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We visited ECS factory located in ShenZhen city (the correct pronunciation is “tchen-jen”), Guangdong province, mainland China. This trip was a unique experience in several ways and we think it is worthwhile to talk more about several aspects of this trip – and about the factories, of course. We visited two factories: ECSM (ECS Manufacturing), which is a giant two-building complex where motherboards, notebooks and other components are manufactured, and Biloda, which manufactures printed circuit boards (PCBs) used on ECS and PCChips motherboards (for those who doesn’t know, PCChips belongs to ECS).

Arriving in ShenZen is an adventure by itself. Since we were in Taiwan, we had to travel one hour from Taipei (Taiwan’s capital city) to Hong Kong and there we got a bus, which took one hour (65 Km or 40 miles) to arrive in our destination. Even though ShenZhen has an international airport, it is not possible to catch a plane from Taiwan to ShenZen, due to the political problems between China and Taiwan.

Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region, which means that even though it belongs to mainland China, Hong Kong is treated as it was another country. There everything is different from China, including the currency and the driving system (which is the English one).

ShenZhen is located besides Hong Kong, as you can see on the map below, and it is a Special Economic Zone, i.e., a capitalist cell inside a communist country.

Hong Kong & ShezZhen 
Figure 1: South China map, showing the location of ShenZhen and Hong Kong.
 
The quantity of customs and immigration officers that we need to cross until arriving in ShenZhen is simply unbelievable, our passport was stamped a lot of times. Check it out: leaving Taiwan, entering Hong Kong, leaving Hong King, entering ShenZhen. Four stamps in our way in and four more stamps in our way out.

ECS Factory TourFigure 2: View of Hong Kong in our way to ShenZhen.

ShenZhen is a very big city, with almost the same population as New York City and two times Los Angeles population (7 million inhabitants). We were really surprised. It is a real capitalist city, with several things working 24/7. Big neon signs are seen everywhere, resembling Las Vegas or Atlantic City.

ECS Factory TourFigure 3: A view of ShenZhen by night.

ShenZhen is an industrial district, having mainly factories of electronics products. Usually the employees that work on the manufacturing lines come from country towns to work hard and save money to go back to their home town. The typical Chinese employee works a lot with very little rest.

ShenZhen was established only 20 years ago and is a capitalist power horse. This makes us think what will happen when the entire China goes into capitalism.

Together with this migration, the bad side, present in all cities of that size: by dusk you can see a lot of prostitutes and beggars in front of the hotels.

ECS Factory Tour in ShenZhen, ChinaFigure 4: ShenZhen by day.

ECS Factory TourFigure 5: Error game: which is wrong with this picture (hint: the car on the left is from ShenZhen and the car on the right is from Hong Kong).

After this ShenZhen introduction, let’s talk about our visit to the main ECS factory.

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This factory consists in a complex containing three buildings, called 5, 20 and 26. Building 5 was not operational yet (is still waiting for government approval) and because of that we didn’t visit it. Building 20, which the majority of ECS and PCChips motherboards are manufactured, has 10 floors and is gigantic. We also visited Building 26, which has six floors and two floors are used for notebooks and systems manufacturing. The other floors are also used for motherboard manufacturing.

ECS Factory TourFigure 6: Building 20, seen from the top of Building 26.

ECS Factory TourFigure 7: Building 26, seen from the top of Building 20.

The total manufacturing capacity of this ECS complex is of 2.5 million motherboards per month. Currently they are manufacturing 2 million motherboards per month. It is important to note that until 2001 ECS was the number one motherboard manufacturer in the world, being surpassed by ASUS in 2002. So, today ECS is the number two and ASUS is the number 1 in number of manufactured motherboards per year. ECS guys expect to recover the top position very soon.

Building 20

Below we show some pictures of Building 20. As we said, this factory is gigantic and its hard to show its real size through pictures. But we’ll try. In Figure 8 we have its elevator, which is decorated with motherboards (a nerd’s dream, huh?) and on the hallways we saw tons of boxes with ECS, PCChips and Matsonic motherboards (Matsonic motherboards are in fact PCChips motherboards with a different name and our photos prove this).

ECS Factory TourFigure 8: Building 20 elevator.

ECS Factory TourFigure 9: Boxes of PCChips motherboards.

ECS Factory TourFigure 10: For the skeptics that didn’t believe that Matsonic is PCChips…

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The manufacturing lines are huge. Building 20 has two floors with 11 SMD lines each on south wing and two floors with 12 SMD lines on north wing, for a total of 46 SMD lines.

