MSI China Tour 2007 - Day 1

Tim Roper travels from Texas to China in order to get a better look at Micro-Star International's newest production facilities outside of Shanghai. MSI builds an incredible amount of motherboards, video cards, and now laptops that are shipped worldwide.

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Factory Tour

In the afternoon, MSI showed us around several of the motherboard and notebook assembly lines in their Kunshan manufacturing facility just outside of Shanghai. The facility, which opened in June 2003, employs around 5,000 workers, many of whom live on site. Unfortunately, we werenآ’t allowed to bring our camera along, but MSI provided us with photos to share with our readers.

One thing that surprised us was seeing how much of the manufacturing process was actually done by hand. The circuit printing and installation of the tiny capacitors and resistors on the motherboard are handled by machine, but many of the larger components, such as I/O shields, RAM slots, and heat pipes, are attached to the PCB by hand. In one 100-yard long assembly line, 30-40 different technicians handle everything from buffing, component placement, and spot soldering, to labeling, QA, and packaging.

Stamped circuit boards arrive in bulk:

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The solder is applied to the board through a process similar to silk screening:

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This device attaches all the small circuits to the MoBo. The capcitors, resistors, and small chips come from the manufacturer loaded on reels, and the set of vertical cylanders in the middle of the photo plucks them in rapid succession before inserting each one in the right place. This step takes only a few seconds and resembles an insane sewing machine:

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The boards go through a series of ovens that heat the solder and permanently set the components:

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And then they cool down:

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Some spot-soldering is done by hand:

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Notebook assembly happens essentially the same way, except the line is roughly twice as long. We were happy to see notebook after notebook spending time on a long rotating series of shelves getting some serious burn-in time before packaging.

Many of the labels and stickers are applied by hand:

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Notebook motherboards are made in a similar fashion as the bigger desktop boards:

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Boards for the smallest notebooks are manufactured two to a PCB:

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More heating and QC:

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Technicians then test all the I/O on modular platforms:

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Once installed in the chassis, technicians perform a series of software tests:

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Then they spend some time burning in:

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The systems are prepped for shipping:

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And then packaged for shipment:

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Andy Tung, Sales Director for MSI, gave us some manufacturing numbers for the Kunshan facility. Their assembly lines are currently turning out 2.2 million motherboards, 1.8 million video cards, and 200k-250k notebooks every month, with room to grow. MSI only got into the notebook business in 2003, and theyآ’re already on target to ship 2 million notebooks in 2008.

On our way out, we were able to snap a photo of one of the orange testing platforms MSI uses to test components before packaging.

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Thatآ’s all the news for today. Check back later for our thoughts from Day 2.

(Editor's Note: While the basic process of building a motherboard has changed little, the size of the facilities and the capacities they can output have become huge compared to where they were 10 years ago. If this article interested you, check out some of the older takes we had on plant tours: ABIT in mid-1999, and Gainward back in 2002. Our very first "plant" tour was to Soyo and it consisted of little more than a single SMT machine in a dirty and dingy warehouse back when Soyo was the king of the BX motherboard. It was so bad they would not let us take pictures.)