Replay: First published in 2013, this is a fascinating insight into camera production. Sony's PMW-200 and several other professional video products are made not in China or Japan, but a few miles from Cardiff, the capital of Wales. And the technology is second to none
You know you've arrived in Wales when the roadsigns start to have words on them like Yr Wyddgrug and Tref-y-clawdd. If you’re not from the British Isles, you might not realise that Welsh is not just English spoken with a Welsh accent but a fully fledged Celtic language, with a thriving community of speakers for whom it is their first tongue. Welsh has ancient roots, but has modern aspirations.
Along with English, it’s one of two official languages in Wales and although fewer people speak it in the south of the country, there is quite a strong, lilting accent that tends to insert a hyphen in the middle of words (so “accent” would become “ac-cent”).
The further south you go, the less you hear Welsh, but the written language is everywhere, and unless you have an inkling of Welsh pronunciation, you’re going to struggle with some of the place names.
Sony's Technology Centre
I recently visited Sony’s Pencoed Technology Centre in Bridgend (Pen-y-bont), near Cardiff (Caerdydd), the capital of Wales (Cymru). Just so you know, Pencoed is pronounced “Pencoyd”. For language aficionados, the word for “five” is “pump," pronounced, obviously, “pimp”.
Just in case all of the above has left you with the impression that Wales might be remote, provincial, and something of a technological backwater, what you’re about to read is going to change that completely, because what Sony is doing at Pencoed is nothing less than competing with China for manufacturing costs, and with the whole world for quality and finish. What’s more, Cardiff is one of the most thriving, cosmopolitan cities in the UK, and over the last twenty years has been through a regeneration that is quite staggering in its scale and ambition.
There’s a long history of Sony manufacturing in the area. Twenty years ago, a nearby factory was making a new Trinitron TV every eight seconds. LCD screens changed the face of the industry and now, in Pencoed, the focus is on precision manufacturing and testing of some of Sony’s camera and live production equipment, such as the PMW-200. Remarkably, the culture at the plant and the available skill-set is so effective, that they’re able to internally “bid” for manufacturing work within Sony and out-do the far-East competition, comfortably.
And the way they do this is fascinating. They do it by a process of constant improvement, informed by feedback from customers, and by developing systems that maximise the use of the abundant talent in the area.