A tour of a Gigabyte factory

Large electronics companies use some of the most advanced manufacturing techniques in the world in their factories, and Gigabyte is certainly no exception. For over 20 years, it has been a staple provider of leading enthusiast-class motherboards not only for hardware junkies like you and me, but also for boutique PC vendors like Falcon Northwest and Alienware. Gigabyte makes graphics cards, cases, and cooling components, too, and is even active in the handheld devices segment—especially in Asian markets—where it offers cell phones, PDAs, and laptops.

As part of its Open Overclocking Championship, Gigabyte gave participants and media an all-access tour of its main factory in Taiwan. Although we’ve brought you motherboard factory tours before, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a peek behind the scenes at Gigabyte’s production line. Read on to see how the motherboard you might be using at this very moment came into being.

Booties and slideshows

Gigabyte’s main factory in Taiwan is located in an industrial area known as Nan-Ping, which is about 40 minutes from downtown Taipei.

A shot from the bus

As we arrived, the complex looked like, well, any other factory. The building was colorful, though, just like Gigabyte’s famously somewhere-between-blue-and-green motherboards.

Shuffling on into the factory in our fashionable footwear

Everyone was asked to cover their shoes with light blue slip-on covers to keep tracked-in dirt to a minimum. With our shoes safely encased, we descended into the depths of the facility.

Our main guide kicked things off with an intro presentation to the company and the manufacturing process

To start, we all were introduced to the products Gigabyte makes via a slideshow and video presentation. There was even a company introduction video, and if you’re interested in seeing it (warning: it’s about as cheesy as a company introduction video can get) I’ve uploaded it to Google Video.

The motherboard construction process

The most relevant part of the introductory presentation was an explanation of the stages a motherboard goes through before it’s shipped out. Gigabyte actually receives printed circuit boards (PCBs) in a partially prepared state, with the traces and drilling already completed. This sets boards up for the SMT stage of the process, which gives boards a solder print job before peppering them with surface-mounted components like resistors.

SMT stage

Just one small part of the SMT floor

The SMT floor is filled with machines that autonomously handle most of the steps in this initial stage of production. The first of these machines is the solder paste printer, which prepares the traced PCB for component placement by spreading a thin layer of conductive solder onto the substrate through a stencil.

Solder paste printing

The next stop is the component gun, which places up to 10 components per second on each board in a dizzying display of mechanical engineering at its finest.

Check out the speed of the component gun

Components are loaded into the gun on reels, just like bullets in an ammo belt. Keep in mind that each of these resistors or microchips is only a few millimeters across; every reel pictured below contains thousands of parts.

The speed at which each reel spins gives you a good idea of how quickly components are placed

During the reflow soldering process, components placed by the rapid-fire gun are loosely soldered into place so basic testing can be done. If you want a good read on the details of this stage of the process, Wikipedia has a nice article on the subject.

Time for some inspections

After surface-mounted components are loosely anchored, it’s time for the boards to be inspected. The first step of this process is done by hand, with a relatively small group of people performing a visual inspection of each board to ensure that nothing is obviously wrong.

These technicians took their time with each piece

Our tour guide explained that while automation in testing has come a very long way in this industry, there are certain things that humans are simply better at detecting quickly, like a burnt area of a PCB or a component that has been rotated slightly. For this reason, visual inspections are still an integral part of the assembly procedure. Certain machines are used in conjunction with these inspections to minimize defective boards, though.

This optical testing unit looks for problems with its own set of eyes

One of those machines is the optical tester, which takes many pictures of a board and uses specialized optical recognition software to analyze the photos for missing or improperly installed components.

It’s short, but this little clip gives you an idea how the optical tester does its job

Instead of simply flagging boards as good or bad, the optical tester produces a detailed report of problem areas for a quick diagnosis.

One of the other automated board testers, this unit actually tests the components electrically

Large testing devices like the Miko-Kings TR-518FE check boards against a given template to ensure that each component is electrically connected.

DIP stage

Welcome to the DIP level

As the brightly-colored sign indicates, this area handles the DIP stage of the assembly process.

The dust removal chambers of DOOM

Before anyone is allowed into this area of the factory, they must go through specialized cleaning chambers. Air showers blast about four people at a time for a few seconds to cleanse them of loose debris.

