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A Tiny Screw Shows Why iPhones Won’t Be ‘Assembled in U.S.A.’ (nytimes.com)
111 points by ot 25 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 121 comments



Now imagine we went to war, and China was not on our side. We have the headstart, but if we needed to start manufacturing more equipment, we're at a disadvantage.

I think this kind of supply chain issue is a national security concern.


It is exactly that [0], and has been at the forefront of minds for DoD for (unfortunately) a few years (but should have been longer, all the way back to entrance into WTO in 2001).

[0] https://media.defense.gov/2018/Oct/05/2002048904/-1/-1/1/ASS...

This is a great read on the disparity of supply chain / manufacturing capabilities of China vs US and makes this new "cold war" era much different than previous between Soviet Union where we had not outsourced a large quorum of our productive capacity.


It's like any vicious cycle. All manufacturing is in China because all manufacturing is in China. A few years ago when they moved manufacturing in China I'm sure the supply chain wasn't there either. But they had the low manufacturing prices that enticed them to move anyway.

If you want manufacturing to move back to the US (or Europe) you need to have tariffs that are so high that it's more profitable to move to the US even with supply chains that need to be built back up.

It's not easy to move manufacturing, that's why there's a lot of incentive to stay where you are.


The US still does a lot of manufacturing, from wooden furniture to CPU’s and aircraft.

In a large scale war consumer electronics and massive quantities of consumer goods would not be a priority. Thing s like food, bullets, clothing, fuel, tanks etc would be and all of that can easily be manufactured in the US.


> In a large scale war consumer electronics and massive quantities of consumer goods would not be a priority. Thing s like food, bullets, clothing, fuel, tanks etc would be and all of that can easily be manufactured in the US.

I'm not so sure. A modern army also needs things like radios, navigation aids, data-link terminals, etc. in massive quantities. The supply chains for those things have more in common with consumer electronics than with those for food, fuel, and bullets.

In WWII, I understand that the US converted its civilian manufacturing base from making things like civilian cars to making tanks and airplanes. I'd think it'd be a lot easier to covert a manufacturing base than to build one from scratch.


US military has ~100% US supply chains specifically for that stuff. But also clothing, MRE’s, chemicals, and everything else it needs.

Of note, the minimal types of equipment, large existing stockpiles, and lower percentage of servicemen vs civilians even in a total war situation makes this a vastly smaller market than consumer electronics. The risk vs benifits of offshoring is simply not worth it. Especially becase it allows congressional spending in specific districts.

PS: While manufacturing would need to be expanded, stockpiles allows for a significant ramp up period.


I guess part of my point was that having more domestic or allied consumer electronics manufacturing capacity is what would provide the ability to ramp up the production.

I'm skeptical that peacetime military-dedicated manufacturing capability + peacetime stockpiles would be able to scale to meet wartime needs. I would think it would be significantly advantageous to have plenty of slack, state-of-the-art civilian capacity (+ related expertise) in all needed areas.


-600 + Billion every year buys a lot of ‘toys’ and T-shirts.

At 1.3 million active duty military and more than 800,000 reserve forces the infrastructure to maintain that is already significant manufacturing capacity. Training more people takes time so you get various projections around force mobilization vs war footing etc. But while some lag is expected, you can get a lot done with even 1 year of critical supplies on hand.

Remember this is the same group that designed the internet to keep working even as major cities where nuked. Going to war is very much part of long term planning.


But who made the screws in the wooden furniture?


The point of this article is that Apple likes to use non-standard screws. It's not hard at all to buy standard screws made in the US.


I know of a few companies in the US that make screws. The machines are automated and energy in the US is cheap so China can't compete. (I don't know business details, but I suspect they make screws to sell in the US, shipping to China probably is too expensive) The machines also ensure consistent high quality, which is something China is only starting to figure out.


Actually now that you mention it I bought some screws on Saturday at Home Depot and they were made in the US (Spax).

