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Robotics Apple Hardware

A US Apple Factory May Be Robot City 602

Posted by Soulskill
from the rise-of-the-iMachines dept.
dcblogs writes "Apple's planned investment of $100 million next year in a U.S. manufacturing facility is relatively small, but still important. A 2009 Apple video of its unibody manufacturing process has glimpses of highly automated robotic systems shaping the metal. In it, Jonathan Ive, Apple's senior vice president of design, described it. 'Machining enables a level of precision that is just completely unheard of in this industry,' he said. Apple has had three years to improve its manufacturing technology, and will likely rely heavily on automation to hold down labor costs, say analysts and manufacturers. Larry Sweet, the CTO of Symbotic, which makes autonomous mobile robots for use in warehouse distribution, described a possible scenario for Apple's U.S. factory. First, a robot loads the aluminum block into the robo-machine that has a range of tools for cutting and drilling shapes to produce the complex chassis as a single precision part. A robot then unloads the chassis and sends it down a production line where a series of small, high-precision, high-speed robots insert parts, secured either with snap fit, adhesive bonds, solder, and a few fasteners, such as screws. At the end, layers, such as the display and glass, are added on top and sealed in another automated operation. Finally, the product is packaged and packed into cases for shipping, again with robots. "One of the potentially significant things about the Apple announcement is it could send a message to American companies — you can do this — you can make this work here," said Robert Atkinson, president of The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation."
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A US Apple Factory May Be Robot City

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  • by Mr. Tom Guycot (1298343) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @03:33AM (#42231647)
    We need to either drastically lower the hours for 'full time' work, while increasing wages to compensate, or stop being afraid of welfare and accept that everyone doesn't have to be employed, but still guaranteed housing, healthcare, and living expenses. The only other option is the one we're currently going down, which is that of some kind of sci fi dystopian corporate future with massive slums/even greater prison population (maybe they'll just start merging them). The other options will never fly because people are petty and will complain about someone not having to work as much as them.

    Full employment, with a living wage is just not possible anymore.
  • Automation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Osgeld (1900440) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @04:06AM (#42231807)

    its the only reason the company I work for can be competitive on cost in electronic assembly, that being said it takes a small army to keep the machines running and fed 24/7

  • by jcr (53032) <jcr&mac,com> on Sunday December 09, 2012 @05:04AM (#42232001) Journal

    Automation guarantees that we will, eventually, have 50+% permanent unemployment. We'll need to transition to a socialist economy to survive

    Yeah, because a majority of all the people are unemployed now that we only need 4% of the population to work on farms to feed us, right? Back around 1900, when 80% of the people in the USA worked on farms, who could have foreseen the horrific effects of mechanization of agriculture? The horror!

    You are very sadly misinformed about the effects of automation on productivity.

    -jcr

  • by cryptolemur (1247988) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @05:19AM (#42232055)
    "Rewarding employers" does nothing in the long term, and only 'distorts the markets' in the short term, so it should have never been used, albeit it seems to be the idiocy du jour.
    Think about it: if there's no purchasing power, no matter how much the employer is rewarded, there's no cash flow to keep the business viable. On the other hand, if there is purchasing power and thus business, the employer doesn't need subsidies to survive.
    The best thing to do to national economy is to tax/destroy wealth at the top and create it at the bottom.
    That, and tax/moderate the financial markets regressively, but in relation to time between purchase and sale -- and start from 99.5% or so regressing to 15% in about ten years, forcing investors to care about the long term health of companies and aiming for stable and predictable markets.
    Oh, and cut the copyright to 25 years from first publication. But that's negotiable.
  • by Rockoon (1252108) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @06:09AM (#42232233)
    They use manual labor because humans can be trained faster than automation can be set up. If I hand you a design and contract you do build it, the fastest way for you to get the first products out the door is to use humans. In quickly advancing industries like mobile devices, you can't stay on the leading edge and also use automation.
  • by sqrt(2) (786011) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @06:25AM (#42232299) Journal

    You're assuming that any person can climb the "ladder" of jobs as long as those jobs exist. In reality, people are forced to stop when they reach a rung beyond their ability. Most people can't be trained to be software engineers. Most people can't be trained to be scientists. Most people can't be trained to be artists of any quality. But while the height a person can climb is limited, there is no fundamental limit to automation. Eventually automation puts the starting rung out of reach of the average person and you are left with a mass of people unable to find employment anywhere in the economy, and limited in their intellectual capacity to be trained to ever get one of the scarce jobs that do exist.

    For those people there are three options:

    1. Grinding attrition to reduce their numbers through geographic isolation (prisons, slums, ghettos), violent crime (police abandon these areas and leave them to be ruled by gangs), and various poverty related causes of death (famine, malnutrition, lack of healthcare).
    2. Revolt and forcefully take enough to survive from those who have surplus resources
    3. Get folded into some sort of peaceful wealth redistribution system that provides for their needs and allows them to reach their personal potential, become educated up to their ability, raise a family, and live with dignity.

