Inside Foxconn’s Chengdu Apple iPad 2 factory

“The site of Friday’s explosion was massive 8-building complex thrown together in a record 70 days,” Philip Elmer-DeWitt reports for Fortune.

“When a polishing plant blew up in Foxconn’s new factory complex in Chengdu, China, it was an English-language website operating, as they put it, “outside the Great Firewall of China, temporarily,” that broke the news and provided U.S. media outlets with videos, photos and regular updates,” P.E.D. reports. “On Saturday, the website — M.I.C. Gadget — posted a background story on Foxconn’s Chengdu facility that offers a rare glimpse not only of life inside the factories (see photo), but of the industrial policies that brought them to Chengdu in the first place.”

P.E.D. reports, “It’s a remarkable tale. According to M.I.C.’s Star Chang, the factories were constructed in record time specifically to meet demand for Apple’s (AAPL) iPad 2. With its Shenzhen factory operating at full capacity churning out, according to Chang, 2.5 million first-generation iPads a month, Foxconn needed 50 new production lines capable of building up to 40 million second-generation iPad per year.”

Read more in the full article here.

Related articles:
Apple investigating to find cause of Foxconn factory explosion in China – May 20, 2011
‘Super-light dust’ blamed for explosion at Foxconn iPad 2 factory in Chengdu – May 20, 2011
Explosion rocks Foxconn iPad factory in Chengdu, China; 2 dead, 16 injured – May 20, 2011


  1. “Record 70 days”… For a 8 building complex!

    Man, it took workers here to replace about a 1/2 mile of ditch with cement cylinder drainage pipes with man hole covers, covered up with dirt, then placed a neighborhood sidewalk on top, and then extended the width of the street by three feet, which this section is the main drag in and out of the neighborhood, repave and put down new stripes, finally followed with some grass seed and accounting for winter holidays and bad weather, only took 11 months!

    Somewhere there should be a happy medium between putting in a neighborhood sidewalk by American workers that takes 11 months and putting up in record time, a 8 building complex by Chinese workers in 70 days… You’d think those times should be reversed!

  2. It may not be apparent to a casual observer of iPhones or iPads, but Apple will eventually move assembly of more and more subassemblies and full assemblies to automation systems.

    When that is practical with high enough volumes, construction of iPads, in particular, may move back to the US for Apple’s benefit.

    Automated assembly will happen when miniaturization of components and “all-in-one” chips and components, coupled with fewer mechanical devices like hard drives & buttons become practical.

  3. That “record of 70 days” is possible because of constantly cutting corners and low quality materials and design. The people of Africa have discovered the poor quality of workmanship that comes with Chinese construction; there’s quite a backlash there now. (Cf. the Economist’s report.)

  4. The reality is, consumers want great quality products at low prices, whereby most of said consumers want products at low prices. Walmart is a main proof of this. They often carry the same brands at lower prices because of negotiations with the manufacturer.
    It cannot be disputed that China can offer competitive prices because the Chinese government, and anyone profiting, does not care about the quality of life from the workers or the consumers. They care about making a profit on the quantity of products they can export.
    Often you will read about material and edible products from China that has harmed or poisoned people. Sometimes we head about people who die in China at these manufacturing plants. We all feel a bit remorseful, and often say that things would be different if the work was done entirely in North America ( Canada/USA). Keep the jobs in Canada. Keep the jobs in America. We all would be keeping our hard-earned money within our country, while creating more jobs so that there is less unemployment. We would be able to then offer more services to the communities, and a higher quality of life. As brilliant as the idea is it will not happen in the forseeable future. Doing so would slow down the speed of production regardless of whether the employees are unionized or not. It would also increase the costs of the finished product because Canadians and Americans have higher wages then the Chinese.
    The only way I will be wrong in this, is the day that everyone would be willing to pay more for a product, and wait longer for it to be available. I don’t know how much longer it would take if our people were doing the work, or how much more it would cost if our people were paid to produce it. I can guarantee there’d be a huge difference.
    Validation of this can be seen at all mom & pop shops and major department stores that have been squashed by places like Walmart. ( but now look at unemployment rates). The low quality and unsafeness of plants in china are because we, the consumers, demand fast and cheap.
    We are all guilty of this, myself included.

