Friday, December 14, 2012

Automation, Apple, and U.S. Manufacturing

With the news that Apple will be opening a full manufacturing factory in the United States – not just one for custom assemblies – the issue of bringing these types of jobs back to America is sure to remain under the spotlight, as it has been for months. As mentioned in the article, Apple’s expenditure will be a tiny percentage of its total manufacturing budget, and many Apple components are already manufactured in the United States, specialty or not. It’s tempting to call this a largely symbolic move, except that the effect it will have on the community in which it’s located is tangible and real, and the enormity of the symbolism is significant.

Why? Steve Jobs is quoted in the article as saying just a few years ago that “Those jobs aren’t coming back.” That was one (perhaps the only) prediction that the great visionary got wrong. The fact that a huge company with as much concern for their bottom line as for innovation and marketing made this change indicates several things. One, it is possible to work U.S. manufacturing into your business model. Processes like automation keep real people involved – in fact, they’re necessary, to develop control inputs and monitor the process – while providing the required efficiency for such large-scale runs. Second, it is a recognition that people are interested in buying “Made in the U.S.A.” And not just here. Chinese consumers have indicated that not only do they prefer the Made in the U.S.A. label, they’ll pay more for it.

Finally, it is a recognition that the innovations that make a move like this possible – and that make a company like Apple possible – are, and have always been, U.S.-based. We believe that this is only one wave in the continuing surge in American manufacturing.

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