In January 2006, Micron and Intel formed IM Flash Technologies, LLC. IMFT combines the technology, assets, and industry experience of the two companies to create NAND flash memory. Jointly investing over $2 billion dollars, they opened up a semiconductor fabrication plant in Lehi, Utah which currently operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This fab employs about two thousand people.
IMFT is currently celebrating their 4 year anniversary as a silicon manufacturing machine for the two industry heavyweights. The companies are combining Micron's manufacturing and NAND expertise along with Intel's multi-level cell knowledge in order to move the technology forward.
To coincide with the 25nm process technology announcement, a select group of press was allowed to enter the IMFT fab and given a tour of the site. We were the first group of press and analysts to see the plant. As you can imagine, security was tight and we were not allow to use photography of any kind during the expedition. Instead, IMFT provided us with the following images which mirror the sights we were shown during our tour.
The central area of the fab is the clean room, where the environment is controlled and air is scrubbed to eliminate dust down to micrometer size and no more than 10 particles per cubic meter levels. Before entering the fabrication areas, we put on clean room suits also known as bunny suits. These garments covered all parts of the body with the exception of eyes and the nose. Once inside, the lack of people working inside the fab was surprising. It was explained that most of the people we saw were technicians conducting preventive maintenance and ensuring the equipment operated within specifications. What the images are unable to show is the bustling movement of machinery occurring overhead and along the walls of this fully automated fab, carrying materials to the various stations within the plant.
Each orange container contains 25 wafers. Once the container reaches a point in the fabrication chain, the wafers are individually worked on by the fab tools. Then the container is carried to the next piece of equipment and the process is repeated. The last couple of images are looking up at the ceiling and show the elaborate transportation system that the containers travel from one tool to the next.
We really enjoyed our tour inside the manufacturing plant. The entire process of donning bunny suits and witnessing the fabrication process occurring right before our eyes was interesting to say the least. As technology enthusiasts, we traditionally deal with the end product and rarely get the chance to see where the individual components came from or how they were manufactured. The IMFT tour was definitely an eye opening experience and one that we won't forget anytime soon. What's perhaps even more interesting however, will be the fruits of Intel and MIcron's collective efforts with their new 25nm NAND technology. We'll be here to deliver you more of that story in the weeks ahead.