ECS Factory TourFigure 11: Some of the 46 SMD lines from ECSM.

The manual insertion area is a little bit smaller, with two floors with four lines each, for a total of eight manual insertion lines. These lines are very long, as you can see in Figure 12.

ECS Factory TourFigure 12: One of the eight manual insertion lines on Building 20.

ECS Factory TourFigure 13: Detail of the manual insertion line.

The third main step on a motherboard manufacturing process is testing. Build 20 has two floors with four testing lines each on south wing and two floors with two testing lines each on north wing, so this factory has total of 12 testing lines.

All motherboards are individually tested. The tests are performed in two steps. On first step the manufacturer simply tests if the motherboard turns on. On second step all motherboard features are tested. It is important to note that all motherboards are tested.

ECS Factory TourFigure 14: First testing step.

ECS Factory TourFigure 15: One of the testing lines (second step).

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Building 26 has less floors but it is not small at all. There are three floors dedicated to motherboard manufacturing (motherboards targeted to notebooks and desknotes) with 14 SMD lines on each floor (for a total of 42 SMD lines) and eight manual insertion lines on each floor (for a total of 24 manual insertion lines). Other two floors of this building are dedicated to notebooks, desknotes and systems manufacturing. On these floors there are three straight lines for notebook manufacturing, six cell lines for notebooks and mini-PCs manufacturing and three lines for systems manufacturing.

ECS Factory TourFigure 16: Overview of two notebook manufacturing lines.

ECS Factory TourFigure 17: Detail of one notebook manufacturing lines.

ECS Factory TourFigure 18: Notebook hard drive cloning.

All ECS notebooks run a 24-hour burn-in test, as you can see in Figure 19.

ECS Factory TourFigure 19: Notebook burn-in area.

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ECS Factory TourFigure 20: One of the cell manufacturing lines, where a mini PC was being assembled.

At one of the cell manufacturing lines we spotted something very interesting. It is ECS who manufactures Acer PCs. Yes you read it right. Acer computers manufacturing is farmed out to ECS. We asked more about this to ECS folks and they told us that everything on Acer PCs are manufactured by ECS, including the motherboard. Still not convinced? Look at the logo on the employee uniform and the logo on the PC case being assembled in Figure 21.

ECS Factory TourFigure 21: What a big surprise: Acer computers are manufactured by ECS.

ECS Factory Tour in ShenZhen, ChinaFigure 22: ECSM employee packing Acer PCs.

After visiting ECSM complex we visited ECS printed circuit board manufacturing facility, called Biloda.

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As we mentioned, Biloda belongs to ECS Group and manufactures the printed circuit board (PCB) used on ECS and PCChips motherboards. It is located in another city in ShenZhen province, called Bao An. Its production capacity is of more than 1.8 million square feet (168,000 square meters) of PCB per month. For you to understand what this number means, a ATX motherboard measures 11.7” x 10.9” (30 cm x 28 cm), having 130.20 square inches (840 square centimeters) or 0.904 square feet (0.084 square meters). With a production capacity of 1.8 million square feet it is possible to manufacture up to 2 million of printed circuit boards using ATX size, or more than that if the PCB to be manufactured is smaller.

ECS Factory Tour in ShenZhen, ChinaFigure 23: Biloda, PCB factory from ECS.

The PCB manufacturing process is divided into several steps. We’ll show you the main steps that we could look closer during our visit.

In Figure 24 we see the drilling step. The boards, initially all covered with copper, are drilled according to the project. In the middle you see the copper boards before being drilled. The machines you see on this picture are the drillers.

ECS Factory TourFigure 24: Drilling process.

ECS Factory TourFigure 25: Copper board before being drilled.

ECS Factory Tour in ShenZhen, ChinaFigure 26: Machine drilling the copper board. An aluminum foil protects the board.

After being drilled, the boards are cleaned by an employee (see Figure 27).

ECS Factory TourFigure 27: Board being cleaned after drilling process.

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The remaining steps include routing marking, layer addition and applying the protective lacquer. After each one of the steps involved on the PCB manufacturing there are quality control tests.

ECS Factory TourFigure 28: Routing marking.

ECS Factory TourFigure 29: Pressing the internal layers.

ECS Factory TourFigure 30: Applying the protective lacquer (purple, in this example).

ECS Factory TourFigure 31: PCB testing.