How Oppo smartphones go from research to the finished products – we go inside the factory
It takes a lot to make a smartphone – and we found out through Oppo’s eyes as we went behind the scenes in Shenzhen, China and toured the company’s research and test labs and its smartphone production line.
Oppo was founded in 2004 and has expanded to more than 60 countries employing more than 40,000 around the globe.
The first product the company released in 2005 was a small MP3 player and by 2008 it had made its first mobile phone, its first smartphone in 2011 and the world’s slimmest phone in 2012.
In 2013, Oppo released ColorOS – the software layer that today runs on top of Android in more half a billion devices worldwide.
Oppo also pioneered fast charging with its proprietary VOOC Flash Charge which made fast charging a reality.
Today Oppo’s latest devices are eye-catching folding smartphones – the latest being the Find N3.
Tech Guide got a chance to go behind the scenes to see the development and testing that goes into creating smartphone before the finished product at the end of the production line.
One of the most important features of a smartphone is the camera and Oppo has a large testing lab to improve the quality and colour accuracy of their images and videos.
We visited a facility which included mock ups of various scenarios and locations including a hotel lobby, a restaurant, a supermarket, a lounge room, karaoke bar along with a small roadway and athletic track outside.
These have been built to test the Oppo smartphone cameras in several different situations and lighting conditions.
The smartphones are mounted on a robotic arm which can move freely throughout these environments that looked like movie sets to test the use of the device in everyday scenarios.
We were told each robot takes more than 70,000 images per session before being analysed.
Selfies are an important part of smartphone photography today and that was also part of the testing process.
To enable this, Oppo created an ultra-real dummy head which was mounted on one of the robots to provide the face to test the selfie camera in these different environments.
The dummy head we saw was actually modelled after a staff member with a likeness that was 96 per cent accurate.
The robot would take photos of the dummy head against the various backdrops available and in varying lighting conditions to recreate how a customer would shoot a selfie in the real world.
Another big part of photography development for Oppo is augmented reality and we were shown a preview of a new technology called CyberReal which could place objects within the cameras view and allow users to walk around that object like it was physically present.
We tried CyberReal for ourselves and found Oppo had placed large Oppo smartphones which appeared to hang in mid-air as well as giving us a bit of the ability to interact with the company’s bear mascot.
We also tried on a prototype Oppo AR/VR headset which allowed us to see the outside world and write and create shapes and release snowflakes and bubbles in our environment.
Oppo took us into a lab next door which had the VR headset on a robot arm that was testing its distance accuracy against an angled wall filled with markers that were different shapes and sizes.
Oppo’s labs include a room filled the network equipment from various manufacturers like Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and Huawei so its smartphones can be tested for compatibility for various mobile networks around the world.
They also had a chamber that eliminates all outside interference so the engineers can test the pure connection between the devices and antennas and cells used by telcos around the world.
Next stop was the Oppo fitness lab which was used to test the accuracy of its exercise tracking and heart rate monitoring.
We saw one person hooked up to equipment while running on a treadmill beside the engineer who was seeing the results coming in in real time on his computer.
Also being examined here was things like stride length, time of contact on the ground and leg speed.
In another section a woman was running on a treadmill with motion trackers on her legs to fully track her motion and match that to the accuracy of other readings.
Oppo does have health features on their smartphones and released a smartwatch last year – but unfortunately this won’t be available in Australia.
Oppo’s testing even extends to the NFC (near field communication) chip and each responsiveness to various payment terminals and other products.
In the lab there were numerous terminals and payment devices being tested with Oppo phones.
The engineers said the tests were used to determine the speed of responsiveness and the distance between the phone and terminal when the connection is made.
NFC is also used on door locks, and we spotted a few of these in the lab which are used in various markets around the world and the engineers have to ensure the Oppo devices sold in those regions will work effectively.
And it all culminates at the factory where the Oppo smartphones are produced in a high tech production line.
The factory was a nondescript building that looked like an office block but inside across several levels were pristine production lines and more testing labs.
We had to put covers on our shoes – we think this was for hygiene – before we could make our way inside.
Unfortunately we were not permitted to take any photos or video inside the lab.
The production process began with the motherboard and circuitry which were printed hyper accurately before moving along to receive its components including transistors, resistors and memory chips.
At the end of this process the brains of the smartphone were completed before being inserted into the middle frame.
Up until this point the process was largely automated with hardly any human interaction.
But the next steps, which included inserting camera modules and other components, were completed by a number of people on the production line.
These steps included adding the front display, the front and rear camera lenses and the rear panel.
Part of the assembly phase is also testing the device before it’s sent off for packaging.
Oppo does this by inserting a chip into the SIM card reader that does a system wide diagnostic check that everything is working as it should.
Then further down the line the devices that pass these tests has this chip removed and a regular SIM card tray inserted in its place.
We were told that each production line, and there are about 10 in the facility, can produce up to 3,000 devices in a day.
And if there is a failure rate of five per cent and above – every product on that line that day is scrapped before starting again.
Once the smartphones come off the line, random samples are chosen to undergo durability testing.
This includes drop testing and we saw phones being tumbled in large boxes and smashed into the ground by robotic arms.
These devices are then examined to track any weaknesses and whether the phone is still functional.
In the drop tests we saw the phones get slammed from a height of 1.5 metres and each of the devices were still working and with the screen intact.
Other durability tests include simulating the wear and tear on a device whether it’s in your front pocket or back pocket.
There was even one machine that was twisting the device to test the strength of the frame and the screen.
Other stations were being used to simulate day-to-day usage of inserting the charging cable and headphone jacks.
The Oppo devices were also being tested for water resistance. There was a 1.5m deep tank that could test the IP rating of devices for up to 30 minutes.
We also saw Oppo’s latest Find N3 foldable smartphone inside a chamber and being sprayed with water.
At the very end of the production process the completed devices were placed in their packaging and boxed to be shipped out to one of countries around the world selling Oppo smartphones including right here in Australia.
When we see a smartphone, we tend to take the technology used to build it for granted but we could see there was a lot of work that went into it, a lot of research and even more testing before the devices could meet Oppo’s extremely high standards.
* Stephen Fenech travelled to China as a guest of Oppo