Taking The Tour of Intel's Leixlip Operations

Intel Ireland includes two facilities located in Leixlip and Shannon. Intel currently employees 5,125 people at their Ireland locations and has been in operation there since 1990. Legit Reviews recently had the oppurtunity to go on a private tour inside one of the FABs over in Leixlip and we would like share that expierence with our readers. Leixlip, located in County Kildare, is a tranquil community of approximately 15,000 people located 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) northwest of Dublin, Ireland's capital. The Leixlip FABs are Intel?s largest and most advanced manufacturing facilities outside of the United States.

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Leixlip consists of a number of manufacturing facilities, FAB?s 10/14 & FAB?s 24 & 24-2. FAB 10& FAB 14 are known as Ireland FAB operations (IFO). They operate on a 0.25, 0.18, 0.13, 0.090 and 0.065 micron production process. Between these two FABS Intel can produce 65 individual, different products. The IFO covers approximately 130,000sq meters. It is also the only source of the P854 & P856 chips used in many routers etc. It should also be pointed out that Intel Ireland has an excellent environmental management track record. Its Environmental Management System is accredited to the ISO 14001 quality standard and as such is the first Intel plant to do so. If you look at the above picture of the plant you can tell that it is located in a rural area, so being environmentally friendly is important!

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FAB 24 is one of the leading FABS to run 300mm technology on a 90nm process. 300mm wafers allow for high output at lower cost. FAB 24 is 52,000sq meters, which includes a 15,000sq meter clean room. It was opened in June 2004 and originally produced the Pentium 4 line of chips. FAB 24-2 is Intel?s new baby. It was only opened this summer back in June of 2006. I say it?s Intel?s baby, because it produces chips on the 65nm level. This is currently the smallest manufacturing process used for CPU?s and its home to the new Core 2 Duo chips, aka ?Conroe?.

My adventure started early in the morning, I had to catch a local train out to Leixlip and then take a long walk to reach Intel. The first thing I noticed when I arrived was the security. Not long after I arrived I was greeted by our contact in the main reception and after a quick security check I was allowed to pass through a metal detector. I should mention that no cameras were allowed inside the FAB?s (I said security was tight), so the pictures you?ll see were taken for us by Intel.

Inside FAB 24

Once I was inside Intel I had a sort impromptu meeting in the canteen with our contact inside Intel. After that I was guided around the FAB?s themselves. The first thing I noticed was the sheer size of this place, they employ ~5000 people here in Leixlip! Intel?s FABS are designed for high efficiency. Each stage is kept separate from the other and is automated as much as possible. 

Intel FAB 24 Ireland

Here we have one of the Lithography stages; it?s where the circuit is printed onto the wafer. Notice the grills in the floor? The air in these clean rooms is replaced and filtered completely every six seconds. The picture above shows just once stage in production. Each stage is called a ?Bay? Behind each terminal on each side is what?s called ?the chase?. This is where engineers can gain access to the equipment for maintenance etc.

Notice the red boxes on either side? They are called ?Pods?.  They contain up to 25 300mm wafers. Here we have closer look at a pod in another bay.

Intel FAB 24 Ireland

Each Pod or lot of wafers moved along the line from one bay to the next, once reaching the end of the line, they may need to go back to the start all over again, it can take weeks for each wafer to complete production. The movements of these Pods are also automated.

Here we can see Intel?s ?Automated Material Handling System? (AMHS) which is used to transport wafers around the FABS. During the several weeks a wafer spends in a clean room, it passes the Lithography stage ~20 times. The AMHS connects all areas of the factory under computer control moves the lot box of ~25 wafers to the exact location of the next stage of production and keeps track of the status of each wafer.

Intel FAB 24 Ireland

Technicians work at each bay, calibrate and keep an eye out for any irregularities in the production process. Here we have an Intel tech working at a station in one of the many Lithography stages.

Intel FAB 24 Ireland

Lithography is where the circuit is etched onto the Silicon. A temporary pattern is created in a layer of the wafer. The pattern is created by using three steps; spin, expose and develop. A chemical called Resist is spun onto the wafer and the wafer is exposed to light through a mask which contains the circuit pattern. The final stage is Develop where all of the new unexposed resist is removed leaving the pattern behind.  Think of developing a photograph but much more precise, remember there are ~151 Million transistors in the latest Core Duo chips.

Intel FAB 24 Ireland

Once the wafers have their pattern they go to the Etch stage. This is the process of permanently etching the patterns onto the silicon wafer surface. They are etched either with a chemical (Wet Etch) or plasma gas (Dry Etch). Once this is complete the wafers are ready to start all over again for another layer to be deposited and patterned.

The final product that ships out of Leixlip is a 300mm wafer of 65nm Core Duo chips.

Intel FAB 24 Ireland

These completed wafers are then shipped to places like Malaysia and Singapore where they assemble the final chips.

Legit Reviews would like to thank everyone at Intel for making this article possible, and I would personally like to thank everyone at Leixlip for making me feel very welcome and taking the time to show me around their FABS.