Converging on Shanghai - ACON4 Final and ABIT and Kingston Factories

Last week we were in Shanghai, China for the ABIT ACON4 global gaming competition final. While we were in the country we also visited both ABIT and Kingston factories to learn the latest methods employed by both companies to produce their current lines of products.
| Jun 14, 2004 at 11:00 pm CDT
Manufacturer: none

Converging on Shanghai - Introduction

IntroductionLast week ABIT hosted their worldwide gaming final called ACON4 in Shanghai, China. TweakTown was part of around 60 different media publications from around the world, along with the 18 gaming finalists, a bunch of ABIT staff and not to forget the sponsors.To make the trip for media from Taiwan during Computex that little bit more worthwhile, ABIT organized factory tours of the ABIT owned Rolly Technology factory as well as the Kingston factory which are both located only a short while out of Shanghai where we were all based for the five days.Shanghai was an interesting location to choose to hold the final for ACON4. You bring the entire population of Australia into one city many multiple times smaller, an almost 2:1 ratio of desperate salesman all trying to sell any westerner a fake Rolex or Omega watch at every corner, smog thick and dirty enough to give us all sore throats in no time, amazing traffic which sometimes just makes you put your hands over your eyes and a bunch of other things which would probably be best left unmentioned here. Suffice to say, by the end of our time in China, everyone was thrilled by the prospects of returning home.Nevertheless, we made our way over to China from Taiwan during Computex for the ABIT ACON4 final (see our coverage of the Australian final, here) as well as stopping by the Rolly Technology and Kingston factories in our tour buses to learn the latest methods employed by both ABIT and Kingston to produce their current lines of motherboards and memory modules.We'll cover each event in this article starting off with coverage of ACON4 final and then the ABIT and Kingston factory tours.

Converging on Shanghai - ACON4 Final - Opening

ACON4 Final - OpeningOn the 6th of June, we all arrived at Shanghai Mart (SM) for the ACON4 final which is located only about 20 minutes out of down town Shanghai. After we hit the seventh floor of SM, we were greeted with familiar English ACON4 signs - we instantly knew we were in the right spot. The entrance was fairly subdued but there was anticipation to pass through and find out what awaited us inside.
We entered the arena playing host to ACON4 and there seemed to be quite a large buzz of excitement as everyone waited for the organizers to get the show on the road, as they say.
The trophies await their winners in the hours ahead.
The gamers section - all just itching to get the gaming underway, I bet.
The pre-show performance was performed by a bunch of highly talented Chinese kids and did a good job of waking us all up.
The gamers are introduced.
Some of the most beautiful Asian girls presented sponsors products to the audience. This definitely sparked the interest of the majority of the male audience, although I'm not sure how much attention would have been paid to the products themselves.(YOU CAN FIND MORE ACON4 BABES IN OUR PHOTO GALLERY, HERE)

Converging on Shanghai - ACON4 Final - The Gamers

ACON4 Final - The Gamers
The public were allowed into certain parts of the event. Gaming is very big in China and it almost seemed like we were at a football match when one of the gamers performed a perfect strategic move against his opponent. How long do you think it will be before gaming competitions like this will be presented on EPSN? Not long I'd imagine.
Here is one of the China government officials keeping an eye on the proceedings. No messing around here folks - China takes cheating very seriously and they made it known.
Here we see Phil from Australia battling it out. There is a reason his hand is blurred so much - he is so damn QUICK!
Here some of the gamers discuss a previous game as they joke over one of the replays.
Jonathan "Fatal1ty" tries his hand at a RTS compared to his usual FPS for something different. He played the UK champ (TAG-BoNd), and lost - for once! I'm sure Jonathan would see the funny side to this after beating myself and many others at UT2004 at least 12 - 0 a few days earlier in Taiwan during Computex.

Converging on Shanghai - ACON4 Final - Webmasters Staying Sane

ACON4 Final - Webmasters Staying Sane
I think I'll label this section "Webmasters Staying Sane". We had to pass the time some how, and that included messing around with the security, John from The Tech Zone teaching us another trick or two with the deck and Burt from TechBits posing beautifully as one of the ACON4 girls.

Converging on Shanghai - ACON4 Final - The Winners and Closing

ACON4 Final - The Winners and Closing
Here we see the winners being awarded their prizes and in the final shot we see all four winners as well as the sponsors. The kid from the US, mTw-Wizard, took first surprise win over the favorite from South Korea, SK.Sweet.
Keep the government officials happy, and then everyone is happy. That's about all which needs to be said here. I'd like to be able to return to China sometime in the future. ;)
That was the ACON4 final. I would consider the event successful with a solid turn out from the gaming public in Shanghai who gave the event quite a bit of spark with screams of excitement and efforts of getting autographs from the gamers who were treated just like Hollywood celebrities. It was quite bizarre.We look forward to further developments of ACON gaming competitions by ABIT and their sponsors in the months ahead as we await details of ACON5 and other gaming events ABIT have planned.Now let's take a look at the ABIT owned Rolly Technology factory as we learn visually how ABIT produce their products from when they are first born.