It's a bit of a bummer about Apple's computers. On my self-built desktops there are basically two types of screws that are interchangeable between any computer I've ever built (the normal ones and the ones that self-thread into plastic fan). If I add a PCI card and need an extra, the ones that came with a Pentium 4 motherboard will do just fine.

I kinda get the "we need this very specific screw" thing for laptops or phones where thinness matters, but the trashcan Mac Pro is an exercise in weird priorities.

It feels like Apple's design team has forgotten that standard parts exist even when they'd work fine, or even better than some crazy integrated solution. Custom screws for everything just because you can. PCIe GPUs? Who needs em!? Gotta fit in this cylinder.

It's a problem they've created for themselves, and if they wanted to stop having it the solution is "Stop doing that." Go buy a normal screw like everyone else.


At the same time, having strong commercial ties is extremely important to ensure peace.

Stopping European and American companies from making business with Chinese companies puts us closer to a war.


Everyone thinks it's a national security concern.

From 1980 to now, wealthy people have sold out the well-being of the US for slight increases in their personal wealth.

Historically, the solution is to kill wealthy people until they start acting better.


>Historically, the solution is to kill wealthy people until they start acting better.

Sure, but many of the really wealthy usually manage to flee elsewhere or get on the good side of the people in charge of the killing. You wind up having to settle for killing a bunch of the middle/upper middle class. Usually you start by killing the university professors, the engineers, doctors and other middle/upper middle class people who might say things that could undermine the new regime.

Then you lose a generation or two to rebuilding. All of the "successful" revolts I can think of were either a) deposing despots who used populist uprisings to seize power b) mostly autonomous territories/colonies gaining independence.


I think you're looking at a much shorter time horizon than I was.

The counter-argument is that on the long term, killing a bunch of wealthy people seems to be the only mechanism that resets the behavior and norms of the wealthy.


It looks like China has a huge lead over the US in the "kill wealthy people" industry:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2011-07-23/china-exe...


I'd assume that moving manufacturing to a country where it can be done cheaper also makes the manufactured goods cheaper and thus increases the well-being of the people buying them.


That line of thinking is why phrases such as "penny wise, pound foolish" exist.

Setting your house on fire is also an "efficient" way to generate heat, unless you account for the full future reckoning, which was similarly ignored in the move of manufacturing to China.


It's pretty hard to know what the "future reckoning" will be with the move of manufacturing to China. The situation is different from setting your house on fire to keep warm. I don't think a war between the China and the rest of the world is terribly likely and I believe globalization is overall more good than bad for humanity. Other people may of course disagree, but the issue is definitely not as clear cut as you claim.


> I don't think a war between the China and the rest of the world is terribly likely and I believe globalization is overall more good than bad for humanity.

A war doesn't have to be likely for the location of supply chains to have a negative geopolitical effect. For instance: China could use the knowledge that globalization has become the US military's achilles heel to confidently take aggressive action elsewhere, knowing the US can't respond because it can't sustain a response without Chinese cooperation.

In a similar vein, economic dependence limits the pressure the US and other western countries can put on China in the name of Chinese human rights.


> In a similar vein, economic dependence limits the pressure the US and other western countries can put on China in the name of Chinese human rights.

Serious question, what pressure does the US currently put on China in the name of Chinese human rights?


That was the promise to americans when we signed all these trade deals

The reality is that the rich simply pocketed the labor arbitrage as profit rather than passing the savings on to consumers, they have 0 incentive not to because their is no punishment for doing so. That's why corporate profits and income inequality the highest in decades.


That sounds like the problem is weak competition (if you're a capitalist) or a bad tax/social security system.


That would be because regulatory capture exists. When you can write the rules because you already have the money, corruption is the norm. See the US government as an example where it's legal for government officials to commit insider trading, where they have revolving doors to lobbying, and where ethics is just the name of a committee.


The success of the military industrial complex is that it convinced everyone that it makes sense to plough hundreds of billions on a war that will never come and that would destroy us all anyway if it did.


