This week we headed down to the Kingston Technology Taiwan headquarters in Hsin Chu which is located about 30 minutes south of Taipei on the high speed rail. It is based in the impressive Hsin Chu Science Park. It is home to other massive tech companies including TSMC and Lite-on as well as many more. It's been a while since I had made the journey down south from Taipei and the park has either grown massively or it's much bigger than I remember from my earlier visits many years ago.
We were picked up from the Hsin Chu high speed rail station by our friendly marketing contact at Kingston who drove us directly to Kingston's ten SMT-line ready Taiwan factory, which is about 15 minutes from our entry point back to Taipei. We were told that this factory only (we laughed when Kingston said its Taiwan facility is a small operation) has 600 employees.
With the introduction set, it brings us to the reason for this article and that is our factory tour. We were exclusively invited into the Kingston factory where few media have been and got shown the process of making an SSD from start to finish. Due to media restrictions, we were not allowed to produce a video of the tour, but we were allowed to take photos. Obviously Kingston is a market leader in memory and SSD products and there is plenty of sensitive machinery and such - and we needed to respect that and their rules.
Sadly at the time we visited there were no SSDs going along the line, but we did follow a memory module from the beginning and then changed floors to go to the area where SSDs are fully tested and then finally to the first floor where the SSDs are packed and prepared to be shipped out to Kingston customers. It's not a big deal as both RAM and SSDs all start off as a plain PCB anyway, so the process is basically the same for both for the SMT part of the tour. Let's get this thing started - we're going to be relying heavily on the photos we took as they can most definitely explain the story much better than my words can.
After suiting up into our sexy white doctor-like factory suits and slippery blue shoe covers, we were introduced to one of the factory managers at the reception area and at first glance walking into the factory, you are greeted with what you see above. Woo!
As we walk in we see the storage area which includes all of the parts for the day's work order tasks. Those combined are all the little bits and pieces that go onto your memory and SSDs.
The large monitor you see above is located to the right of the storage area near the front of the line as you enter the factory and that shows the scheduled work order for the day - i.e. what they need to produce on any given day.
Here we get our first look at a Kingston machine and this one is located at the very start of the SMT line. Empty PCBs are manually carried over from near the storage area and loaded into this machine.
This space ship looking machine is the second on the line and it applies solder to the PCB.
After a computer check (not shown) and a manual human inspection of solder, the PCB is loaded into the first serious SMT machine we have seen so far.
All of the machines are connected on rails and once the PCB is first mounted into the line at the first machine, no human interaction is required from start to finish, as long as the product passes each computer test along the way.
In the photo below you get a look at the storage coils that hold all of the little ICs, chips, controllers and so forth that go onto your memory or SSD. Kingston buys these parts on the coils this way and then just manually loads them onto the machine as they are required.
Move on we get a full look at the SMT machine which mounts all the little ICs etc. to the PCB and then just past that moving forward that machine is used to check if the ICs etc. were mounted correctly onto the PCB.
In the shot below you can see that the PCB is no longer empty - it has all its parts mounted and ready to move onto the next step.
And that next step as you can see in the photo below is the "oven".
As you can see on the computer screen below there are a total of 12 heat zones which gradually heat up zone by zone from 90 degrees Celsius to the end where the oven hits a maximum temperature of 270 degrees Celsius for this product line. The oven literally bakes all of the parts that were surface mounted to the PCB.
Once the baking process is complete, there is a computer to check to determine if the all of the parts were correctly applied to the PCB. As you can see in this photo below, the line is producing SO-DIMM memory modules.
If required, as you can see in the photo below, there is a station for a manual human visual inspection if the alarm sounds and the red light starts flashing, which of course indicates there was a problem in the baking process or potentially further back the line if something didn't "gel" as it should have over the whole process.
If the SSD or memory pass, as you can see in the photo below, they are automatically mounted into trays and continue along the line.
The machine below is used to apply the retail sticker to the product. UPDATE - Kingston asked us to remove pictures of the burn-in machines.
In the photo below you can see a close-up shot of the machine applying the stickers. Yep, it does it very quickly. Speed is the name of this business.
The same machine just a little further down also cuts the PCB as required. In the shot below you can see it splitting the PCB down the middle to create SO-DIMM (laptop) memory modules.
In the shot below you can see the last machine on the line and we couldn't zoom in too close on this one as it is one of those sensitive machines that we were discussing earlier. This machine in short uses a very smart and quick way to run a diagnostics test on the product to make sure it works as it should.
If the product passes, the tray of products is then removed from the line as you can see below.
Wouldn't you like to have a tray of these to take home? This is the end of the SMT line, now we move onto the testing and burn-in area.
Okay, at this point of the tour we changed to a different floor in the Kingston factory and that is the testing and burn-in area. The two shots below show the machines which Kingston use to burn-in its products. UPDATE - Kingston asked us to remove pictures of the burn-in machines.
In the last shot above, here are the SSDs finished with the burn-in phase and are ready to be tested. In the shot below we see several of the 600 employees at the factory begin the first phase of SSD testing.
Here is just one of the computer tests that ensure the SSD is ready for consumers. UPDATE - Kingston asked us to remove pictures of the burn-in machines.
In the photo below testing is pretty much complete and you can see a lady securing the PCB to the SSD casing.
As we move along getting close to the end, we see another lady who is securing both sides of the SSD casing together.
And there you have it, that's a whole stack of Kingston SSDs all ready to go to the packing and shipping area before they leave the factory.
Okay, at this stage of the tour we moved down to the first floor of the Kingston building and that is the packing and shipping area.
Here we can see a whole bunch of SSDs almost ready to be shipped out. And they were probably what were produced just on the day we visited. And keep in mind that Kingston's Taiwan facility is small - what they are doing over in China is a different story again.
Say goodbye to the SSDs, at this point they are going to the truck where Kingston naturally hope they'll end up in your PC.
And we'll leave you with this sign we saw just outside of the factory.
We'd like to extend a big thank you to everyone at Kingston that made this factory tour possible. We had a great and educational time visiting which was made even more pleasant due to the friendliness of the Kingston staff that made us feel right at home.
And I've done quite a few factory tours over the years in Taiwan and China and I've got to say that Kingston's factory was one of the cleanest and most comfortable that I've visited so far. They even had air conditioning! It's interesting to consider things like this at the moment with a lot of pressure being applied to other companies such as Foxconn (Apple) who have issues with workplace quality pressures.
We hope you enjoyed this article, too! We are sorry that we had to remove some pictures, but we need to respect Kingston's business and its sensitive machinery.