If you haven't already read the two pieces in the NY Times last week about Apple and its manufacturing operations in China you should.
One of the recurring reasons that Apple executives give for using Chinese manufacturing is speed and flexibility at the Chinese plants. They adamantly deny that it is about low wages and benefits paid to the hundreds of thousands of workers in those Foxconn factories. Unfortunately if you know anything about modern high-volume manufacturing this simply doesn't ring true.
The authors of the articles provide an anecdote about the weeks leading up to the launch of the original iPhone. The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs had made a last minute decision to switch from a plastic to a glass screen. As the first glass panels were arriving at the factory in China, 8,000 employees were roused in the middle of the night from their dormatory, given a biscuit and a cup of tea and put to work. The only way to get the kind of instant flexibility to change direction in a manufacturing operation is to use masses of human labor to do the assembly.
This sort of work could definitely be done in the US and it could also be done by automation. However, in the US labor regulations would make it much more difficult to get people working multiple 12 hour shifts and living in dorms where they could be sent to the assembly line at the drop of a hat. Automation requires more effort to program for such drastic changes. Both are substantially more expensive than "disposable" Chinese laborers.
Apple simply could not get the sort of flexibility they like to tout if Chinese labor were not so cheap. It really does come down to money and nothing more and that's why Apple is sitting on a $100 billion cash horde.
#apple #china #cheaplabor
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