Nuclear war could come (and honestly probably will, someday), and it wouldn't destroy everyone, just many, many people. And of course, if we weren't prepared for it, then anyone who did prepare for it could do as he pleased: someone with a conventional army and nukes will make short work of someone with a conventional army and no nukes.



This is not the same as deterrence theory.

Deterrence is achieved. No-one is going to try to invade the USA or start an all out war against them.

This is FUD for power and money.


Military equipment is manufactured in the US or allied countries to avoid this concern I think?


Just as one example, China has massive dominance in "rare" earth elements which are components of many different military and communication devices.

Check this out for full scope of current disparities [0]

[0] https://media.defense.gov/2018/Oct/05/2002048904/-1/-1/1/ASS...


With regard to Batteries Rare Earth is anything but, it’s more messy than anything and China wins on price. The States has plenty of capacity in that regard and a mine just recently reopened in California. Borderline Slave labor, lax environmental laws and state subsidized shipping make for a much lower price.


This is one of the concerns with Huawei networking equipment. It’s used by many US gov agencies and they’re now waking up to the risks posed.


Equipment is. Components and parts may not be.


With the current armament of the US it really isn't a concern to me. Would a war between major powers now last long enough to have the supply chain make a large difference?


Between super powers? Unless someone resorted to nukes then yes.

We're still in Iraq and Afghanistan to some extent all these years later and those countries had armies weaker than some states' national guard


The whole point of being a superpower is having the nukes.

I wouldn't worry about an attack on the US by China, but I would worry about an attack on Taiwan which the US has promised to defend and has an awful lot of chip manufacturing in the form of TSMC.

Realistically a major US-China conflict could mean the end of affordable smartphones and a huge dent in the US civilian tech industry. I suspect it would also see drastic measures against information warfare, First Amendment notwithstanding.


> Realistically a major US-China conflict could mean the end of affordable smartphones

Really? That's what you are concerned about? A major US-China war would likely drag the rest of the world in and burn a major world economic pillar within a week or so.

You won't simply miss your smartphone and live your life like nothing happened because all the ordinance is dropped thousands of miles away - China is not Afghanistan where you can simply ignore the violence. It's an enemy that can and will strike back with infinitely more potential than WW2 Japan. And then you're still leaving Iran, North Korea and Russia out of the equation.

What better time for NK to invade the South than during a major Pacific conflict where troops from Taiwan to Guam will be quite busy.


Winning against an army is quite different from keeping peace in an occupied country.


But in a way that's the point. If the US can't occupy China, how can it really win a war?


>If the US can't occupy China, how can it really win a war?

Lay waste to everything of value until the enemy surrenders on terms you can accept then leave. Sure there will be resentment but traditionally this is how wars were "won" prior to 1945. The rebuilding of Europe and Japan after WW2 was the first big break from the status quo.

Obviously this assumes a conventional war without nukes. Nuclear powers don't get in shooting wars with other nuclear powers (see Cuban missile crisis) so it doesn't really matter.


China's huge. Even the US doesn't have sufficient military power to lay waste to "everything of value" without using nukes or occupying the country.


If nukes are used the loosing party would need another 100 years to get back on its feets. I'm pretty sure the loosing party would get some restrictions as well(i.e no army). I doubt they would start blowing themselves up like in the middle east either.


Those are not wars, those are a game called "war" where there are rules that give the little guys a major handicap.


Are you trying to make a point?


>We're still in Iraq and Afghanistan to some extent all these years later

Only because the US isn't willing to use Mongol tactics to win. US could end it tomorrow if we said we'd nuke any village found to be working with the Taliban or use our numerous chemical and biological weapons to wipe out the native population

Believing in basic human rights is why the US is still in the middle east


I'm just an armchair general, so take this for what it's worth. I view US vs China in the same way I view Japan vs US in WW2. At the start of the war, we're going to start with the maximum amount of resources. We have more "Kinetic" energy. But I personally think China has more "Potential" energy. Unless we win in the first volleys of the war, I think China could very reasonably extend the length of the war, and ultimately win.


