Foxconn's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. has set up a Japanese research center devoted to display and touch technologies that could end up hiring staff away from Sharp.
The new center, called Foxconn Japan RD Co., represents a major investment for Hon Hai and aims to recruit top talent from the country, the company said Friday in a statement. The center will work in tandem with the company's existing R&D resources in China and Taiwan to further improve its screen technology.
The initial facility will be based in the Japanese cities of Sakai and New Yokohama, but Hon Hai could expand the research center to other areas in the future. Leading the center is Kouzoh Yano, who's been listed as a general manager with Sharp, and an expert in LCD technology, according to Hon Hai. It's unclear if Yano is still employed with Sharp.
Hon Hai said it recruited Kouzoh Yano, the former general manager of a Japanese Sharp factory and LCD expert, to lead the center. The Japanese government recognized his role in leading a team that helped designed one of Sharp's most advanced factories. Sharp declined to comment on Yano's new position.
The research center will be crucial in forming Hon Hai's strategy to connect different devices under a cloud service, the company added. Technology developed at the center will be used in consumer and commercial products, and possibly in health care instruments. The panels will range from small-scale displays for smartphones up to 60-inch monitors for TVs.
Hon Hai's announcement comes after it failed to secure a deal to become a major shareholder of Sharp.
The Taiwanese manufacturing giant, which is best known for building Apple's iPhone, wanted greater access to Sharp's leading display technologies to compete with Samsung, according to analysts. In return, Sharp would have received a major investment at a time when the company continues to struggle financially. Last year, the company announced it would cut 2,000 jobs.
A deal between the companies may have stalled, but Hon Hai continues to show interest in tapping Japan's technology base, said Annabelle Hsu, an analyst with IDC.
"Japan leads in screen technology, and so the company wants to hire people in Japan," Hsu said, adding that Hon Hai has been weak in R&D in the past. "This could be a good opportunity for them."
Hon Hai's research center in Japan will be partially based in Sakai, where Sharp's major LCD plant is also located.
Both companies jointly operate the massive LCD manufacturing site in the area. Hon Hai acquired its stake in the factory in a deal announced last year, which gave it access to Sharp's technology and production capacity, especially for making large screens. In exchange, Sharp received a large cash injection.
Sharp has been rated junk status by rating agencies and taken the rare step of putting all of its properties up for collateral to secure loans and stay afloat. The company has also closed some of its factories.