A Tiny Screw Shows Why iPhones Won’t Be ‘Assembled in U.S.A.’ - The New York Times


So cheap, highly skilled, highly skilled and reliable labor isn’t the only big issue Apple faces in moving more production to the US:

(John Burt) #2


(Adam Engst) #3

This has generated a huge discussion in our internal Slack group. There are a ton of issues balled up in this one article, some of which it gets, and others of which it misses. @jcenters notes how this is somewhat the result of jobs being sent overseas in the past, such that there are few local resources in the US to meet the needs of manufacturers trying to bring work back. And @jeff-porten talked about how US labor standards are actually declining here, even if we’re not to the point where a company could make workers do 60-hour weeks like in China. @glennf pointed out that the real trick in China is that there are factories that will do anything you need. I’ll let them decide if they want to join in here, but it’s far from a clear-cut situation.

(Josh Centers) #4

This is a bit of a sore subject for me, as my dad supplied automation solutions to manufacturers, so I’ve seen first-hand what off-shoring did to that space. Also, I have a lot of friends in the blue-collar world who’ve struggled over the years. I ranted about this article on Twitter, if anyone cares: https://twitter.com/jcenters/status/1089920813518778368

60-hour work weeks aren’t at all uncommon in American factories. The go-getters leap at the chance to earn time and a half and a lot of places have mandatory overtime. Of course, you also have factory workers that work a job for a month, suddenly think they’re rich, and quit.

(Simon) #5

I’m definitely with Josh. The fact that Tim Cook can’t find a company in the US capable of manufacturing his screws is certainly related to the fact that people like Tim Cook have since the 80s tried to move as much manufacturing out of the US as they possibly could. It’s no wonder they now have trouble finding that expertise here when they never wanted to retain it (or pay for it) in the first place.

Either this is incredibly naive or he’s trying to deceive the public in the most self-serving manner. You and your peers, Sir, are the prime reason you cannot find those skills here anymore. Complain to your former self. And don’t get me wrong. I am not at all opposed to globalization and I can’t stand our current Bully in Chief and all his MAGA nonsense. But this kind of hypocritical baloney from people like Tim Cook (who definitely should know better) is a disservice to anybody involved in US manufacturing. It’s a cheap shot at trying to excuse corporate greed. If people like Tim Cook truly wanted to remedy the situation, they could. I worry that if they chose to deflect with puff pieces like this one and hope to continue business as usual, it will be people like Trump who take drastic measures that will end up hurting us all. Just my 2¢.

As an aside, I also believe that if Apple were truly interested in ensuring that a device like the MP can be manufactured here, they might foresee such constraints (Tim Cook reportedly being such a “supply wizard”) and therefore consider not using something as obscure as a custom made screw. If that screw had been more standard, they would have likely not had trouble getting it manufactured and shipped domestically. Added benefit: standard screws are likely cheaper. So bottom line, IMHO that specialty screw would have had to add one heck of a benefit for the end user (which I highly doubt) to justify its use and consequently the delayed shipment of the Mac.

(Jeff Porten) #6

Late arrival to this thread, but a few thoughts. What we’re talking about isn’t new and it isn’t Apple; it’s literally the plot of It’s a Wonderful Life and other Frank Capra movies. (If I could remember the movie where Ronald Reagan gives a heartfelt speech on the value of unionization, I’d include that too.)

The economic shifts that led to offshoring started in a big way when Apple’s biggest product was the Apple ][ and the Macintosh was a skunkworks project off to the side and two years from shipping. Tim Cook was working at IBM and didn’t arrive at Apple until 1998. Calling him complicit in destroying America’s ability to maintain a supply chain is, well, a stretch.

Meanwhile, the way I remember it, American manufacturing in the 80s was such that we were soon astonished by the higher quality of Japanese products (and innovation), a country that previously had the reputation of making shoddy no-name stuff such as what we now think of as coming from… China, alongside those screws. I spent part of my childhood in the back of a Ford Pinto. Not exactly up to code by today’s standards.

