Robots, not people, led Apple to make new Mac Pro in the U.S.A.

“In October, when Apple announced its redesigned Mac Pro, the company boasted that it would be assembled in the U.S. This was a curious about-face for the Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant whose success has been inextricably linked to shoulder-to-shoulder assembly lines in China,” John Patrick Pullen writes for Entrepreneur. “In addition, as the New York Times reported, at a private dinner in February 2011, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs told President Obama, ‘Those jobs aren’t coming back.'”

“Indeed, they haven’t. And they won’t,” Pullen writes. “According to statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the manufacturing industry lost 2.3 million jobs in the most recent recession. Since then, factories have only regained 526,000 jobs, a sad sign of Jobs’ visionary nature.”

“A promotional video on the Mac Pro’s assembly clearly shows what led Apple to produce the new computers in the U.S.: robots, not people. An ambidextrous Fanuc M-710iC swings the Mac Pro’s machined aluminum casing from station to station. The metal is polished by Guyson Corporation’s blast-finishing robots. And components are placed on the circuit boards by Jot Automation machines,” Pullen writes. “Of course there are humans milling about, but not nearly as many as at Foxconn in China.”

“The growing use of robots in the workforce isn’t just happening at Apple. From Kiva Systems droids fulfilling Amazon warehouse orders, to telepresence robots zipping through offices and conference halls, robots are suddenly everywhere,” Pullen writes. “Though they weren’t necessarily programmed to destroy jobs, some experts believe machine-caused mass unemployment is possible.”

“Meanwhile, small businesses will scramble to keep up. But instead of joining the robot workforce, entrepreneurs can firewall their operations by cyborg-proofing their companies,” Pullen writes. “According to the Oxford study, “occupations that involve complex perception and manipulation tasks, creative intelligence tasks, and social intelligence tasks are unlikely to be substituted by computer capital over the next decade or two.” So the key to defeating robots — in the movies and in real life — is doing what they can’t.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

86 Comments

  1. While it’s good press for the MacPro, I think, it’s a pretty silly conclusion. The iPhone is being built by humans, not robots, so re-apply the answer to the question about how to cyborg-proof your company: Do things robots can’t do. And the answer would be: Work cheaply enough that your contribution allows your employer to sustain profitability. US workers aren’t allowing that for Apple (manufacturing) — figure out why that is and more manufacturing jobs could be happening.

    1. Chinese workers are working for about $600 per month. There was a time in America when American assembly-line workers worked for $600 per month. I believe this was in 1930s (and, if we adjust for inflation, back in 1890s).

      So, all we have to figure out is how an American can survive on $600 per month and then we can bring ALL the manufacturing back to America.

        1. I had breakfast, lunch, dinner and dinner for about $5 total in Qingdao this past December. China has $1 meals and $100 meals. When I hear comments about China wages I always wonder what does that person think the pay should be.

      1. In addition to that China has a huge workforce. Zhengzhou (where the iPhone is assembled) has a population of around 10 million people. Foxconn employs somewhere near 200 thousand. Tell me where in the US this could happen not to mention the other nut and bolt suppliers. I frequently travel to China and will tell you the large factories are literally small cities.

        1. There was a time in the US when we had cities that were built around factories. Have you heard of Detroit or Pittsburgh? See Detroit now. That population could use 500,000 jobs. Do you think those people want jobs now, or do they have access to better income without the need to work? Would the people around Detroit act quickly to provide permits for a big factory that produced things that involved silver and other metals and which factories also created waste products? Would the city and federal government expect to dictate the employee benefit package? Would making iPhones and employing 200,000 Detroit residents, be considered good for the environment?

          Americans today, educated with strange notions in public schools and by brilliant people in Hollywood, really does not want significant factories that actually make material goods. America today has no desire to produce the energy it consumes. All these activities, making things and producing energy, are necessary, but should be done in other parts of the world where the process won’t mess with our organic food and our utopian concepts.

    2. Job security, for now, will remain when short runs are required. It is when you get into the 10’s of thousands that automation can be cost effective. This will change and when real AI hits, the short runs will be swallowed up too.

      Some things will never be done well by robots, it is when you team up the human factor and the AI robotics that we will see an explosion of ability going in directions that few have ever considered. “Think Different” still applies! Make the most of it. What will your verse be?

      1. Most products need millions to justify an automation run or more. Issues like flexible automation lines can reduce the volume, with similar types of products which I’ve seen with appliances.

        My latest product needs 1-2 million per month to justify the dedicated medical product automation line.

  2. Itv was obvious from the outset that the only way it makes sense for Apple to carry out manufacturing in the US is by using highly automated assembly methods, with very low numbers of unskilled workers.

    I would expect to see Apple learning from the process and making more devices in this manner.

    1. Given how ruthless Apple is with its supply chain and likes to control anything crucial to its business, Tim Cook is asking himself when, not if, he can move all products to robotic assembly.

