headquarters, about an hour south of Seoul by car.
In Suwon, I could smell the cookies baking before I even reached the room. Sugar, I thought.
As I walked through the doorway of an old, slightly dingy building, I quickly spotted a lab that looks like a home economics room in a high school or a high-tech test kitchen. Ovens and other kitchen appliances, all made by Samsung, filled the white-tiled room. On one table sat cookies, just as I had expected.
In this room, Samsung employees bake goodies, broil toast, and boil tomato sauce to make sure ovens are working properly. Workers then use a color meter to make sure the cookies are evenly browned or check to see if the sauce is burnt.
In another room, I saw washing machines being shaken to simulate the bouncing of a truck. In yet another lab, Samsung tested air conditioners by setting up a sort of fake house. The unbearably hot sun -- simulated by strong lights -- roasted the brick wall of the "house." Thermometers placed around the room measured how quickly the air conditioner cooled the room. In another location, a test measured the amount of noise the refrigerator makes.
All of these tests are part of Samsung's efforts to be the top-selling electronics maker on the planet. It has already reached that goal for TVs and mobile phones, and it plans to be No. 1 in home appliances by 2015.
Considering how serious and detail-oriented the company is about all of its products, it has a good shot.