Apple is spending $10.5bn on manufacturing equipment, it’s reported, as part of a huge investment in its supply chain to make future iPads, iPhones, and Macs. The kit boost – which includes laser milling for aluminum casings, plastic-polishing for achieving a high-gloss and scratch-resistant finish on devices like the iPhone 5c, and gadgets for testing camera performance – is part of a boost in production methods, sources tell Bloomberg, as Apple tries to keep its hardware a step ahead of rivals.
That can include investing in new or under-utilized manufacturing technologies, insiders family with Apple’s supply chain say, or even creating entirely new machinery to achieve whatever the company’s designers want to achieve. The firm has supposedly increased the degree to which it strikes exclusivity deals with machinery manufacturers, for instance, keeping the tech out of the hands of its competitors.
Even if a brand new process isn’t required, existing methodology often needs to be boosted to meet the sort of scale Apple is considering. The industrial design team doesn’t limit itself to existing scale production systems, but will also look at the possibilities allowed by more cutting-edge processes.
That, such as the way the glass fronting the latest design of the iMac was scaled up from optical lamination only previously carried out on phones and tablets, can require the hardware-engineering team to wade into making the systems more practical.
Actually implementing the new technology then requires an on-site presence that, those familiar with Apple’s strategies say, can see the company’s own engineers based for weeks in Asia production facilities. Other hardware, such as a custom-made motion-detection testing rig for phone sensors, is designed and put into production by Apple itself, before being distributed to manufacturing partners.
The spending also goes on securing large supplies of components, such as sapphire glass, which is used for lenses among other things. Apple has inked a $578m pre-payment deal with GT Advanced Technologies in recent weeks, for instance, where the Cupertino firm secured exclusive access to the material in return for a five year commitment.