Mac Pro factory in Texas exposes weakness of US manufacturing

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Mac Pro factory
Building in the U.S. brought plenty of challenges.
Photo: Apple

If you’ve ever wondered why Apple doesn’t do more manufacturing in the United States, a new report by Bloomberg offers a few answers. Covering the career of CEO Tim Cook, the article details the challenges of U.S. manufacturing, as epitomized by Apple’s Mac Pro factory in Austin, Texas.

“It was an experiment to prove that the U.S. supply chain could work as good as China’s, and it failed miserably,” a former senior manager is quoted as saying.

Mac Pro: Made in the USA

Apple set up the Mac Pro factory in 2013. At one point, rumors suggested Apple would move Mac Pro assembly back to China after lining up a deal with Quanta. However, Apple instead kept the plant in America as part of its commitment to U.S. economic growth. But while this was good for optics, it was bad for manufacturing ease. One anecdote relayed in the article:

“Skills common at Foxconn [in China] were harder to find in the U.S., where new hires might have worked previously at a Costco rather than at a different electronics factory. An ex-Apple product engineer remembers the team struggling to determine why circuit boards coming off the assembly line were crooked. They ultimately traced the problem to a single worker who was inexplicably screwing in parts from left to right, instead of by the numbered order Flex provided. Scrap was high at first, and several sources say the teams missed their initial delivery and cost targets.”

The story also recalls that Cook famously took President Donald Trump on a tour of the Mac Pro factory in 2019. At the time, Trump presented the factory as if it was new — a mistruth Apple did not immediately correct.

The article says that Flex Ltd., the contract manufacturer that operates the Austin plant, prepped for the Trump visit by “manicuring the production floor as if it were a stage set.” One person is quoted as saying that it was “very much a show.” Macs were stacked up to look as if they were selling “like hotcakes.”

Tim Cook: Good at numbers

The article offers an interesting portrait of Cook as he approaches 10 years as Apple CEO. (He took over in August 2011.) It drills down on his operations-oriented, numbers-focused prowess. It notes that Cook once negotiated the price for a component “literally … down to four decimal” points. The report also quotes an unnamed ex-Apple executive as saying that Cook is “pure work: grind, grind, grind, grind.”

“I always found him exceptionally boring,” they said.

Despite the U.S. Mac Pro, the article notes that, under Cook, Apple’s reliance on China has only deepened. Whether that can change in the coming years remains to be seen.

Source: Bloomberg