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The Information today published a detailed look at the difficulties Apple has faced trying to assemble its products with robots rather than humans.

apple-recycling-robot-iphone.jpg

The report claims that, beginning in 2012, Apple assembled a team of robotics and automation specialists at a secret lab in Sunnyvale, California to search for ways to reduce the number of workers on its production lines. However, the team is said to have quickly encountered challenges designing some of these automated systems:
Building a robot that can fasten screws is among the hardest challenges in the industry. A robot must pick up the screw at a specific angle and align it with a hole using multiple industrial cameras. Apple uses screws so tiny that robots had no way to measure the force used to drill them in. By contrast, human workers can feel the resistance from their hand and can tell when something is off.

As for putting glue onto display panels, Apple’s specifications are so tight that glue must often be placed within a millimeter of its desired spot inside a product. One former team member said well-trained Chinese workers were more adept at applying glue than their robot counterparts.
While many of the automated systems were abandoned or not implemented, the team apparently did have some success replacing workers with robots for simpler tasks such as testing of products like the Apple TV, Apple Watch, and iPad.

The report provides many more examples of Apple's attempts at ramping up automation, only to experience challenges. In 2014, for instance, Apple attempted to automate assembly of its since-discontinued 12-inch MacBook, but the production line apparently turned out to be more trouble than it was worth due to various issues:
In early trials, the conveyor systems moved erratically, slowing down the movement of parts. A robot that installed the keyboard using 88 small screws kept malfunctioning, requiring humans to come in afterward and rework most of the process. Containers used for moving parts kept piling up on conveyors, creating traffic jams.
These issues apparently led Apple to delay the launch of the 12-inch MacBook by around six months. The notebook was released in April 2015.

The report concludes that, while Apple has not had much success using robots to assemble its products as a whole, automation can be effective for specific parts. A few years ago, Apple also introduced a robot named Daisy that can take apart up to 200 iPhone devices per hour, removing and sorting components for recycling purposes.

Article Link: Apple's Attempts to Automate Product Assembly Have Met With Limited Success
 

Expos of 1969

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Aug 25, 2013
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Interesting....Tim wants to help mankind, help the vulnerable etc. etc. but his company has been striving to come up with ways to reduce the number of workers. I am confident that the robots will regularly send food packages to the families of the workers who are terminated.
 

cmaier

macrumors Penryn
Jul 25, 2007
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Interesting....Tim wants to help mankind, help the vulnerable etc. etc. but his company has been striving to come up with ways to reduce the number of workers. I am confident that the robots will regularly send food packages to the families of the workers who are terminated.

By your argument we shouldn’t automate any menial jobs.

The reasons Apple want to do this are to improve quality, to be able to do manufacturing in countries without millions of laborers willing to work for a couple dollars a day, and to allow workers to spend time on higher-valued jobs.
 

calzon65

macrumors 6502a
Jul 16, 2008
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Maybe it will change in the future, but there are still lots of assembly examples where you need a human touch. Think of mechanical watch assembly (Rolex) that's all done by hand.
 
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Expos of 1969

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By your argument we shouldn’t automate any menial jobs.

The reasons Apple want to do this are to improve quality, to be able to do manufacturing in countries without millions of laborers willing to work for a couple dollars a day, and to allow workers to spend time on higher-valued jobs.
But many of the workers who are terminated from assembly line type jobs do not have the skills and will not be trained to take on the higher valued jobs. In North America (and very probably other areas) over the past 20 years the work opportunities for these people (high school graduates or lower education) have been cancelled (many sent off shore). Many of these folks have been left with nothing or having to repeat "And would you like fries with that?" for 8 hours a day.
 

nathan_reilly

macrumors regular
Apr 2, 2016
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I think the key word here is automation. Weird to think we live in an era when remote human-controlled robotic microsurgery is relatively routine, yet manufacturing assembly of iPhones still requires onsite manual labour.

well one needs to be perfect every time and the other needs to be faaaaast.
 
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Ramchi

macrumors 65816
Dec 13, 2007
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If Apple could design products like Project Ara which Google abandoned, may be there is a chance for total automation using Robots. Nevertheless, Apple has to start doing this step by step where it can and iterate and improve over the years but when the future is foldable phones, may be there is no need for complicated process needed hence Apple probably took futuristic views and continue with human beings which in case not that expensive.
 
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Expos of 1969

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Glad to hear people are not replaceable yet.
Have you not been to supermarkets, drug stores, banks etc. recently? They are attempting to force us to use self-service scanning and cash out tills so they can fire millions of people. And for the most part we are bending and happily accommodating their wishes. Not even a discount on our purchases for doing so. We are blindly putting our neighbours on the unemployment line.
 

tkermit

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Feb 20, 2004
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Apple’s specifications are so tight that glue must often be placed within a millimeter of its desired spot inside a product. One former team member said well-trained Chinese workers were more adept at applying glue than their robot counterparts.
I find that extremely surprising (not that I have any reason to doubt the accuracy of this report)
 
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Madhatter32

macrumors 6502a
Apr 17, 2020
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I would think that Apple needs to invert its thinking on this issue. They first need to design a product that can be built through automation before trying to use automation to build Chinese made products. I mean using larger and less screws should not be like sending a man to the moon.
 

tkermit

macrumors 68040
Feb 20, 2004
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Interesting....Tim wants to help mankind, help the vulnerable etc. etc. but his company has been striving to come up with ways to reduce the number of workers. I am confident that the robots will regularly send food packages to the families of the workers who are terminated.
Sooner or later it will come to this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income
[automerge]1591283547[/automerge]
 

now i see it

macrumors 604
Jan 2, 2002
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Likely because they're unwilling to completely redesign a product from the ground up to be robot friendly during assembly.
 
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Arran

macrumors 601
Mar 7, 2008
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... They first need to design a product that can be built through automation...
We learned that lesson in manufacturing automation back in '80's: Design for automation!

So we simplified everything about our products: Less components/boards, less screws, less cables, made everything snap together.

The end result was that humans could still assemble the product wayyyyyy faster than a line of high-maintenance robots!
 

EmotionalSnow

macrumors regular
Nov 1, 2019
246
733
Linz, Austria
Interesting....Tim wants to help mankind, help the vulnerable etc. etc. but his company has been striving to come up with ways to reduce the number of workers. I am confident that the robots will regularly send food packages to the families of the workers who are terminated.

Sooner or later products like iPhone will be produced in full automation; if Apple isn't first then somebody else will do it. The system needs to change and provide GOOD alternatives for the people that will be replaced. A universal basic income would be a good start.
 
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