> China has more "Potential" energy

America mines its own minerals and pumps its own oil. China cannot. This was the same weakness Japan had. In an American-Chinese conventional or proxy war, among the first Chinese targets would be its ports, pipelines and oil tankers.


> America mines its own minerals and pumps its own oil. China cannot. This was the same weakness Japan had. In an American-Chinese conventional or proxy war, among the first Chinese targets would be its ports, pipelines and oil tankers.

Russia also pumps oil for export and shares a land border with China. It's also relatively friendly to China and relatively antagonistic to the US.


China has no blue water Navy and can't feed it's own population without importing billions in food.

US would blockade Brazil and stop exports of soy and corn to China. China would starve within months if not weeks

China has zero force projection ability


'Imagine' you went to trade war instead.

No shots would be fired, you'd just see a slow withering and take-over of your economy.


To late been that way for 20 years now


That seems far fetched to me in 2019: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutual_assured_destruction


On top of that, imagine that China has a larger economy and military budget. That is to say, in about 2 generations the US will lose its military dominance.


While I'm sure the requirements of the engineering required custom screws to meet size and scale needs, I sure hope this doesn't turn out to be a "protection scheme" making custom screws to prevent user repairs. While an old article, it reminds us that Apple seemed to really love this approach, at least in the past: https://www.wired.com/2012/08/if-theres-a-screw-theres-a-way...


Security screws don’t prevent repairs. Glue prevents repairs. iFixit has been releasing screwdriver kits for Apple for years, but the hardest part of taking apart modern Apple is dealing with the glue. Hair dryers, putty knifes, and forcing things that feel like they’re going to snap.


Security screws do inhibit repair (in general), certainly have prevented me repairing things in the past. I've seen "head stripping" too, damaging the head to prevent removal (stopped me replacing my multimeter battery - hugely immoral).

Tri-screws (Nintendo), were one of the first things I had to buy "single-use" screw-drivers for.


I tend to drill them out and replace them with standard fasteners. Ends up cheaper than having 3 trays of obscure bits that still somehow don't fit. Pay close attention to length however. Some laptops will ground out with a screw 1 thread too long.


Anecdotally, I've been told that the real reason for many "security screws" is that they simply facilitate higher-speed automated manufacturing -- the standard cross/phillips head isn't great for that.

This makes sense to me since "security screws" are an almost entirely useless form of tamper prevention or tamper evidence. However I've no idea what the real story is.

I'm wondering if somebody with knowledge can chime in....


yea, but there already exists a standardized 6pt screw design called Torx screws vs Apples 5pt screw.


It was for the Mac Pro trashcan which was a compact design.

Although Apple uses odd security screws in all their products, their pursuit of thinness and compactness also probably leads them to need precisely manufactured small parts.

Of course if the Mac Pro had just used the old Mac Pro design or the previous Power Mac tower designs, perhaps the parts for a tower case might have been easier to find...


You better believe Apple intentionally curbs the ability to repair outside it's stores.

The "right to repair" movement and subsequent legislation was squarely pointed at Apple. There's simply nothing Apple won't do to stymie user rights, from purposefully forcing app-devs into the app store by crippling the iOS browser, to retroactively modifying app store rules to kill competition (as with Steam), to making it next to impossible to repair hardware outside their store


The headline, as usual, is wrong.

The tiny screw shows not why it won't be assembled in USA but why it should be assembled. Making a phone or laptop requires an entire industry to back it up. Making those things in US makes it possible that these industries will come back.

Also, just for US security it is probably not important that the screws are imported. What is important is that the electronics are not handled outside US and US retains its ability to make practical electronics and not rely 100% on China.


Making those things in US makes it possible that these industries will come back.

Isn't that a chicken-and-egg scenario though? The industry won't come back if manufacturers don't bring production back, but manufacturers won't bring production back until there's a local industry to bring it back to.


