Just last week there was speculation that Apple might be moving some of its manufacturing and assembly operations back to the U.S. after several of the new 2012 iMacs showed up bearing an "Assembled in USA" marker and reports surfaced that the workforce at its Elk Grove, CA plant had doubled over the past year. Now Apple CEO Tim Cook has confirmed that those were indeed signs of something to come in interviews with Bloomberg Businessweek and NBC's Rock Center where he reveals that the company is investing $100 million in producing one entire line of Macs stateside.
"We've been working on this for a long time, and we were getting closer to it. It will happen in 2013," Cook said in the interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. "We're really proud of it. We could have quickly maybe done just assembly, but it's broader because we wanted to do something more substantial."
In the interview with Bloomberg he says that Apple will be working with other companies that will handle the production and that the company will be investing its money in that way.
There are numerous benefits to bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. but the welfare of the workers who assemble our computers and gadgets is a major one. With workers protected by stricter laws in the U.S., consumers will know that their electronics were built in a safe environment where workers get a decent wage.
That is, of course, more expensive, which is why so much production happens overseas now. Another reason is a huge workforce that is on call 24 hours a day.
As Quartz reports, "The US simply isn’t a place where Apple can create the sort of vast campuses of assembly-line workers run by Foxconn, which does most of the assembly of the iPhone. Those campuses allow both the scale and flexibility that Apple’s exacting design team and enormous sales volume demand. For example, executives at Apple told the New York Times that a last-minute design decision required that a factory in China rouse 8,000 workers at midnight to commence a 12-hour shift."
So, how might Apple bring production to the U.S. without increasing prices and without losing the ability to make last-minute design changes? The answer could be through supreme automation as envisioned by Steve Jobs when he was head of NeXT Computer. The manufacturing process for the computers was "fingers-free," highly-customizable and almost void of human involvement.
Below is the promotional video for NeXT's manufacturing process.
As the Quartz article suggests, a likely scenario is Apple moving production of some of their most high value and customizable products here. For those products, like the Mac Pro line of computers, the large size would mean shipping costs would be significantly reduced if manufactured here and since the Chinese assembly line is focused on cookie-cutter, high-efficiency production, any products that require more specialized assembly would make good candidates for stateside manufacturing.