Apple may be getting into the automated factory game

Apple recently announced that it will be investing $100 million into an automated factory in the United States. While this isn’t out of the ordinary for this sort of investment, it could lead to one of the most state-of-the-art facilities operating in the US.

A 2009 Apple video of its unibody manufacturing process has glimpses of highly automated systems shaping the metal. In it, Jonathan Ive, Apple’s senior vice president of design, talked about the manufacturing process. “Machining enables a level of precision that is just completely unheard of in this industry,” he said.

Apple has the know-how to build one of the world’s most modern plants, and if it succeeds, it could influence others to build in the U.S. But success will mean holding down costs, and to do so, Apple will likely rely heavily on automation, say analysts and manufacturers.

Whatever Apple builds, “you can guarantee it will be using the most up-to-date and modern factory automation equipment that one can buy,” said Robert Atkinson, president of The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation and author of Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage.

This push by Apple to create an automated manufacturing facility in the US could be the push for other companies and industries to bring manufacturing back to the US.

Atkinson said Apple will build a leading facility partly because it’s Apple, but also because of the relative high cost of U.S. labor. “You’ve got to use automation more than you might in China,” he said.
“One of the potentially significant things about the Apple announcement is it could send a message to American companies — you can do this — you can make this work here,” Atkinson said.
Michael Palmer, an IDC analyst who researches electronics manufacturing, said that by having a manufacturing plant in the U.S., Apple will save on shipping costs and shorten the time a product is in inventory.

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