The point is, it’s very easy to see the costs of globalization while taking the benefits for granted. My politics are left wing and I’m wholly in favor of guaranteed protections for labor, but there was simply nothing that was going to keep that work here short of massive tariffs. What we did keep, we now do far better. Economists across the political spectrum agree both of these are good things. So do you, based on what you can get for your dollar.

Finally: you can only use standard parts when you’re building standard objects. If you want an iPhone that’s a half-inch thick and rattles a little when you shake to undo, you can use standard screws. I don’t think there’s been a Mac ever that didn’t require specialized tools for a screw or something; the first Macs needed one just to open the case.

(Roger Parish) #7

I think that was a “standard” Torx screw, which was relatively new at the time (developed in 1967, per Wikipedia). When I upgraded the RAM in my SE, the vendor supplied a long-shaft Torx driver.

(Richard Rettke) #8

Yup, I think I still have two of those long Torx screw drivers. It was also helpful to have the device that pried the case apart after you got the screws out. I bought my first Mac 1 week after the 1984 Super Bowl commercial. It had so little memory and was not upgradable that (after the Fat Mac came out) I bravely opened it up and unsoldered the built in memory and replaced it with 512K. It had a five layer circuit board which was also an innovation at the time. It took me a couple of attempts at getting the solder connections proper before it would boot, but after a few hours, voila‘ A Fat Mac!

(Simon) #9

That’s right! I remember the tool I need to crack my Mac 128 open. IIRC it wasn’t Torx itself that was so special it was that you needed a roughly 10" driver because the screws were recessed in the Mac’s handle. Any regular Torx driver you got at the hardware store was just too short to reach the screw.

(Simon) #10

I’m impressed with your courage to solder on your $2500 Mac, Sir. I just checked, that would be about $6200 in today’s money.

I wouldn’t have had that courage, but through work we soon got a Mac 512 and that was a real upgrade. In terms of upgrades I still have the fondest memories though when the SE/30 came into the house. Apple had a program where they upgraded our SE. It was like a whole new Mac. And it was super fast! :slight_smile:

(Richard Rettke) #11

Not sure if it was courage or foolishness. I had never soldered a circuit board in my life, although my dad and I build two stereo systems (Amp, Pre-Amp) from kits back in the 60’s. Sometimes confidence wins the day. I eventually sold that Mac for a reasonable return. That would have been after I acquired my Mac SE and then eventually an SE30.

I was just (like an hour ago) looking at a friends 2012 15" MacBook Pro and both USB ports are dead. I suspect it’s the controller chip got fried by an external device. But in looking at the circuit board, ain’t no way I would attempt soldering on that now days. It’s way to tight and I’m way to old.

(Ron Risley) #12

The hard part for me wasn’t the soldering (I’d had lots of experience), but the act of throwing the old 128KB of memory in the trash afterwards. Not too long before that, there had been such a shortage of 64 kilobit RAM chips that we were buying Commodore 64 machines from department stores and pulling the RAM chips out to keep our production lines going.

(James R Cutler) #13


I learned NASA 5400 soldering decades ago. And I was barely 69 when I successfully replaced the bulging capacitors in an iMac G5 in late 2010. Other than the borrowed workplace and high temperature iron, the only special equipment was +3.75 glasses and a clip-on light. Last month I repaired an Audio-Technical lavelier connector - that was easier than a PDP-11/60 board repair.

So, what is way too old? I might get there someday!

(Jeff Porten) #14

I can burn a hot dog in boiling water, so I won’t be trying any of that.

(Josh Centers) #15

If you ever decide to solder, the best advice I can offer is to use plenty of flux. To quote Louis Rossman, “the bigger the glob, the better the job.” He’ll sometimes apply a comical amount to prove his point, but it really is magical. Solder without flux (even if the solder has flux baked in) and solder will just bubble up on the iron. Flux everything (including the tip of the iron) and it just magically flows where you need it.

(Jeff Porten) #16

If this means I should buy a Delorean with a flux capacitor, I’m all for it.