Converging on Shanghai - ABIT Factory Tour in Suzhou - Introduction

ABIT Factory Tour in Suzhou - Introduction
We all arrived at the Rolly Technology factory in an industrial work area called Suzhou which is located about an hour west of the centre of Shanghai. The first question which probably springs to mind is, "Why does ABIT use someone else's factory?"ABIT actually own Rolly Technology. Rolly is a Chinese company with the blessings of the local government to conduct this type of business inside their country. As a Taiwanese based company, ABIT can only invest a small percentage of their capital into business ventures inside China, as explained to us by employees of ABIT; hence, the Chinese based Rolly Technology was born to facilitate ABIT's intended production line inside mainland China since the beginning of 1999.
After passing through the entrance we were given a short introduction by members of ABIT staff. We suited up into our classic baker's uniforms and the tour started.

Converging on Shanghai - ABIT Factory Tour in Suzhou - Storage and SMT

ABIT Factory Tour in Suzhou - Storage and SMT
The first stop is the storage area. In this shot we see a collection of boxes mostly likely containing a batch of the latest chipsets from Intel. However, when we visited the factory, ABIT were in a two day phase of producing AMD based motherboards as they had just finished a week long phase of producing Intel based motherboards.
The production process starts with the bare PCB (Printed Circuit Board), in this case the NF7 - ABIT's nVidia nForce2 based motherboard for Athlon XP. ABIT do not produce their own PCBs at this factory, instead the production is outsourced to another company.
The first stop of the PCB is this machine which prints the metal traces onto the motherboard.
Once the metal traces have been placed on the PCB, the motherboards proceeds along the assembly to the machine you can see above. This is an SMT (Surface Mount Technology) based machine. This machine's role is to lay many different IC's onto the motherboard in a very quick fashion and in a very intelligently programmed way.The IC's are tape-feed into the machine, as you can see in the shot above.
The PCB then continues its journey along the production line through the oven which you can see above. The idea of this machine is to heat up the PCB enough to melt the traces and keep the ICs in place until they are properly soldered on, later down the line.

Converging on Shanghai - ABIT Factory Tour in Suzhou - Product Checks and Manual Assembly

ABIT Factory Tour in Suzhou - Product Checks and Manual Assembly
Once the PCB has cooled down, a factory worker manually checks over the motherboard to ensure the SMT machine a few stations earlier placed the ICs in the correct location.
Furthermore, a computer based check is also performed to ensure the ICs have been placed correctly. The machine above is able to detect if there is a problem and then alert staff.
Now we enter another part of the factory where various other components, such as PCI slots, are manually added to the motherboards. You can see the lady in the photo above scanning the motherboard. This allows ABIT factory employees to track any particular motherboard throughout the factory if it is required.
Here we can see ABIT's Japanese-made capacitors being placed on the motherboard. Throughout our trip, ABIT stressed their obvious moves to increase quality and reliability of their motherboards and one of the major ways to push this notion into action was by choosing to use more expensive and better quality Japanese-made capacitors which cost around one or two cents (USD) more per piece. When you're talking the quantity of production from a company like ABIT, that amount adds up quickly.
The final step before the motherboards pass through the solder machine is for the PCI slots to be placed on.
Here we see the motherboards passing through the solder wave machine which magically solders all the ICs and so forth to the motherboard.
Once the motherboard has passed through the wave solder machine, it is then cooled again.
This ladies job is to remove excess solder from the motherboards which may or may not be left behind by the machines earlier in production.
Quite a few different things are being placed on the motherboard here. The one thing we wanted to focus on was the applying of thermal paste, which you can see if you look carefully.
And here the Northbridge heatsink is being placed on the motherboard - the final component to be added before the testing begins.

Converging on Shanghai - ABIT Factory Tour in Suzhou - Testing and R&D Centre

ABIT Factory Tour in Suzhou - Testing and R&D Centre
Before the motherboards go much further along the line, they are checked very basically to ensure they actually work. "Got signal? Good, move on!"
We move onto another section of the factory - the basic testing area. In the first shot, you can see one of the environmental testing machines which ensure if the motherboard can operate at temperatures from 0 - 40C and a range of different humidified levels for an extended time from 24 - 96 hours.ABIT mentioned soon these machines will be replaced with better environmental testing machines which are able to test between -40C and 70C. This just goes to show the extremes (literally) ABIT are going to so they can develop their brand name as a high quality and reliable motherboard provider.
In the shot above, the machines are tested under normal temperatures to ensure reliability. All motherboards which pass through this factory are tested for a minimum of 24 hours. In another area of the factory (which we didn't have time to visit), certain batches of ABIT motherboards are torture tested for a minimum of 130 hours to ensure reliability (there's that word again).
Before leaving the factory, a few of us sneaked into ABIT's R&D Centre to take a few happy snaps. A handful of employees did their best to look busy coming up with new ideas as we ventured into the smallish room to take a closer look at the operation.I was quite intrigued by a sign on one of the walls (as pictured above), which said the following:"Rule One: Customer is always right. Rule Two: When customer is not right, reread Rule One"Yes, the reviewer is always right! The reviewer is always right! :)
We all gathered outside after a farewell from the ABIT staff and then moved onto the Kingston factory. The security guard did not move a muscle.

