Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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A tiny screw shows why iPhones won’t be ‘Assembled in USA’

Good article by Jack Nicas in the New York Times about just why Apple assembles its products in China, built around the story of the Texas-assembled Mac Pro:

Chinese suppliers shipped their components to Texas. But in some cases, the Texas team needed new parts as designs changed, and engineers who were tasked with designing the computer found themselves calling machine shops in central Texas.

The supplier Apple chose, Caldwell Manufacturing, could only produce a small number of custom screws1 (compared to a Chinese firm), to the point where Apple ended up ordering screws from China. But what’s also interesting is the chicken-and-egg aspect of the story:

When Mr. Melo bought Caldwell in 2002, it was capable of the high-volume production Apple needed. But demand for that had dried up as manufacturing moved to China. He said he had replaced the old stamping presses that could mass-produce screws with machines designed for more precise, specialized jobs.

Caldwell couldn’t make lots of screws for Apple, even though it once had the capacity, because that part of its business was beaten by cheaper competition in China years before. (The article also quite rightly points out that U.S. workers are paid far more than Chinese workers and also don’t live under an authoritarian government that can compel them to work—though as John Gruber rightly points out it’s not as if American industry can’t work 24 hours…)

I have no idea if this story originated with Apple or if it’s all independent reporting by the Times2, but it serves Apple’s message—that they can’t simply move manufacturing back to the United States like the President of the United States keeps saying. But the report does suggest that Apple is investigating ways of diversifying its assembly chain by adding resources in Vietnam or India, just in case tensions between the U.S. and China grow worse.

  1. As several people have pointed out today, it’s entirely possible these were nonstandard security screws designed to make the device harder to open and repair… sigh. 
  2. The more I think about it, the more it feels like this is a story planted by Apple. 
—Linked by Jason Snell

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