Could Apple’s Planned US Factory Actually Be a Robotic Plant?

Apple chief Tim Cook recently announced plans to invest $100 million towards moving some of his company's manufacturing operations to the U.S.. It's a move that, at the very least, would give Apple more control over working conditions, which have oft been criticized at Foxconn. But would it also mean higher priced electronics? Probably not.

For one, this is a relatively minor move in the grand scheme of things. Most iPhones, Macs, and other Apple devices will still be produced in China, so it's not as though Apple is about to obliterate its margins.

The second reason is because Apple's U.S. facility could end up being almost entirely automated. Apple has the resources to build such a factory, and while it would require a high initial investment, the savings would come from long-term reduced labor costs.

ComputerWorld calls to attention a 2009 video in which Jonathan Ive, Apple's senior vice president of design, gushes about the manufacturing process of the MacBook and its unibody design.

"Machining enables a level of precision that is just completely unheard of in this industry," Ives said. "We have been so fanatical in the tolerances of how we machine and build these products."

Robot Apple
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Lest we give the wrong impression, Ives wasn't touting machines as a replacement for human labor, but according to ComputerWorld, analysts and manufacturers fully expect Apple to put a big focus on automation when it builds its U.S. facility.

Towards that end, Larry Sweet, the CTO of Symbotic, described one possible scenario in which Apple would rely almost completely on robots. In his scenario, a robot would lift an aluminum block onto a machine that would proceed to cut and drill the necessary shapes. A robot would then unload the chassis where other robots would snap, solder, or otherwise fasten parts into place. Displays would then be added and then sealed by another automated process. Then it's just a matter of packaging everything up, and that too could be handled by robots.
Tags:  Apple, NASDAQ: AAPL