15-10-2011, 04:16 PM
How Motherboards Are Made: A Gigabyte Factory Tour
Without a doubt, motherboards are the most complex and essential part of the modern PC. Not only do they hold the chipsets that pass data from peripherals, drives and memory to the processor, they also provide slots and ports for all your other system components and the circuits through which all data must pass.
Perhaps surprisingly then, motherboards get very little respect in the computing press as compared to other components. They are perpetually the team player and not the star of the show, and are generally priced as such.
With this in mind, it's surprising to learn the amount of work and machinery involved in manufacturing a single motherboard. We'd vaguely imagined some sort of stamping process where all components are slapped onto the bare board in one step and soldered, before being boxed in a big room full of bored workers.
Sure there'd have to be some testing, but how intense could it be?
As PCSTATS recent trip to Gigabyte's Nan-Ping factory in Taiwan showed us, there's a lot more to it. In fact, producing and testing a single motherboard involves a mind-boggling host of automated machines, people and processes; so we'd like to detail the whole assembly line we toured while covering Computex, to give you a feel for how things are really made.
Gigabyte's Nan-Ping factory is a modern building in rural Taiwan. Built in 1986, this 8-story factory encompasses 45,000 square meters of work space, and includes 18 SMT lines, 10 DIP lines, and 9 Testing lines.
Entering the Motherboard Factory
First steps in Motherboard Manufacturing
Gigabyte out sources the PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards) it uses for its motherboards to a PCB manufacturer. These arrive already etched with the necessary circuit traces, pre-coloured and pre-drilled with the holes that are needed to insert components like the CPU socket and PCI slots. Other than this though, they are completely bare, containing no components or solder.
Solder Paste Screen Printing
Before being sent to the SMT (Surface Mount Technology) machines that will mount chips and resistors onto the PCB, each motherboard must be prepared by solder paste printing, a technique which involves spreading solder paste over a nickel sheet, laser cut to correspond to the motherboard being assembled. This nickel sheet 'screen' is then moved into the printer and the motherboard positioned precisely under it. The paste is distributed over the screen by the printer so it is squeezed through the holes in the nickel sheet to adhere to the motherboard underneath in precise areas.
SMT Assembly Line
The bare PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards), with solder paste applied in the right places, take the second step towards becoming fully-fledged motherboards here. The SMT (Surface Mount Technology) machines pick and place the tiny resistors, solid-state capacitors and other IC (Integrated Circuit) chips onto the PCB at ultra high speeds. If you look at the motherboard in your computer, some of these small components are no more than 1mm square!
Each board passes through two sets of FUJI CP742 high speed SMT machines, the 'small pick and place' and 'large pick and place' devices. Each machine in the set adds a few components, from tiny resistors up to the North and Southbridge chips. Belt fed from tape-like cartridges of components, the SMT gear places components like a machine gun, taking as little as an eighth of a second to place a component with exact precision on the PCB.
SMT Process Continues