    1. It cannot be disputed that China can offer competitive prices because the Chinese government, and anyone profiting, does not care about the quality of life from the workers or the consumers.

      That has got to be the most obnoxious, patronizing, bigoted load of bullshit I’ve read in the last year. The Chinese government made a choice decades ago that they wanted a better future for their people, so they gave up totalitarian control of the economy, and let people get on with trying to make a living.


      1. Yes, Chinese government made the choice, but the regulations are more like recommendations, it’s up to the local governments to adapt them, and most of the time they don’t care. Often the local businesses pay them not to care too.

        Protecting the citizens has never been a top priority in China, they know that democracy works only when the educated people who are making decisions are making majority of the population. In China the peasants and poorly educated (they can even be university educated one trick ponies) are making about 80% of the population. So, to get things done, everything is done on (low) level that works for most people and on the level they can operate.

        Polishing plant explosion sounds like a common accident. When the weather was getting warmer the conditions inside the building were changing and in some point the conditions came right for the explosion. I bet they don’t have automated A/C system, just bunch of fans and a heater, Apple or not that’s the way things are done in China.

        Hungry, Xiaolongbao time 😛

  5. Having been born in China, gone to school there, and recently sold a home there, I have to say, the quality is quite varied. Alot of it was crap, but today in the big cities, the quality is very high. It has to be when you build as big and high and fast as they do.

    Chengdu, where the new Foxconn factory is located is in the most populous province in China. I think Chengdu may be the 3rd largest city in China, after Shanghai and Beijing. It’s incredibly modern, and looking at the images of some of the buildings, I’d say this is a high quality Chinese factory, no matter how fast they built it.

    It’s a terrible shame about the explosion, but industrial explosions are more common than you’d think. Fine dust is explosive. There have been 350 such explosions in the USA since the 80s. Do a search for 60 Minutes dust explosions, and you’ll find the story:

    The reports so far have the explosion in the polishing area, where fine dust can be a problem.

    Yes, one of my nephews is a civil engineer there who is in charge of building highway overpasses, where they use incredible amounts of concrete and steel, so I’ve seen with my own eyes, how incredibly fast they can build. I’ve never seen anything like it.

    1. There shouldn’t be any dust build-ups if the ventilating systems are working properly. It should just suck up whatever dust and vent it to the outside, through filters, of course. They must have been cutting corners in order for that much dust to build up and flash. I feel sorry for the workers if they’re working under those sort of fine dust conditions. I sure hope they’re wearing dust filters while working.

    2. I’m not sure if some corners were not cut in terms eliminating dust build up in the air as suspended particulates create a fine talcum which not only can cause a flashpoint given an ignition source but is injurious to health if breathed in large enough quantity over an extended period of time. They could have installed hoods over the polishing machines to extract the resultant dust or tamp it down using water jets as aluminum does not produce oxides on contact with water.

      Not only volumetric density has to be high enough to cause combustible material to spontaneously cause an explosion but it has to be spread as an aerosol in a large enough area that a runaway reaction can occur from an initial spark point.

  6. As a senior Apple product manager I can tell you the initial cause of the explosion was a failure of the line-supervisor to properly use the new magical multitouch conveyer belts. Don’t worry people, the line is back up and we are making the iPads as fast as we can.

    1. You know, if you stopped taking kick-backs, the money could be used to make the place much safer. What do you say Gray? Stop being such a greedy dick and learn to get by on your meager paycheck, mmm?

  7. There’s no doubt the Chinese know how to build fast. They usually work 24 hours on road work or building constructions. I wish the USA would do the same especially in regards to road work.

    They also tear down buildings/property extremely fast as well. Which can be good and bad.

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