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Apple’s most popular devices aren’t made or assembled in the U.S. And a recent New York Times piece about a screw underscores one of the reasons why.
In a story published Monday, the NYT recounted the tale of the ill-fated attempt to assemble the 2013 Mac Pro in Texas. Just a year earlier, Apple CEO Tim Cook and announced that the upcoming Mac would be “made in the USA.”
But the Mac Pro’s release was eventually delayed by several months in part because Apple couldn’t source enough screws from U.S.-based suppliers, insider sources told the NYT.
Apple’s U.S. manufacturing partner, a Texas-based machine shop employing about 20 people, could only produce about 1,000 screws a day.
By the time Apple was readying the Mac Pro’s launch, the Cupertino tech giant was forced to order screws from China because of the shortages in the U.S.
The Texas machine shop eventually turned to another supplier in the state, Caldwell Manufacturing. That firm was tapped to produce 28,000 screws, the NYT adds.
Caldwell Manufacturing was eventually able to deliver 28,000 screws to Apple in 22 trips. Reportedly, owner Stephen Melo personally delivered some of those, making the “one-hour drive himself in his Lexus sedan.”
Will iPhones Be Made in the U.S.?
While it’s an amusing anecdote, the NYT story really highlights why Apple won’t be producing iPhones solely in the U.S. anytime soon. At the very least, there are some major hurdles it would have to overcome to do so.
There isn’t currently any country in the world that can compete with the size and scale of the Chinese manufacturing ecosystem.
The Chinese supply chain boasts an unbeatable number of skilled workers, a relatively cheap labor pool, and production infrastructure that can turn component and assembly orders around on extremely short notice.
In contrast, American workers are typically more expensive and are unwilling to work “around the clock,” the NYT points out.
While some have called for Apple to produce and assemble more devices in the U.S., it isn’t likely that the company can produce iPhones or any device at a large enough scale with the current manufacturing ecosystem in the country.
Apple, for its part, has pointed out that it may be inaccurate to say iPhones aren’t already made in the U.S. Tim Cook often points out that iPhone displays are made in Kentucky, while the laser technology in the TrueDepth camera is produced in Texas.
The Mac Pro, interestingly, is still assembled at a factory near Austin, Texas. But the computer has been a relatively slow seller and hasn’t been refreshed in about six years.
In response to the NYT piece, an Apple spokesperson said that the company has been an “engine of economic growth in the United States.”
That spokesperson pointed out that the company spent $60 billion last year, spread among 9,000 American suppliers.
In a press release published shortly after the NYT piece, Apple says it has supported about 2 million jobs across all fifty states.
“Apple is creating jobs across the country and we are deeply committed to advancing American innovation,” the company wrote.