Lack of screws put the hurt on Apple’s U.S. manufacturing plans

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Screws 1
This anecdote illustrates why U.S. manufacturing is so tough for Apple.
Photo: Gemma Stiles/Flickr CC

President Trump has suggested that Apple manufacture its devices in the United States. But things aren’t quite so easy as that — as a New York Times article makes clear.

It describes the challenges Apple faced when it tried making its top-of-the-line Mac Pro in the U.S. several years ago. One of the big problems? Simply, that Apple couldn’t get hold of enough screws to assemble the $3,000 computers in Austin, Texas.

The report cites three people who worked on the project, speaking anonymously due to confidentiality agreements. It claims that:

“In China, Apple relied on factories that can produce vast quantities of custom screws on short notice. In Texas, where they say everything is bigger, it turned out the screw suppliers were not. Tests of new versions of the computer were hamstrung because a 20-employee machine shop that Apple’s manufacturing contractor was relying on could produce at most 1,000 screws a day.

The screw shortage was one of several problems that postponed sales of the computer for months, the people who worked on the project said. By the time the computer was ready for mass production, Apple had ordered screws from China.”

In the grand scheme of things, finding enough screws for the housing of a computer is a relatively small part of the overall manufacturing process. That’s exactly the point, however.

If Apple was unable to fulfill this basic requirement for a computer that sells a fraction of the number that Apple sells of its flagship iPhones, it’s illustrative of just how many problems would follow if Apple was to ever bring back all its manufacturing to the U.S.

Other problems

Components aren’t the only problem, of course. Tim Cook has previously noted how many more manufacturing experts there are in China. Speaking in 2017, he said that, “In the U.S., you could have a meeting of tooling engineers and I’m not sure we could fill the room. In China, you could fill multiple football fields.”

That’s before you even consider the price hike — which would ultimately be passed onto consumers — were Apple to have to bring back U.S. manufacturing.

This isn’t to say that things are likely to stay concentrated in China, though. Companies like Foxconn are in the process of opening plants in the United States. Apple suppliers are also exploring other markets, such as India and Vietnam, which could be used to manufacture devices like the iPhone.

Source: New York Times