    It's interesting to note that option one is the inevitable result of free-market economics. It's the only end game that can play out once automation really kicks off in a society that completely shuns anything that seems like socialism. It's also, in my opinion, probably the most likely starting point. I think we're going to see all three of those stages in the next 100-200 years. We are already in stage one in many respects.

  • Re:Robots from China (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Skylax (1129403) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @06:37AM (#42232341)

    Symbotic is an U.S. based company. The robots used in the factory, are developed in the U.S. by mostly american hard- and software engineers. That's real jobs right there!
    I think it's sad that here on slashdot (a site for nerds which for me means scientists and engineers) news of an automated factory is received with such negativity.
    Shouldn't we be amazed about the fact that we can actually built a fully automatic factory? I mean those robots need to be programmed by someone, right?

    Instead we bitch and moan about factory workers losing their jobs, I mean, what is this Slashdot bad news for blue collar workers ?

    Now come on, mod me down.

  • by sqrt(2) (786011) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @06:39AM (#42232347) Journal

    All of that is true, more or less. Somehow it works for us, except when it doesn't.

    I do envy the progress of Europe, but they face a different set of challenges. Imagine if all the nations of Europe were just states in a Federal Republic. Now imagine that Federal Government extracted billions of dollars each year to fund a military to kick around the world having adventures and spreading a specific political ideology. Imagine trying to sustain a European welfare system with that anchor tied around your neck. And after so many generations spent serving the Federal Government and its military people start really believing that's a better use of money than schools or trains or hospitals.

    That's America.

  • by gelfling (6534) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @06:51AM (#42232385) Homepage Journal

    It's about brand management. Apple can now say they are making stuff in the US.

  • by sjames (1099) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @07:21AM (#42232477) Homepage

    In other words, a steadily declining income as a more or less steady pool of workers are forced to compete for an ever shrinking pool of less desirable jobs.

    I have seen automated convenience stores, automated cars/trucks, automated fast food and automated warehouses. Sure, they're just prototypes now, but not for much longer.

    So, back to the question at hand, what will it take to make sure everyone has a decent opportunity at employment sufficient to support themselves decently?

    Perhaps those evil unions can save the day (again) by forcing a 20 hour work week for a living wage. They'll need to present a credible threat of violence (again) to make it happen I would imagine.

    Word to the wise: If you don't want a socialist revolution here in the U.S. make damned sure not to put people's backs against the wall.

  • by Issarlk (1429361) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @07:40AM (#42232567)
    Then you just hope the cost of transport makes it uncompetitive to build products in China to sell in the US. With the oil peak it might work.
  • by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @08:02AM (#42232633)
    No, your unsupported claim does not address my rhetorical question.

    I've heard a lot of people spout this "poor people live like they're rich" line but I've been poor and I've seen poor people. in fact I'm poor now and I can tell you I'm not eligible for anything but the student loans that keep me alive at a sustenance level and VA health care because I was in the military and honorably discharged. My father is poor and all he gets is the social security he paid into. He's physically incapable of working and if he didn't keep a garden he would starve. My mother is poor and she's eligible for nothing. She works as a nursing assistant. One bad job and she'll literally be out on the street.

    My friend is poor, she also physically cannot work. on a good day she manages to clean her house. She gets medicine, a CPAP machine, and 700 dollars per month.

    I don 't know where all these poor people living like kings are but I'm pretty damn sure they only exist in the minds of conservatives.
  • by Cheech Wizard (698728) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @08:45AM (#42232763)

    As processes become more automated, the things we want become cheaper because the cost of labor is the dominant cost in almost every business. This means people have more spare money available, and it will be spent on things that before would have been considered too wasteful. This creates new industries and new jobs.

    Totally wrong. You *assume* that because it becomes cheaper to manufacture something a company is going to lower its selling price. That is basic business school rhetoric that doesn't reflect reality. I used to manufacture a low volume product as a side business. I found that I could automate and reduce expenses 70% (this was in the late 1990's). I didn't reduce my price to consumers. I increased prices 15% within a year because my product was better made (in part no human errors in build), was more reliable (lower returns and warranty costs), and in part I found many people buy on price (higher price means better). Unit sales went down less than 10%. It did help me retire in 2003 at the age of 53. I do not deny that in *some* fields prices may come down, but almost all price reductions are due to competition, to some degree volume, and to some degree obsolescence.

  • by MouseTheLuckyDog (2752443) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @08:57AM (#42232827)

    First. I hardly think their processor can be described as commodity when they use their proprietary A-series.

    Second. If someone stepped in and sold a cheaper product, then they would sue them.

  • by larkost (79011) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @03:53PM (#42235629)

    Your sited fact that we are at tle lowest participation rate since WWII is incorrect, as proof go to this page and then adjust the graphs to show the max timeline:

    http://data.bls.gov/pdq/SurveyOutputServlet

    We are on our way down, but still have not hit the 1978 numbers again (62.5%). Of course these numbers don't take in to account the large social change that has happened over time with women in the workforce: the move from mothers expected to be at home to the "norm" of two-income households.

    That all being said: we are definately on a long-term course to the unworkability of a capitalist society (much along the lines that Marx predicted, but not on the timeline he expected). But I don't think we are anywhere close to knowing what that course is going to look like.

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."

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