And you thought *you* had a lot of extra ram slots in your workshop

This stage of motherboard assembly tackles larger components like heatsinks, I/O ports, and expansion cards slots, which can easily be fitted by hand.

This is where the bulk of the work happens

Fresh from the SMT floor, boards enter the DIP stage ready for all the other components to be placed. A single, long line handles the construction for every board of the same model number. Conveyor belts take each motherboard along the path, while workers place just one type of component on each board.

From boring and barren to nearly finished in one production line

The workers rotate so everyone gets a chance to take a break, but the constant stream of production never lets up. They also switch stations somewhat regularly to keep from doing the same thing over and over again.

Going into the wave soldering machine

At the tail end of the initial assembly line is the wave soldering machine, in which pin-through components are electrically and mechanically connected in one step.

…getting ‘dipped’…

Wave soldering is an impressive process to watch—an entire vat of solder is kept in liquid form and directed to flow such that it just barely touches the pins on the bottom side of each motherboard.

Here’s a video of wave soldering in action

Components mounted to the bottom side of a board have to be put on after the wave soldering process, and they can only be surface-mounted.

…and leaving the machine, ready for the last components to be attached

Since the solder doesn’t have to be directed to each component individually, motherboards can continuously move through the machine, greatly increasing production rates. Several large fans cool the motherboards quickly after they leave the soldering machine for the final steps of assembly.

Heatsinks for the north and south bridge chips are among the last components placed

While the other components are each handled by a single person, larger parts that require a secure connection through the motherboard are installed by a team of workers.

Testing and packaging

Testing—not the most exciting step of the process, but arguably the most important

Our final destination was the testing floor. Here, each motherboard is tested to some degree, with random samples pulled for more intensive examination.

One of the automated testing boxes

It’s worth noting that every single motherboard is tested both electrically and with a quick POST check with specialized automated testing machines.

Every port and slot gets equipment plugged into it during the automated testing stage

These machines are designed to simulate an entire computer being powered on to test, and they probe pretty much every interface on the motherboard to make sure it’s working properly. Large readouts give technicians a visual cue when something is awry.

Basic functional testing is done on every unit, and extended testing is done on a percentage of the boards

Automated testing wouldn’t prevent a batch from leaving the factory with a bug in a particular component or process, though, so a percentage of boards are chosen at random for more rigorous inspection. Here, technicians power on a complete system and boot into operating systems (we saw both Windows XP and specialized testing environments) to test extended functionality.

Human visual inspection is combined with sticker application to reduce the total number of steps

Last but not least, each board undergoes a basic visual inspection before it’s passed on to either the retail box line or direct shipment to OEM customers.

The box makers, er, make boxes.

Each retail box begins its journey as a flat piece of cardboard that is shaped in the automatic box makers. These puppies can each churn out a box every couple of seconds.

Packaging bundles motherboards with other components into retail boxes

The empty boxes speed along belts to join the inspected motherboards. This last assembly line of workers simply places all the necessary pieces into each box, including the board itself, manuals, and other accessories.

Here’s the reason OEM parts cost less

OEM parts, on the other hand, are packed in shipping crates between slices of foam, ready to be sent off in bulk to their final destination.

This machine weighs each box of shipments to detect any inconsistencies for inspection

Before finally leaving the factory, product cartons are aggregated into large shipping boxes that are individually weighed. The weight of each box is very consistent unless something is missing or included by accident, allowing a final team of factory inspectors to correct any errors before shipments leave the facility.

Conclusion

It was certainly enlightening to see the steps involved in making a motherboard, and I hope you’ve gained some insight on what it takes to build what is arguably one of the most important system components for enthusiasts.

In the front lobby, current models and past flagships are both on display

This particular facility produces more than 400,000 motherboards each month (and over 300,000 graphics cards on top of that), so exacting standards and careful testing are both needed to ensure that products leaving the factory live up to the high standard of quality we’ve come to expect from Gigabyte. We’ve been quite impressed with the last few generations of Gigabyte boards to pass through our labs, and it’s nice to get a peek at how those boards were made.

Comments closed
    • xtalentx
    • 11 years ago

    Wow lots of Asians. I had no idea Asians even knew anything about electronics and manufacturing.

