Apple's move to bring back production to the U.S. is a reminder of globalization and the current limitations of factory automation, reports the Wall Street Journal.
New product development for Apple means a higher demand for engineers and managers at the plant level to continuously monitor these developments from its suppliers and manufacturers. As Apple plans to expand its product line, the company needs more engineers in China than in the past – particularly in Shanghai and Taipei.
The cost of U.S.-based robotics arm manufacturing limits the switch from a mass production approach to an automated assembly line approach for devices such as smartphones and tablets, so labor-heavy process for these devices remain in countries like China with cheaper labor.
"Automation has its limitations," said Arthur Hsieh, lead analyst for UBS Asia technology hardware. "A product has to have a long life cycle to be suitable. And if demand is very volatile, then manual production makes more sense."
Apple's Mac Pro computers have longer life cycles and stable customer demand, making the device an ideal candidate for U.S.-based automation. Therefore, Apple is able to use the same continuous production line without overall required.
But, a majority of Apple's products can't adapt to the same automated manufacturing approaches the way the Mac Pro has. iPhone and iPad assembly remains in China, with minimal likelyhood to move in to the U.S. in the near future.