One Tiny Screw Shows Why Apple Isn’t Likely to Manufacture More Products in the US: NYT

Despite the US-China trade war and President Trump’s calls for Apple and other major American technology companies to bring their manufacturing closer home, US-based Apple manufacturing is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

A new report from the New York Times cites sources who said Apple’s attempts at assembling the Mac Pro in Texas in 2012 were delayed when the company failed to source enough screws from the U.S.

Unlike Apple’s Chinese partners, Flextronics, which Apple pegged to build the Mac Pro, struggled from the beginning to meet the Cupertino company’s demands. High labour expenses were apparently to blame for the small size of its production teams, which led to delays. Additionally, while Foxconn and rivals could count on armies of workers to keep building products throughout the night, U.S. employees weren’t available for overnight shifts.

According to the report, Apple needed easy access to thousands of screws to put the Mac Pro together. But when supply became scarce, the company was delayed by a single machine shop that could produce just 1,000 screws a day, ultimately forcing Apple to delay Mac Pro sales for several months.

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

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.

Improving production in the U.S. would require Apple and the government to make massive investments in job training, supply-chain infrastructure, and robotic assembly — improvements that the report deems unlikely, given the continued supply of cheap Chinese labour under an authoritarian government.

Apple has committed to spending billions of dollars on U.S. facilities over the next several years but does not appear to be focusing those funds on domestic manufacturing.

The full report is certainly worth a read. In response to it, an Apple spokesperson said that the company is “an engine of economic growth in the United States.” It earmarks 9,000 suppliers stationed in the United States, which supports 450,000 jobs in the country.