Kingmax Factory Tour in Hsin Chu, Taiwan
By Gabriel Torres on June 2, 2005
We had the opportunity of visiting Kingmax’s factory in Hsin Chu, Taiwan. This is a great opportunity for you to learn how memories are manufactured, since Kingmax manufactures both memory chips and memory modules.
We were excited because this was the first time we’ve seen a chip manufacturing facility from inside. On other memory manufacturing facilities we’ve been to so far from Kingston, Corsair, OCZ and PDP Systems they only manufactured memory modules, so the memory chips came to the factory already as a final product.
There are many steps involved in the memory module manufacturing:
In summary, Kingmax gets the wafer from their wafer vendor (which they don’t disclose), cuts and packs it as memory chips and put the chips together in a memory module, buying the printed circuit boards from Brain Power, a company specialized in PCB manufacturing and very well known among memory enthusiasts.
The memory chip manufacturing or “packing” as it is also called is done by a sister company called Kingpak. After being manufactured, the memory chips go still untested and unmarked (or UTT in the industry lingo) to Kingmax’s facilities (which are located in a different place) for testing and labeling. After that, memory modules are manufactured.
Kingpak factory also manufactures optical sensors for cameras, and both Kingpak and Kingmax also manufacture memory cards. We’ll concentrate our tour on describing how memory modules are manufactured.
As we’ve explained, Kinpak is Kingmax’s sister company specialized in packing, i.e., cutting the memory wafer and adding a packing and pins to the memory silicon.
Memory packing process is divided into two big steps: front-end and back-end. In Figure 2, you can see the steps inside the front-end process, while in Figure 3 you can see the steps inside the back-end process.
The whole process isn’t fast. For BGA memory chips the front-end process takes 5 days, while the back-end process takes 4.5 or 5.5 days.
In Figure 5, you can see a chart with the anatomy of a memory chip.
The packing is a very delicate process. All machinery and people work in a clean environment and that’s why we couldn’t go inside the memory chip manufacturing facility – a single dust particle could ruin the whole process –, but we could see it through a glass window.
This is pretty much of it, since we couldn’t step inside and take pictures of all steps in the memory chip manufacturing. After finishing the process in this factory, the chips are all black (unlabeled) and untested or UTT as called by the industry experts. From here the memory chips go to Kingmax’s factory where they will be tested, labeled and assembled on a memory module.
We left Kingpak and headed to Kingmax.
After the chips arrive at Kingmax, they go to the testing and labeling facility.
The chips are loaded into a tester, which is the machine shown in Figure 11. This machine has several bins, which one in programmed according to the chip speed and timings the manufacturer want to test the chip for. The machine in Figure 11 has nine bins. Some of the bins are used to store the rejected memory chips. In Figure 13 you can understand how this process works. On the machine in front of us bin1 was being tested for DDR433 CL 2.5, bin2 was being tested for DDR400 CL 2.5 and so forth. Bins 6 to 9 were reserved for rejected chips, which are separated according to the reason they were rejected.
After the chips are speed-graded and tested, they go to environmental testing. They are put in a big tray that goes into a kind of oven that simulates different environmental conditions (i.e., different temperatures and humidity levels) and tests if the chips work correctly under all environmental conditions set by the manufacturer.
After they are tested, the chips are laser-marked, i.e., labeled. Here the manufacturer can print anything on the memory chip. In Figure 18 we can see what was being printed on the memory chips inside the machine on the moment we were visiting the factory.
After this step the memory chip is done and ready to be installed on a PCB and sold as a memory module. At this stage the memory manufacturer has two options: sell the memory chips to memory module manufacturer or send them to their own memory module production line, if they have one. Kingmax is on the second case.
Memory module manufacturing is quite simple:
As we mentioned, Kingmax buys the printed circuit boards (PCB) from another company, called Brain Power. The PCB comes in a panel, with several modules attached together (see Figure 20). In the case of the modules being manufactured, each panel had nine modules.
After being unpacked, solder paste (grey stuff in Figure 22) is applied to the PCB. A stencil is used in order to allow the solder paste to be applied only on the exact spots were the manufacturer wants to solder something.
After applying solder paste, the panel enters into a SMD machine, process also known as “pick-and-place”, where memory chips are picked by the machine and placed on the spots were they will be soldered. This machine also adds other components to the PCB, like small capacitors and the SPD chip.
With the components added, the panel enters a big oven where the components will be soldered to the modules.
Then the modules are cut from the panel and tested.
First the modules are tested and, at the same time, their SPD chips are programmed. SPD (Serial Presence Detect) chips hold all info about the memory module, like its speed and timings.
After the SPD is programmed, the modules are tested in another station to make sure that the SPD was correctly programmed.
After that the modules go to compatibility testing, which is a huge lab with hundreds of motherboards from several different manufacturers to be tested for compatibility with several different platforms.
After that the module is ready to be marketed, so the modules are labeled, packed and shipped to Kingmax’s costumers.