      Robotics will continue getting cheaper after replacing humans, allowing Apple to further increase margins or maintain healthy margins with lower product prices.

      1. You said, “Actually, people with guns kill people!”

        You mean like Barack Obama, who ordered the Justice Department to give thousands of automatic rifles to drug cartels in Mexico with no way to trace their whereabout? Which guns did kill about 200 Mexicans and at least two Americans? Yes, guns controlled by the government are very dangerous, when there is a moron in the White House. I wish Reggie would spend more time with him and he would not have so much time to do stuff to the country.

  3. The US manufacturing sector is making a comeback due to liberal policies. The high cost of employing humans, who have a right to healthcare, who can sue for ADA violations, who get government mandated levels of pay, who bitch and moan a lot – these things have all made robots very attractive. However, when liberals figure out how to require free healthcare for all robots (paid by taxpayers) and how to organize class action lawsuits by robots suing over the poor social opportunities they have in America, and government mandated minimum wages for robots, then the robots will have to migrate, illegally, to Mexico where they can replace the people coming here for our free health care, food, Obamaphones and free mortgages. And in Colorado, marijuana paid for with nice shiny government issued EBT free food cards.

    1. If they kept the jobs in the US can you imagine how expensive an iPhone or iPad would have been? Apple would have been gutted like a pig in a year and Samsung would completely dominate.

    2. Since when is a living wage a “liberal policy” ?

      That makes about as much sense as me claiming that our loss of manufacturing jobs is due to a ‘conservative policy’ of putting profit before the country.

      Neither one really fits does it ?

      1. All of these utopian ideas are excellent. A living wage is great. So is the idea of public teacher and government workers having defined pensions they can start at 55 that pay 85% of their last years pay – for life. That is a great idea. So is the idea of free health care though the premium under our current free health care appears to be double what it was before it was free and with about a $10,000 deductible. Driving cars which don’t need gas would be a swell idea, but I notice they do require a coal plant to recharge their battery, which often bursts into flames. Liberals have an awful lot of great ideas.

        1. First of all, you have a very flawed understanding of the term “utopian.” Second, in your zeal to label and discount anything that is inconsistent with your viewpoint, you go to ridiculous lengths of FUD. For instance, electric cars can be powered from nuclear, natural gas, hydroelectric, hydrothermal, solar, wind, or wave sources of electrical energy. It does not have to be “coal.”

          There are ways to promote the economy and jobs while also protecting, or even improving, the environment that we leave for future generations. It is not a binary, exploit or collapse, situation.

          You blather unproductively quite frequently on this forum.

          1. Actually no, everything I said was a fair representation of liberal ideas. I had to just spend a few hundred dollars buying incandescent light bulbs because idiot liberals had the government outlaw their production in the US, even though they work much better than the new supposed green alternatives, which have mercury in them which ends up in landfills and is of course a deadly chemical. I bought enough of the good old ones to last my lifetime so I won’t be putting evil chemicals in the landfill like the environmentalists are. The other examples are all valid too. The problem is you people have these brilliant ideas, but you never take the time to go back and check to see if the brilliance in the idea actually happened. Like with Obamacare, are you seeing the $2500 in annual savings Obama promised over and over and over? Are you certain you can keep your current plan even next year? Do you even know what is in Obamacare? (Hint – if you say yes you are lying)

      2. Have you read Thomas Sowell, Milton Friedmand or Fredrick Hayek? These great economist (two Noble Laureates) have said a minimum wage is a farce, with Sowell and Friedman going so far as to say it would significantly increase un-employment in black communities. Check the stats, black un-employment has increased significantly since the advent of the ‘minimum wage’ in the 60’s – seeming to validate their premise. You likely see MW as a safety net, these economists saw MW as reducing the number of jobs for entry level teenagers looking to develop work skills so they could elevate themselves to high income levels. Furthermore, what is the impact if $15 per hour becomes the new minimum and corporations need to control costs? Most likely automation. Already fast food restaurants are exploring machines which can mix custom meat grinds, slice vegetables, and assemble the burgers or replace order takers with Siri-like devices. A MW earner ($7.25/hr) cost a typical business $14-$21/hr. Double that to $15/hr and these numbers increase to $28-$42/hr – translates to $64k-$96k/year/employee. A $500k investment in automation which replaces 5 employees (# of employees require to staff one 24/7 position) pays for itself in 1 to 2 years. You tell me what you would do?

      3. Even if you can see you way clear to read Freedman’s book (free to choose) At least take 45min to watch this appearance on the Phil Donahue show. Very dated, but it seems the issues never change. (However the left’s the intolerance for a differing opinion certainly have, Can you imagine Stanford or PBS having someone like him Today? I can’t.)