There is an important incentive to manufacture some category of products that are necessary for security. How do you feel about EVERY single non-trivial chip and piece of electronics manufactured outside US? Can you, currently, buy ANY kind of computer that is not being handled in China?

It sure will cost more, but the industry does not grow overnight and people do need time to get experienced and I think it is vital that some country other than China supplies electronics, too.


The title uses the screw to illustrate a larger problem. You don’t give any argument why the case the article makes is wrong. Your alternative even supports it, and only adds the sort of grand political viewpoint people usually accuse the media of.


On the other hand, Apple is one of the companies that could make a dent in the other direction (if they thought it made sense financially and overall): They have the cash reserves and the option for long-term planning that they could e.g. have financed better-suited machinery for the screw-maker as part of a long-term contract (if there's really not enough manufacturing capacity for custom screws around). They'd probably be able to set up an apprenticeship program training the numbers of employees they need, with more pull over other, less well-known companies. Of course for that for that to make sense, they'd need to commit to building something long-term, and can't just access an existing pool. (Although I'd assume they spent lots of effort getting the flows at Foxconn et al worked out properly too)

And I suspect scale matters here a lot, so a relatively small experiment is going to have supply issues where a large project would create enough demand that investing to fill it makes sense.


Absolutely.

Manufacturers sent manufacturing jobs overseas thirty years ago, so few Americans learned manufacturing skills for thirty years, now manufacturers use the effect to justify the cause. But of course the real reason was simply that they didn't want to pay American wages.

If manufacturers brought the jobs back Americans would learn the skills.


I agree.

I think we'd have to make that fiscally worthwhile (large tax carrot/stick) to make that happen.


Exactly. I mean: you can build a complete screw-making factory for just change (for Apple).

But no: just close the smart card division.


The engineer in me is judging them... why the heck did you make a design that required 3 weird screws? Screws are standardized parts; creating an esoteric hardware design in a vacuum with an "oh we'll fix that in production" [literal meaning of production] seems to be the actual problem.


You just used Apple and the word "standards" in a sentence without the requisite "eschews".


I voted you down, your comment seems to think that the engineers couldn't possibly have a reason for custom screws.

Without knowing the requirements, you'll never know if they had a good reason for custom screws. As such this comment is not constructive at best, and just standard "apple is bad cause no standards" drivel at worst.


It's a consumer grade computer. We're not talking about a high performance aircraft, safety critical application, medical accessory, being in hazardous or corrosive environment, something that needs solvent resistance, or vibration resistance. It sits on a desk, that's it. There are tons of screws they could choose from.


Not to mention Apple's non-standard-compliance is a notable exception, not the rule. The 30-pin connector and Lightning are basically the only proprietary connectors they've had in recent history, and one is phased out while the other is being phased out as we speak (for the standard USB-C, I might add).

Firewire, USB-C, Bluetooth, POSIX, etc... Apple doesn't do as much non-standard stuff as people on the Internet would have you think.


I agree with all your points, but have you ever disassembled an iPhone or an aluminum Intel Mac? Everyone has them now, but when they started producing them, no one had triwing, pentawing or those microscopic torx bits. And let's not even start on bricking items repaired by non-"apple-approved" shops months later.


I would differentiate between "standards" vs "easy to repair". You're not going to find too many standard parts inside of a cell phone no matter who the vendor is. Even if Apple supported replacing the battery yourself, you'd still need an Apple-compatible battery that's not compatible with a Samsung.


Not an apple fan but I don't think they pull the "non-standard" shenanigans on hardware not directly facing consumers. They must have had a reasoning here.


In modern product design, there is no such thing as a standard screw. You just get a factory (in China) to make exactly the screw you want for the job.


Simply they are tamper resistance. Albeit crap because it took about a week for the Chinese screwdriver factories to churn them out as well :)

I suspect they had to design their own screws however because most of the tamper bits have a lot of torque designed in which makes the heads deeper so they couldn't use an off the shelf design or it would intrude further into the chassis of the device.