      • Hitman.1stGame
      • 11 years ago

      Like your grandparents not Know how Sailing in the sea..

    • eitje
    • 11 years ago

    that first picture should read:
    q[

      • Tamale
      • 11 years ago

      haha! i like that 🙂

    • ew
    • 11 years ago

    That “DIP” sign is awesome!

    I can never get enough of these kinds of articles. Wish How It’s Made would do a motherboard feature.

      • ew
      • 11 years ago

      Also pick-and-place machines are amazing!

    • thermistor
    • 11 years ago

    I am surprised that so much of the factory is a non-lean manufacturing setup, but more of a traditional assembly-line process. Also, the use of lots of inspection…I mean some inspection is still essential, but I hope they’ve poke-yoked the heck out of that place to ensure low escapes. Inspection doesn’t really catch a lot. I may have to look at Gigabyte for future purchases as a fairly comprehensive final quality check is something that I bet other competitors spend far less on (letting the consumer be the final quality check…).

    I find it interesting (ironic) that the less and less the US produces, how people are really interested in How It’s Made type shows.

    Wave soldering is kewl.

      • ludi
      • 11 years ago

      The US doesn’t produce less and less. It just doesn’t produce much in the way of consumer electronics.

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 11 years ago

        U.S. manufacturing has been in a steep decline for decades. The majority of our population now works in the “service sector” rather than actually producing anything.

    • BoBzeBuilder
    • 11 years ago

    So many motherboards. Can’t they just give me one of them?

    • RickyTick
    • 11 years ago

    Whether its motherboards or shoelaces, I find the process of manufacturing rather fascinating to watch.

      • Corrado
      • 11 years ago

      I watch ‘How it’s made’ on Science Channel all the time. Some of the stuff is so incredibly complex that it makes you wonder ‘Who designed this machine to do just that?’ Its crazy.

    • donkeycrock
    • 11 years ago

    Three things about Gigabyte.

    1. I wounder how much pollution they create?

    2. The lady putting on the Northbridge, the last mobo i got the northbridge was attached very poorly, i wiggled it slightly and it fell off. even after i put some more thermal paste and pinned it down again, it was very fragile to the touch.

    3. On that same mobo one of the heat sensors reads 78 degrees C, and there is no documentation where that sensor is. (Sensor 3)

      • 5150
      • 11 years ago

      Thanks Debbie Downer.

        • Steba
        • 11 years ago

        Its not Debbie Downer. Everyone knows he’s simply being a Negative Nancy.

      • Tamale
      • 11 years ago

      As for pollution, I think it’s probably not as bad as you think, but there is a fair amount of smog in Taipei from all the industry in general.

      I’d guess that something simply happened during the shipment from wherever you bought it.. they’ve always been secure when I’ve used them and I haven’t heard many other people have that complaint.

      Finding temperature sensor documentation isn’t something only gigabyte seems to have a problem with :\

      • idiot@core
      • 11 years ago

      Certainly not a very green company with CRT monitors strewn around the factory.

        • tesla120
        • 11 years ago

        or they are green because they want to keep using the CRTs instead of dumping them in a land fill o_O

          • Tamale
          • 11 years ago

          indeed. it’s far greener to just keep using technology even if it uses a little more juice than to just throw all that mercury out.

            • ludi
            • 11 years ago

            Ehrm, mercury? Only in LCDs with CCFLs. CRTs are high in phosphorous and lead content — although the majority of the lead is actually impregnated in the glass tube and will not re-enter the environment without being melted down and separated.

            • Tamale
            • 11 years ago

            thanks for the correction.. but generally it’s always ‘greener’ to use what you have as long as you can instead of throwing away all that working equipment. (assuming the energy differences aren’t huge)

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 11 years ago

    Page 4:
    It’s worth b[

      • Tamale
      • 11 years ago

      thanks, fixed

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    Wow. Way awesome videos… I wish so badly that you had one of the wave-soldering though!!

    It’s neat looking at this and comparing it to the ECS factory tour. I guess if I HAD to work at one of them as a Chinese youth, I’d prefer to work at ECS.

      • Tamale
      • 11 years ago

      thanks, Jordan!

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