Inside the Factory
Rather unusually, Kingston actually allowed us to take quite a few pictures inside its factory, something which is generally not allowed during a factory tour of this type. We even shot a few short videos of some of the machines that Kingston has custom built, although some of the really cool ones weren't allowed to be photographed. Kingston's factory in Taiwan produces both DRAM modules and flash memory products and Kingston also has a factory in Shanghai and Shenzhen in China as well as one in Penang in Malaysia and a small facility in California in the US.
We won't be going into too much detail about each step, as the pictures will tell you most of the story, but let's start with a short video of a machine that checks for defected memory PCBs.
The light you see flashing works sort of like an X-Ray machine to check that all the traces in the PCB are within spec and that everything is located where it should be. Next the PCB goes into a machine that adds all the SMT components, which is every single component when it comes to memory modules, unlike motherboards where a lot of the components are fitted manually. The modules which in this case happened to be SO-DIMMs then go into a bit soldering oven which secures all the components onto the PCB, and you can see the modules on their way into the oven on the picture below.
Next up is a machine that optically checks that all the components have been fitted correctly onto the PCB. This time you're looking at a row of FB-DIMM modules on the screen.
Next, the modules are cut out from the excess PCB which is used to hold them during manufacturing and moved onto SPD programming. This is all done by inserting the modules in a special SPD programmer which is connected to a standard PC or as in this case, an open motherboard.
Once this has been done, the modules are tested. When asked why this wasn't done by an automated process, the answer was that it was too expensive as the machines had to be changed too often. As you can see from the picture below, Kingston is a very good ASUS customer.
Kingston are currently using a riser card to prevent damage to the memory slots on the motherboards, but apparently this is becoming a problem with increasing memory speeds and they're looking into other solutions for this problem.
Some of you might laugh at the picture below seeing as it is that Kingston still has Slot-1 and Socket-370 test systems, but since the company provides memory for a wide range of customers and when you take into consideration that the embedded PC market has a 5-7 year life span, then it's suddenly not all that strange any more.
Once all these tests have been passed the modules are packed and shipped out. Next we were shown the SD, Compact Flash and USB key manufacturing, but we were only allowed to take a few pictures in this area. However, the PCB part is done exactly the same way as the various DRAM modules.
From the picture below you can see that Kingston makes a few USB keys a day and that was only a small batch. Again each drive is manually tested. There was a really cool automated test system for Compact Flash cards, but we weren't allowed to take any pictures of it.
Another cool machine we were allowed to photograph was the laser engraver, this machine is used for engraving the model number, serial number and size of the USB drives onto the USB port and it actually looks really quite insane as you can see from the video.
Finally we got to see a machine that assembled the SD cards, but again we weren't allowed to take any pictures here. What we do have is a short video of another machine which puts the labels onto the SD cards, but this one isn't quite as cool as the one that puts the plastic onto each side of the PCBs.
So there you go, that's how Kingston manufactures and tests memory. We'd like to thank Kingston for taking us along and for the insight they've been able to provide into the process of different types of memory manufacturing.