        1. Tessellator – if Friedman or Thomas Sowell were to try to speak real economics on a university campus today, student (like KingMel) would charge the stage, throw eggs at them, yell at them, and threaten them, disrupt the event so no discussion could take place. The students, with faculty participation, would call Friedman and Sowell greedy capitalist hateful racist Nazi, meanies. And that would be done before a word was spoken. The liberal today is incapable of actual thought. They respond to stimuli. They get feelings about issues from The Daily Show and luminaries like Michael Moore and Sean Penn and Al Gore. They then try to browbeat regular people into accepting the views transmitted by these luminaries. They do not actually investigate, consider the evidence, check various sources, and use normal rational thought. They use name calling and intimidation to defend their Groupthink. Dr. Tom Sowell would be labeled a racist though he is black and grew up in poverty.

          By the way, the green thinking alternative fuel advocates commenting here are among the most heavy users of fossil fuels. They travel the world and drive expensive cars and heat large homes and use air conditioning. They actively do what they claim is destroying the planet.

    3. Hardly. The repatriation of manufacturing jobs has more to do with increasing costs to manufacturer in China and a stronger Remembai currency vs. the Dollar.

      My real fear is that when manufacturing robots unionize, the advantage will be lost. Even worse, when robots become self-aware, well you know: Cybernet. Personally, I welcome our new mecha overlords.

  4. When asked when assembly jobs in China would be brought back to the US; I remember hearing Steve Job’s saying, “those jobs will never be brought back.”

    He did not say that manufacturing would never be brought back. He also stated that the US does not have enough of the right kind of workers to bring the jobs back. He was not talking about assemblers…he was talking about engineers.

    China does not lack for engineers…unfortunately the US does. This needs to be addressed in our educational system and will not be a quick fix.

    As someone mentioned, replacing the Chinese worker with an American worker requires a significant improvement in productivity to offset the increased labor costs. However, working FASTER is not a feasible solution to that issue.

    The way you make that happen is with advanced manufacturing. And the workers who use, design, implement, and maintain that technology will need to have skills well beyond those of an assembler. Those type of jobs WILL be coming back to the US. However, the speed at which this happens depends upon having knowledgeable workers. We need people with sharp minds…not strong backs.

    The key for the US is doing a much better job educating more of its citizens to the qualifications required by those jobs.

    1. It is not simply about engineers. It is about whether or not a country welcomes manufacturing and enables it to make rapid changes and additions as business needs change. To create the manufacturing Apple has in China would take many years of approvals at federal, state and local levels. It would also require compliance with laws that would at least double the cost of the product. China has processes that enable factories to be built in months versus years and it does not put onerous requirements on the businesses for every employee who has a job. China is happy to have jobs created for their people. The US used to be that way, decades ago, now it prefers to have the Federal Government dictate to businesses how they must run. We are now a “command economy” and China, amazingly, is becoming a free enterprise economy, though it has a long way to go on human rights.

      1. China also doesn’t care about the conditions people are working in nor any impact the factory has on the area it’s in. Yeah, let’s go back to companies like a Hooker Chemical and Love Canal.

        1. China and its workers are very happy to have jobs. Yes Scott, it is great we don’t have US Steel, National Steel, GM factories in Detroit, Goodyear and Firestone plants in Cleveland, and on and on and on. We don’t really need jobs, because the Federal Government now pays permanent unemployment benefits so actually working is a relic of the past. Obama says unemployment benefits spur economic growth, so if we add more unemployed and pay them more we will really serious growth, according to the economic understanding our Leader. It is good not to have factories anymore because all they ever did was create Love Canal (a hoax by the way) and whatever other unknown company you referenced. Better to expand unemployment so we can build a bright future.

  5. The cover article in the latest issue of “The Economist” talks about the change on the level of the industrial revolution of the late 1800s that is coming, thanks to the technology, and that consequences will be similar. Massive numbers of jobs / professions went extinct when they were replaced by the machines first time around, and the article argues that the rapid development of technology will cause the similar massive loss of jobs and professions when intelligent software begins replacing them (and it is already happening, with travel booking sites pushing out travel agents), and unlike with the industrial revolution, this time around, they predict it will be faster and far more disruptive.

    1. Predrag, I have a much more optimistic viewpoint.

      In my companies, every time we brought in a “machine” or device to do something better with computers and “automation” (even small tasks), we managed to grow and hire more workers because we became more efficient.

      It is often said that some people “can’t learn new jobs, tasks, programming, etc.”, but my experience is the opposite. You take a machinist and put him in a quick training course for the CNC mill or lathe and within a week he is programming & setting up CNC jobs.

      Then these people who I now have doing more complicated work wind up earning more, and … guess what, they start buying more things and ordering more services like autos, boats and dry cleaning.

      Progress. It works.

  6. So with no one working who is going to buy all those shiny tech gadgets. There has to be a tipping point and it is coming sooner than later. After all not everyone is capable of learning the hi tech jobs that are supposed to replace manual labour.

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