Meet Apple’s Secret Troubleshooting Team
Within just hours of a new iPhone’s release, couriers start putting defective devices on FedEx cars and sending them to Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, where the same engineers who built the iPhone try to find out what caused the problem.
The main idea is to identify and resolve problems that weren’t caught in time before manufacturing, so the problem may be part of millions of iPhones Apple’s assembly partner pumps out.
Often the engineers jury-rig hardware fixes, and coordinate a solution across Apple’s global supply chain. This phase is highly important, because if engineers fail to identify the problem, they are giving the green light to bad products, Michael Fawkes, the former head of supply chain for Hewlett-Packard says. “When you mess it up, you pay an enormous price. You piss off customers, and then you have the economics of reworking your supply chain.”
As Bloomberg’s sources highlight, the serial number of an Apple device allows the company to trace a problem down to individual workers on an assembly line.
The program is known internally as early-field failure analysis, or EFFA, and it was created in the late 1990s, saving Apple millions of dollars and helping the company maintain its reputation for quality products.
That paid off with the original iPhone in 2007, when many were quickly returned with faulty touchscreens, according to an engineer involved in fixing them. Some suppliers manufactured iPhones with a flaw near the earpiece that let sweat from a person’s face seep in, shorting the screen. The EFFA team added a new coating to shield the leaky area and told their suppliers to do the same on their assembly lines. Other EFFA workers, investigating the failure of early iPhone speakers, concluded that the problem was a lack of airflow that caused the speakers to build up pressure and implode during flights from Chinese factories to the U.S. The team relieved the pressure by poking holes in the speakers.
The whole Bloomberg Businessweek article is well worth the time. To read the full story, just follow this link.