Tamper resistant is just a euphemism for "pay Apple $500 for a repair someone else could do for $50".


More "I didn't want to pay for AppleCare so took and risk and now need to take the phone to a dodgy after market repair company who will stick a generic OEM part on it which may or may not work properly".

Apple replaced my 6s before xmas 23 months into AppleCare with a brand new one because there was a light patch on the screen. Cost me £0.


That's not a reason to prevent people from repairing/altering their products themselves if they want to.

People who didn't have the skills and didn't know a repair shop they trust could still pay for AppleCare, but AppleCare should have to compete on value, not be the only option because Apple locked down the product.


It's no different to having to buy a TX8 screwdriver because you don't have one already. Even the big brands make them now: https://uk.rs-online.com/web/p/screwdrivers/1230844/

I have replaced various things on Apple products over the years myself and have had no problems at all. It's not exactly prevention!


It's not the only mechanism Apple uses, they also write firmware that blocks replacement, oppose right to repair legislation, etc.


Apple's whole business model is trying to differentiate by not taking shortcuts. So if a weird screw is part of making a slightly better or more interesting design, they are going to do that. We already have plenty of Dell/Asus/Lenovo/etc companies for doing things in more efficient ways.


The iFixit teardown of the Mac Pro notes that no proprietary screws were observed in their teardown.

https://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/Mac+Pro+Late+2013+Teardown/2...

It may be that there were some non-standard screws used in assemblies that were not disassembled by iFixit, but to me it is more likely that Apple simply used standard Torx screws in custom lengths.

Using custom-length screws is not "esoteric" design. My employer uses custom-made custom-length screws in its products, albeit at a much lower volume and with a much longer production time than I assume Apple is dealing with.

When we're designing something we don't look at the T5 screws available on the market and design around those, we design the product to meet its requirements and if that means getting a 5.125mm T5 Torx screw custom made instead of the standard 5mm available on the market, that's what we get.

Because of the industry I work in, we also have very strict requirements for the type of materials used in our products. If we need a screw it probably needs to be made out of a specific metal that has specific properties like A-286 or similar. You have to be guaranteed that the screws weren't made out of whatever metal was on the dock that day, with a label slapped on them after the fact.

We have thermal characteristics we have to meet, but Apple has manufacturing reliability standards it has to meet.

There is a near-zero chance that, unless you have a guy IN China going to the factory every day inspecting stuff as it comes off the line, a pallet of 5.125mm T5 Torx screws is going to contain screws that are all exactly 5.125mm in length.

Like Apple, we contract out the manufacturing of the screws to regional machine shops.

I have only been involved in the manufacturing side of things for about five years, but one of my first lessons was not to rely on dealers and distributors for mission-critical applications. One order of components we received from a very large and well-known supply house was slightly out of spec and set us back several weeks of work because it took time to realize there was a problem, determine what the problem was, and deal with the distributor to fix the problem. Now for one-off jobs we rely on an in-house machine shop and for bulk orders we contract out to local manufacturers rather than relying on a supply chain that traverses multiple disinterested middlemen on its way back to Shenzhen.

That way when the 5.125mm screws we ordered come out to 5.13mm our guy can get in his car with a baggie of screws and his Mitutoyo and go to the shop and show them what's wrong.

For every problem my small 130-man organization has encountered with manufacturing in the US, Apple probably has dealt with similar problems on a scale that is unimaginably larger, and in my experience no amount of money can fix those problems quickly.

Building stuff in the US is harder and slower than just saying "screw it" and slapping a badge on something pumped out of a factory in China.

No amount of money, not even Apple Money, can fix that quickly. People fail to understand this, they think money can solve everything.

Quite literally, if you have a hundred trillion dollars in cash and an army of buyers ready to spend it you can't fix most lead time problems.


