How Apple’s Operations department works [Cook book outtakes]

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Two Apple operations workers in a factory
Apple's operations, which Tim Cook headed up, is one of the company's secret weapons.
Photo: Apple

Tim Cook book outtakes: How Apple's Operations department works This post was going to be part of my new book, Tim Cook: The Genius Who Took Apple to the Next Level, but was cut for length or continuity. Over the next week or so, we will be publishing several more sections that were cut, focusing mostly on geeky details of Apple’s manufacturing operations.

Apple is famous for design and marketing, but a large part of the company’s success is due to the incredibly complex and efficient manufacturing organization Tim Cook masterminded with Steve Jobs.

No matter how beautiful its products are, the company would go nowhere without a world-class manufacturing and distribution operation that can make millions of devices in the utmost secrecy, to the highest possible standards, and deliver them efficiently all over the globe.

It’s an operation unprecedented in the history of industry. When Jobs and Cook started in 1998, Apple was doing $6 billion in business annually. It now does that every 10 days.

This dandy dongle isn’t real but maybe it should be

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USB-C dongle
Apple Dongle lets you connect with a good joke by Ryan Geraghty.
Photo: Ryan Geraghty

Dongles for this, dongles for that, USB-C dongles be damned. Product designer Ryan Geraghty feels your frustration and has created a concept designed to make Apple users laugh about their begrudged move to USB-C.

His idea of an Apple Dongle is “one elegant tapestry of connectivity” featuring 16 adapters into a single USB-C connector.

Ex-Apple engineer tells how the company’s manufacturing works

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Instrumental founder and CEO Anna Katrina Shedletsky
Instrumental founder and CEO Anna Katrina Shedletsky, who is using her experience as an Apple product design engineer to bring AI to manufacturing.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

Almost all electronic products are still assembled by hand, even hundreds of millions of iPhones.

But that’s changing. Apple’s supply chain is rapidly automating using AI and robots.

At the forefront of this is an ex-Apple product design engineer, Anna-Katrina Shedletsky, who is using her expertise to help other manufacturers build their products.

On this episode of the Apple Chat podcast, we talk to Shedletsky about her new AI startup, Instrumental; Apple’s giant manufacturing operation; the role of product design; and much more.

If you’re curious how Apple makes its products, listen to the podcast or check out the full transcript below.

Former Apple product design engineer reveals how Apple runs its factories

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Instrumental CEO Anna-Katrina Shedletsky
Anna Katrina Shedletsky is a former Apple product design engineer who is using her experience to build AI that helps companies streamline manufacturing.
Photo: Instrumental

On this week’s Apple Chat (the podcast formerly known as Kahney’s Korner): I talk with former Apple product design engineer Anna-Katrina Shedletsky about her take on modern manufacturing and how AI will revolutionize factories. She introduces us to her new company, Instrumental, which is using machine learning to help manufacturers identify and fix problems on their assembly lines.

Using her hard-earned experience at Apple overseeing the production of the first Apple Watch and several generations of the iPod, Shedletsky says machine learning is coming fast to manufacturing. Amazingly, almost all consumer electronics products are still assembled by hand — including hundreds of millions of iPhones.

But that’s changing. Manufacturing is undergoing a huge sea change with the advance of robotics and AI.

Early phone’s bizarre mechanism had dialing pegged

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This primitive dial phone was built by Western Electric in 1902 for communities too small for a fulltime operator service. Photo: David Pierini/Cult of Mac
This primitive dial phone was built by Western Electric in 1902 for communities too small for a full-time operator service. Photo: David Pierini/Cult of Mac

This week’s ode to a technological marvel of the past would be a better read on an iPhone 6. How else to fully appreciate the design of the device in your hand than to read about when function and form first met on the telephone?

 Among the many items found in my aunt’s home when she died last year in a small town in Michigan’s upper peninsula were two telephones that are examples of the first dial phone.

If the once-common rotary dial phone seems strange today, behold the calling function on this 10-pound candlestick phone. On a circular base are 100 numbers. In communities too small to have a full-time operator, each home was assigned a number.