Is Apple setting yet another manufacturing trend?

December 6, 2012

U.S. manufacturers who have studied the fortunes of Apple in recent years will be wondering whether the technology giant has spotted another opportunity for innovation.

According to The New York Times, the company has confirmed that it will be manufacturing one of its product lines in the U.S. next year after CEO Tim Cook revealed in a televised interview that insourcing was the focus for 2013. Cook, who has been in charge at Apple since the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, told Brian Williams that $100 million had been allocated to a U.S. manufacturing facility.

The interview, which was scheduled to broadcast on NBC on December 6, revealed a number of elements of interest to U.S. manufacturers. Apple has been outsourcing its product line for many years, however, recent developments in Taiwan have brought its involvement in overseas manufacturing into sharp focus.

Foxconn Technology, one of the manufacturing companies used by the California-based tech firm, was criticised for working conditions in its factories and an investigation by the Fair Labor Association called the quality management in manufacturing into question.

Apple spends billions of dollars a year on global manufacturing systems and industry analysts have already identified that $100 million is small change to the firm. What is of interest is that the company has announced that it is looking for U.S. partners to produce the as-yet-unnamed device in a domestic setting, and that the final product would be more than "just the final assembly of parts."

In the interview, Cook was keen to stress that iPhone components, including the "engine" and glass screen were already made in America, and that the company was responsible for the creation of more than 600,000 jobs.

"I don’t think we have a responsibility to create a certain kind of job," said Cook. "But I think we do have a responsibility to create jobs."

This responsibility could be seen as the reason why Apple is turning its gaze back to domestic production. Although overseas manufacturers are perceived as providing cheaper products, there has been a growing demand for the quality that comes from goods that are American-made.

"Apple is well known for skating to where the puck is going, not where it is, and being ahead of the game has proven hugely profitable for the company plenty of times in the past," wrote Tom Gara in The Wall Street Journal. "Maybe Apple is just thinking differently…again."