Converging on Shanghai - Kingston Factory in Free Trade Zone - Introduction

Kingston Factory in Free Trade Zone - Introduction
After an hour or so bus trip from the Rolly factory in the Suzhou industrial work area, we found ourselves at the Kingston factory, a little later than expected as we circled around the Free Trade Zone area trying to find the place. The Free Trade Zone is an industrial area with reduced taxes to help entice companies to move their production to this part of China.
Deprived of food, Kingston ordered in a bunch of pizza for the poor and hard-done-by editors and sponsors before beginning the introduction of the company - Kingston receive top marks in my books for choosing to feed us before taking us on an hour long tour on empty stomachs. Now we were all re-energized, it was time to begin the tour after the short introduction about the China plant.

Converging on Shanghai - Kingston Factory in Free Trade Zone - SMT

Kingston Factory in Free Trade Zone - SMT
We begin after walking through Kingston's small office area through to the production area. Our first stop was at one of the most critical machines in the factory. This machine was responsible for placing the memory chips on the memory module. It used the same Surface Mount Technology for applying the chips to the PCB as we saw at the ABIT factory.
Once the memory modules pass through the machine above, each module is checked manually by a factory worker.
The memory modules are then manually placed in the section of the machine above. In the shot above, we can see the machine which does the job of chopping up the eight joined modules into separate modules.
The modules are then collected by the factory worker and placed into containers ready to be handed onto a new section of the factory for signal testing.

Converging on Shanghai - Kingston Factory in Free Trade Zone - Testing and Packaging

Kingston Factory in Free Trade Zone - Testing and Packaging
For further testing, every module which leaves the Kingston factory in China is tested for a minimum of 24 hours to ensure quality and reliability. It was interesting to note Kingston were still actively testing (and hence) producing PC100 and PC133 memory in decent quantities. Apparently last week they only just stopped producing the 'ole faithful 72-pin EDO memory.
Once the memory has passed the testing phase, it is then packed into the retail packaging which we are used to seeing from Kingston.
With the memory module tested and packed in the retail packaging, it is then moved to a different part of the factory. Each module has a separate sticker attached to the packaging for tracking purposes as well mentioning the product name, in the case of this batch we saw being produced - 512MB PC2100 modules.After the stickers with the appropriate information on them have been printed, they are applied to the packaging automatically. The final step is manually packing the modules to be shipping off to Kingston customers around the world. The memory boxes are then sent to storage and wait to be shipped out.

Converging on Shanghai - Final Thoughts

Final ThoughtsI think I would be correct in saying all the editors on the ABIT sponsored trip to Shanghai, China for ACON4 and the factory tours had an interesting time and it was a great experience. While I won't be rushing back to China for the reasons mentioned in the introduction, overall the trip was positive.ACON4 was our first global competition we've attended and it seemed to go quite well and will surely go along way to helping ABIT promote their products, especially as I know the TV crew from CCTV was in attendance.The ABIT factory tour was quite interesting. I remember a few years ago back at my first Computex in Taipei when I toured the old ABIT factory in Taiwan - things haven't changed all that much along the assembly line. Although, it was interesting to note that the machines do their thing much quicker these days. The pace and precision the Surface Mount machines place the IC's on the motherboard is really incredible. It was obvious ABIT are employing as many new factory level methods as possible to help produce the ultimate quality and reliable motherboard for the end-user. I'm not sure what other motherboard manufacturers are doing to reduce their returns and increase overall quality, but I can tell you all that they have something to worry about as far as ABIT's intentions go in this department.The Kingston factory was basically what I expected it would be. Their current factory is not very big and quite old. We were told that Kingston would be moving to a brand new facility by the end of the year which would enable them to increase their output capacity as well as conducting such tasks as sales and marketing from the same building. Thanks for the pizza guys! ;)- You can find a lot of tour photos from around the Shanghai area in our Photo Gallery, here!

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Cameron founded TweakTown in 1999 after it originally started off as his personal homepage. Cameron was once, many years ago, the only person at TweakTown producing content, but nowadays, he spends his time ensuring TweakTown operates at its best in his senior management role.

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