Hand placing flash die to make USB drives


It’s a stretch to call this one a hack, but USB thumb drives are around us constantly and we always assumed that the boards inside were machine populated (like with a pick and place machine). [Bunnie] tells us otherwise. He recently had the chance to tour a factory where USB flash drives are made.

The image above shows a worker populating a set of boards with the flash memory dies. The waffle-grid to the right holds the dies. Each is a tiny glint of a component. The worker is not in a clean room, and is using a bamboo tool to pick up the pieces. [Bunnie] explains that he’s seen the tools before but doesn’t fully comprehend how they work. He figures that the hand-cut manipulator has just the right amount of grab to pick up the die, but will also release it when it touches down on the dot of glue applied to the landing zone on the board.

If you’re into this sort of thing you should check out the PCB factory tour we saw a couple of years back. The article link is dead but the embedded tour video still works.

[Thanks pl]


  1. Segphalt says:

    Bamboo = Anti Static, come on guys…

  2. Miff says:

    That reminds me of that old troll “Is your son a computer hacker?” article, which claimed that AMD made CPUs (?!) in sweatshops.

  3. Justin says:

    Once the photo/litho processes are done the die is given a layer of SiO2 – one of the best electrical isolators imaginable. At that point you don’t need clean-room conditions to work with them but it’s advised not to touch the surface. Silicon can be doped with pretty much everything – even the grease on the skin of your fingers – to change its properties.

  4. Yarr says:


    • Yarr says:

      The plural of the noun “die” is “dice”. You roll a 20-sided die. You roll two 6-sided dice. The worker puts a die on the PCB. The worker gets this die from a tray of dice.

      • sean says:

        Technically you’re right, but it has actually become industry standard practice to use “die” as the plural form. So in actuality you’re both wrong.

      • Kevin says:

        “Die” (the thing you roll) and “die” (the integrated circuit) are homonyms with entirely different etymologies. Being homonyms does not imply that they have the same plural. Consider that the plural of yet another meaning of “die” (the mechanical cutting tool) is always “dies”, not “dice”.

        • sean says:

          This really, really doesn’t matter, but I replied because I was curious what it actually should be referred to as. Footnote on page 31 of Digital Integrated Circuits by John E. Ayers (2004): “The plural of die is dice. However, it has become standard practice in the industry to use ‘die’ as the plural.” Used in context as “the wafer on the left has 7 bad die out of a total of 37.” I was surprised too.

          Also: herp derp I’m a troll

          • Kevin says:

            Trolling or not, it’s kind of interesting. Come to think of it, I wonder if “die” (the thing you roll) and “die” (the integrated circuit) are both related to the verb “dice” (to cut into small pieces). In that case, “dice” would make a little more sense as the plural of the integrated circuit.

        • Whatnot says:

          “ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French de, from Latin datum ‘something given or played’, neuter past participle of dare.”

          I think although it’s correct to use dies in this case – the etymology is actually the same.

      • I infer from this colorful off topic discussion that you dropped the die into the dye.

        Regardless, this illustrates just how complicated and wrong the written word has become. It’s no wonder the average person is bad at spelling. To many variations of the way you spell the same sounding word as well as to many definitions for a given way of using the given spelling of a word.

        Hopefully we won’t end up with someone in this discussion who thinks they are the linguistic police of all things written.

        I have to go now, cause I scared myself at the thought of that last sentence.

    • Mojo says:

      I think we should just let this conversation dice. I mean die.

  5. Galane says:

    Dice, the plural of die when it comes to convex polyhedral gaming devices with various numerals, arrangements of dots or other figures on each face.

    Dies, the plural of die as used in processes for stamping, forming or cutting metal and other sheet materials. Dies is also the plural of die in the die cast metal industry. Curiously, in a process essentially identical to die casting metal, plastic injection, the dies are called molds. Some in the industry have begun to refer to die casting metal as metal injection.

    One person who has been getting it wrong for years is the author and artist of the webcomic “Alien dice”, using dice for both singular and plural.

  6. GotNoTime says:

    The photo is of somebody mounting the USB controller chips. The flash die is significantly bigger.

  7. Justin says:

    Someone should build a hack that inludes:
    – pressurized PVC tubes
    – high power lasers
    – more than 1 bare die
    – tentacle fingers or a dildo

    … just to see the comments.

  8. ins0mniac says:

    Erm…Bunnie had posted this back in February.

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