Apple only ordered 23,000 screws. That's not enough to justify making the tooling for production by progressive stamping. Caldwell Manufacturing has automatic screw machines. Those are general-purpose machines for making things out of wire and small rod stock. They do good work, but are slower and higher cost per unit than stamping. If they'd gone to a company that's primarily a screw supplier, like KD Fasteners or US Micro Screw, they probably wouldn't have had the problem.

Apple has shot itself in the foot before by being too tough on suppliers. They want suppliers to invest in production capacity without guaranteeing a big buy. Remember the sapphire screen debacle.


Have you actually reviewed the story of GT Advanced?

Apple bent over backwards to forgive late delivery, and GT Advanced repeatedly lied about what they’d actually achieved.

Apple surely turns the screws on it’s suppliers, but GT Advanced isn’t a very good example of this, the producers just lied about what their capabilities (and mid-stream accomplishments!) were.


Have you actually reviewed the story of GT Advanced?

Yes. They originally wanted to just sell furnaces to Apple, but Apple pushed them into a deal where GT Advanced took all the risk of making the end product. The management of GT Advanced should have rejected that deal, but they took the "fake it til you make it" route, and it didn't end well. There's still litigation underway involving Apple.

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-gt-advanced-tech-bankrupt...


The screws has to be one of the weakest claims for several reasons. It is more a "we suck at planning" story on several levels. Even if they went with Chinese screws doing it in advance and in large numbers would give them the best price per unit. This isn't even a "we accidentally made it an antenna" screw up but a "we failed to do basic math and planning ahead".


Yes because the Tim Cook of all people doesn’t know anything about supply chain management and producing at scale.


Fair point. I guess he shoukd have hired someone from a supply chain industry for that.


Disclaimer: optimistic wishful thinking ahead

I think the scenario is:

- China has tons of cheap labour - manual manufacturing in US is expensive - most companies have the problem of over-reliance on Chinese manufacturing - Apple has tons of reserves

I see this as an opportunity for Apple to invest in more and more sophisticated mechanization driven by the smarter robotics. It may be difficult for a machine learning algorithm to tell a bird from another but equipment/machines are much more defined than fuzzy. Further, Apple being a sought-after employer in general shouldn't have problem attracting top talent for this exciting and growing area of work (with all its issues, US still attracts the best minds it needs for such research).

If they invest and get to a state where they are not only making phones but smart machines that can make machines that make phones or whatever, they will open up a new world for themselves and can solve a problem much bigger than making phones cheaply (while still making phones cheaply).


As the article illustrates, it’s not labor cost that drives manufacturing to China, but competence, or network effects.

Robots may well be coming, to a factory in China.


to be honest, this whole article smacks of public relations defense of Apple's continued manufacturing in China regardless of all the human rights issues, spying, and trade secret disputes.

sorry, but their actions in support of charities and other rights issues world wide will always be tainted by their association with the Chinese government. they are there only because its cheaper to operate and its only cheaper to operate simply because you have a government which does not respect rights, property, personal, and in many cases intellectual.


I am okay with giving trump his stupid wall if he can successfully bring back manufacturing from china. So far the only issue I can support him on is his (long overdue) war with china.


Yeh, China is starting to scare me the more I read. I don't feel good buying their products.


> 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.

this looks like yet another example of what US-based globalization promoters have been pushing as the "prosperous future" of the US manufacturing sector: custom, high-precision, high-quality, high-end etc.

but this "plan for prosperity" has pushed high-volume, low-cost manufacturing capabilities out of the US. it should have been obvious to Apple beforehand.


>“China is not just cheap. It’s a place where, because it’s an authoritarian government, you can marshal 100,000 people to work all night for you,”

I don't understand how she came to that conclusion or what this sentence even means really.


She means the government can force people thousands to work for foreign companies cheaply because XI is a dictator. For example, if you need to churn out thousands of custom screws. She came to the conclusion because the CCP has done just that for 30 years.


