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Photos: Inside Dell's Irish build-to-order factory

From parts to PC in four hours flat...
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Topic: Hardware
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1 of 12 Sylvia Carr/ZDNet

From parts to PC in four hours flat...

The Dell manufacturing facility in Limerick, Ireland is one of seven factories where Dell builds laptops, desktops, servers and storage systems. The others are in Brazil, China, Malaysia and the US.

The Limerick facility opened in January 2000, spans 40,000 square feet and employs 3,000 people.

Dell prides itself on its 'just in time' manufacturing model, which means the facility builds systems as they're ordered and never stores more than two days inventory.

Once a system is ordered (more than half of orders are placed online), it takes around four hours for it to be created in the Limerick factory.

How's it done? Let's take a look...

Photo: Dell

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2 of 12 Sylvia Carr/ZDNet

It all starts with parts. In the distance you can see a truck bay full of computer parts pulled up to one side of the Limerick factory floor.

Dell orders the parts - processors, hard drives, CD/DVD drives, keyboards, screws etc - from its suppliers every two hours. The parts only become Dell property once they come out of the truck bay and into the factory. This ensures Dell purchases just what it needs to build systems which have already been ordered - and no more.

Photo: Sylvia Carr

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3 of 12 Sylvia Carr/ZDNet

The first step to building a Dell system is assembling all the necessary parts, which is done at a station like the one you see here.

A computer tells factory workers which parts to collect. Each item is scanned before being placed into a black plastic container which at the end of this stage will hold everything needed to assemble the system.

Photo: Sylvia Carr

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4 of 12 Sylvia Carr/ZDNet

Here's all the kit necessary to build a Dell laptop, packed up and headed down the conveyor to the person who will build it.

The Limerick factory builds all the systems for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region and some for other parts of the world. It's also one of only two factories, along with Malaysia, where Dell laptops are built.

Photo: Sylvia Carr

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5 of 12 Sylvia Carr/ZDNet

A Dell factory worker assembles the laptop by hand, scanning parts as they're built into the system. The whole process takes seven or eight minutes. Desktops, by contract, take three or four minutes to build, while servers can take anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes, depending on the complexity of the system.

The individual who builds a system is considered its 'owner' as it goes down the line, so there's some level of accountability should any defects be discovered in testing.

Photo: Dell

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6 of 12 Sylvia Carr/ZDNet

Now it's back on the conveyor for the finished laptop. Next stop: labelling...

Photo: Sylvia Carr

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7 of 12 Sylvia Carr/ZDNet

At this station all the appropriate labels are pasted on the laptop for the various hardware and software it contains. Again, a computer prompts the factory worker on what's inside the laptop and thus which stickers it needs.

Photo: Sylvia Carr

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8 of 12 Sylvia Carr/ZDNet

The next stage is the initial quality control check. The factory worker examines the laptop for any visible flaws or defects, and makes sure it has all the appropriate labels.

If any problems are detected, the system is sent back up the line to its 'owner' for repair.

Photo: Sylvia Carr

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9 of 12 Sylvia Carr/ZDNet

After the quality control check, both the hardware and software are tested rigorously for performance and compatibility issues.

Here you can see a batch of laptops being put through the paces. This is the most time-consuming part of the manufacturing process, lasting around 80 minutes.

The monitors on top of the cabinets show the factory workers how far along each system is in the tests, and if any problems have been detected.

Photo: Sylvia Carr

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10 of 12 Sylvia Carr/ZDNet

Should a system fail any of the tests, it's brought to this station for further examination and repair.

Photo: Sylvia Carr

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11 of 12 Sylvia Carr/ZDNet

Once the laptop, desktop or server passes the performance tests, it's back on the conveyors to be boxed up. It's nearly ready to head out the door but first the relevant documentation is added in. The factory workers scan the system's label to find out which documentation to put in which box.

Photo: Sylvia Carr

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12 of 12 Sylvia Carr/ZDNet

And off it goes...

The boxed-up systems are loaded onto a lorry at the opposite end of the factory to the supply trucks. They're shipped directly to the customer or, if the order includes Dell products not built at the factory such as monitors or PDAs, first it stops at a sorting hub to meet up with those other items so everything arrives together.

Photo: Sylvia Carr

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