Notebookcheck on location: A peek behind the curtain of Intel's Malaysian factories
Intel Malaysia is almost as old as the company itself. This first offshore site of the American company was founded in 1972, with 100 employees working here on chip assembly. In 1975, there already were 1,000. Today, roughly 15,000 people work for Intel Malaysia at the locations on Penang in the free-trade zone there and in Kulim - likely a big contributing factor in attracting other technology companies to Malaysia.
In Malaysia, Intel does not make any wafers - this is done in the USA in Oregon, Ohio and Arizona, as well as in Ireland and Israel, with a future wafer fab planned in Magdeburg in Germany. In Malaysia, Intel does basically everything else: Wafer testing, sorting and the packaging and assembly of the chips. Notebookcheck was granted a rare look behind the curtain.
The manufacturing process happens like this: The prepared wafers reach Intel's Kulim location. Here, the wafers are cut, using a laser as well as a water-cooled cutter with a diamond-tip. In the next step, the wafers are singled out and then pre-sorted, removing defective chips from the process. All of these steps are automated in special machines, but human workers transfer the chips between them.
The following step, the transfer of the chips into the sorting and testing facility, is done by Intel's AGV robots, which are controlled by an AI program to reach the best possible output. In this testing and sorting step, the chips are sorted into their respective SKU classes. Here, the also are stress tested. This test is performed with proprietary Intel testers. These are developed and manufactured in the Systems Integration factory, which is also in Kulim. Here, Intel also creates custom mainboards for testing.
The next steps of the process are done in Penang, at least mostly. At the moment, the new Intel processors of the Meteor Lake series are already in production; they are based on the Foveros packaging process. The factories in Penang can not yet do this advanced packaging, which is at the moment done in New Mexico.
To clarify, packaging in this case refers to the assembly of the processor, not the shipment packaging or something like that. Through packaging, the sorted wafer chips become finalized processor for customer usage - the chips and components are connected, partially glued with Epoxy and the processors get their lid (deskop chips) or stabilizer (mobile chips), which is made out of metal. At the end, there is a quality control, even the smallest visual problem would lead to Intel discarding the CPUs.
Apart from producing, Intel Malaysia also develops processors in Penang. Intel showed of their development lab too, though they were careful enough not to reveal anything regarding future products. An interesting aspect is the troubleshooting: Intel is cooperating closely with their OEM customers. If there is a problem with the CPUs, the engineers from Penang can sometimes even travel abroad to check out that problem on location.
Intel's Penang location is impressive in its scope. It shows of the complexity of the processor production, and Intel is working on expanding it. A new big factory is being built to bring the "Advanced Packaging" to Penang, expanding the capacity for modern designs like Intel Meteor Lake.
The author has received the information in this article at an event of the manufacturer. Travel and hotel expenses for the event have been covered completely or partially by the manufacturer. The manufacturer was given no influence over the content, there was no obligation to publish.