So Dell can make Laptops in TX, Nokia ran the largest Cell Phone Factory in the world in TX (Alliance Corridor). You have Texas Instruments and probably dozens of more high tech electronics manufacturers and Apple can't build it's Macbooks or whatever in the USA because it can't get enough screws, really?

Most of the parts for Apple devices are not made in China.

https://www.lifewire.com/where-is-the-iphone-made-1999503

China is basically an assembly location since slave labor can be used to maximize profit.

Another trash article from the NYT's.


Can some top notch hardware be made in USA ? For sure. Did someone made a top notch hardware, even some prototypes ? Please tell us who. Perhaps the real issue is that nobody is excited to make hardware anymore in the US as westerners expect to retain ownership of the working capital in the Chinese industry, which is getting less and less relevant when China is getting richer and richer. The western world needs a mental leap as Tesla did with the car industry if it wants to keep up with China in this ground.


> “China is not just cheap. It’s a place where, because it’s an authoritarian government, you can marshal 100,000 people to work all night for you,” said Susan Helper, an economics professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and the former chief economist at the Commerce Department. “That has become an essential part of the product-rollout strategy.”

Never mind the screws, it's the humans which are important here.


Did anyone thought about using simpler screws or will we pretend it's okay to invent am an annoying screw and get it done somewhere just 'cause you want it?

apple always fucks up on that, even usb extensors can have a "dent" so it doesn't fit regular usb cables.

that part of apple is the most disgusting.


One notable fact that's missing from the article is that China will lie and bend over backwards to secure business. They have no problem telling a potential customer that they can meet specifications they cannot meet. They will greatly overstate their capacity and capabilities and then bullshit their way to success by "throwing a handful of shit and seeing what sticks." Meaning they will produce and produce and produce products, ship them to the customer, and accept whatever they get for RMA's. They barely do any kind of inspection. They just ship parts and hope not a whole lot will come back.

Here in the USA our companies take liability into account. Our precision manufacturing sector is much older and more experienced, but also each entity is smaller due to America being truly capitalist.

Apple is the kind of customer that small American companies don't want to deal with. Their buyers are demanding, uncompromising, and don't understand manufacturing. They want to buy 100,000 screws and cannot understand why they aren't already on a shelf somewhere waiting to be shipped. They don't care either, they just NEED the screws. If Apple is a customer of yours, you probably don't do business with many other companies. Apple deadlines and requirements don't specifically disallow it, they just don't leave enough foom for it.

Just ask GT Advanced Technologies what it's like dealing with Apple as a supplier. They signed a contract with Apple, spent all their capital acquiring Apple approved manufacturing equipment, and then fought with Apple QC about acceptance criteria that their Apple approved equipment couldn't meet. They did this until GT ran out of money and went belly up. They spent so much resources trying to satisfy Apple that they couldn't satisfy anybody else.


We exported all our manufacturing overseas at the behest of the masters of business administration as a matter of pure cost cutting. It isn't coming back easily.


It may require federal regulation.


Erm... Why not use standard screws?


Then geeky users would be able to fix it themselves.


If it were a tiny and thin iDevice or a razor thin laptop, I'd understand, but there is nowhere in that machine that a special screw would be needed. The space constraints simply aren't there.


I know they 3D print some jet engine parts. Why could custom screws not be 3D printed?


3D printing is generally interesting for things that are made in small quantities. Making many thousands of the same screw by printing is horrifically inefficient, and slower and more expensive than whatever they did to make them.


Why does reducing the American cost of living never come up? American workers have just become too expensive in many industries, which is why immigrants fill whole classes of jobs. Or maybe that's just Seattle's homeless problem talking.


They really don't need this level of customization, but manufacturing in China lets companies do things like this for components that probably could just use standard sizes.


Tiny screws for tiny hands. China’s child workforce is as strong as ever.


As long as they remain "Designed in California", the feel-good is still there. You are not buying cheap Android China shit.


Android is also "Designed in California"...


The kernel is most certainly not.


But, it doesn't say so.


Except you really are.




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