How Automation Helped Apple

How Automation Helped Apple

Apple is now the biggest company in the world, a juggernaut that infiltrates into every level of society. iPads, Macs, iPhones and the rest are ubiquitous, and it’s hard to imagine a world without them now.

When we think about Apple’s meteoric rise, we think mostly about the technology side and Steve Jobs’ vision in pursuing new ideas in technology. What’s thought about less often is how manufacturing played a role. Many do not realize that Steve Jobs had some unique manufacturing and automation processes in place that significantly helped the company differentiate itself from its competitors.

Steve Jobs and Automation

It’s a little-known fact outside of Apple and manufacturing circles that Steve Jobs had been obsessed with automation and automated factories since visiting Japan in the 1980s. When Jobs visited the Alps Electronics plant in 1983, he knew he had a winner. He was partnering with the company on a new disk drive and wanted to see them in action.

It’s well-known now that Japan is a master of manufacturing high-quality electronics. The ’80s were when the country was really coming into its own, generating new and wondrous technology like music Walkmans and microchips at a rapid pace, not to mention the influx of popular Japanese cars.

How Japanese Manufacturing Changed Apple

As Jobs was known to do, once he saw the level of success Japanese plants were enjoying, he scrutinized the model closely, looking for features he could adopt for his own manufacturing. He remembered how Henry Ford changed the industry forever by using assembly lines to build his cars, which made them much cheaper to produce and more affordable to the consumer. This innovation changed the world, helping to create our current car culture, which is just the kind of disruption that attracted Jobs.

By 1984, the plan was in full swing. In Apple’s Fremont, California, automated manufacturing plant, they could build a single Macintosh in 26 minutes. Before long, they dropped their production time to a new computer every 27 seconds, shattering previous computer manufacturing times.

How They Did It

The process involved simplicity and strong factory design. Each Macintosh had only eight, easy-to-make components that would be carried around the factory through a carrier suspended from the ceiling. Every worker had a dedicated role and knew they had to complete it in 22 seconds or less. The factory was designed with multiple automated guidance machines, and no worker had to move more than 30 inches from their location in order to reach a necessary part. Automated machines mounted circuits on boards without human assistance.

Jobs also insisted the factory be very clean and had everything painted white. While some might think this is a waste of time and energy, Jobs felt it created the culture of perfection and quality he was trying to achieve.

What We Can Learn

What we can learn from Jobs and his approach to manufacturing is that there are always opportunities for innovation if we look for them. If we constantly think of ways to make things more efficient and better, there is no limit to what we can achieve.

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