China’s largest PC vendor, Lenovo Group, has already announced it will establish assembly lines to produce desktops and notebooks in "small volume” in North Carolina in anticipation of enterprise and government orders.The move appears to be in line with Lenovo’s strategy to increase the proportion of in-house production, from about 20 percent in 2012 to 50 percent in 2013, according to Taiwan sources, Digitimes has reported.
If Apple's motivation — like Lenovo's — is “to be closer to the market,” Apple’s plan to move “some production" back to the U.S. does make sense. (After all, that’s why automakers build cars close to local markets where they’re sold.) Making stuff where it’s consumed is not just common sense, it makes economic sense.
A second data point worth examining is the changing labor market in China. The Washington Post, reporting from Donggun, China, found that "the city on China’s Pearl River Delta, once known as ‘the world’s factory,’ is now losing jobs and eyeing the United States with some envy."
While it’s hard to believe that there’s anyplace in China where factories are closing, it should be noted that lower cost regions like Vietnam and Indonesia are taking manufacturing jobs from China.
The Post article quoted Zhang Monan of the State Information Center, a government think tank, describing the phenomenon he called "a sandwich trap," as in, China being squeezed between cheaper labor in neighboring countries and competition from developed nations such as Germany and the U.S. Zhang stressed, “China’s manufacturers are in an extremely hard situation.”
Before hailing Apple’s decision as “the right thing to do,” we might consider a more pragmatic interpretation: Maybe there is a business case for manufacturing Apple products right here in America.
In my opinion, it's pretty clear that Apple's decision to build some computers in the U.S. is aimed at nabbing a little good will. Google got lots of props when it strategically revealed that it's Nexus Q is made in the U.S.
In my opinion, there is a business case to be made for setting up shop close to customers. But it takes a back seat to the economic arguments associated with building stuff in China and other places.
That said, regardless of the reason, we should applaud this small gesture. Those of us who want manufacturing to revive in the U.S. should take any momentum we can get.
Companies don't deal in macroeceonomic arguments. That's governments' job. Companies worry about the bottom line. Whether it makes sense to manufacture close to the customers or not is entirely a question of cost tradeoffs. It might make sense or it might not. For tiny products like cell phones, I have my doubts.
I was surprised to read this in the paper on my way to work this morning. If I remember correctly, Steve Jobs, in a conversation with the US administration about bringing manufacturing back to the US, said something like "Not only no, but hell no."
So I found this surprising. Maybe the change in management?
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.