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

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
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.

Top Rated Comments

AngerDanger Avatar
12 months ago
"Man, I gotta say, ever since we hired that John guy, these machines just haven't been testing as well…"

"Wait, which John?"

"Uh, something with a C in it. Cameron? Connor?"
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
NMBob Avatar
12 months ago
If they weren't so hard to repair maybe they would be easier to build.
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)
szw-mapple fan Avatar
12 months ago
Same thing Tesla discovered when they tried to automate all of the Model 3's production. Robots just aren't precise enough at the moment for some tasks. That will change in the years to come, but it will remain this way for the foreseeable future.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
cmaier Avatar
12 months ago

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.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Northern Man Avatar
12 months ago

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.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Northern Man Avatar
12 months ago

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.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

apple watch ecg

Apple Watch Likely to Gain Blood Pressure, Blood Glucose, and Blood Alcohol Monitoring

Monday May 3, 2021 4:03 am PDT by
The Apple Watch may gain the ability to measure blood pressure, blood glucose, and blood alcohol levels, according to newly-revealed information about one of Apple's chosen business partners. Apple has been revealed to be the largest customer of the British electronics start-up Rockley Photonics, The Telegraph reports. Rockley Photonics has developed non-invasive optical sensors for...
airtags teardown tile mat galaxy smarttag

iFixit Shares AirTag Teardown Revealing 'Impressively Compact' Design Compared to Tile Mate and Galaxy SmartTag

Sunday May 2, 2021 4:54 am PDT by
iFixit has shared the first of its two-part series in tearing down Apple's AirTag item tracker, revealing that Apple had to make impressive design decisions to achieve its small design, including rethinking the speaker layout. For comparison, iFixit compared Apple's AirTag to the Tile Mate and the Samsung Galaxy SmartTag. Compared to the competition, AirTag is the smallest in size, with the...
facebook instargram updated att prompt 1

Facebook and Instagram Ask Users to Enable App Tracking in Order to Keep Services 'Free of Charge'

Sunday May 2, 2021 1:22 pm PDT by
As a way to convince users to enable tracking across other apps and websites, Facebook is deploying the tactic of telling users that they must enable tracking as part of the App Tracking Transparency framework in iOS 14.5 if they want to help keep Facebook and Instagram "free of charge." App Tracking Transparency or ATT is the newest privacy feature to come to iPhone and iPad devices as part ...
Flat 2021 MacBook Pro Mockup Feature 1

Mini-LED Display Production Improving for Redesigned MacBook Pro Models Later This Year

Monday May 3, 2021 8:33 am PDT by
Apple supplier TSMT, a key vendor involved in the production of mini-LED displays in the newly announced 12.9-inch iPad Pro, has been able to address technical challenges for the production of mini-LED displays to be used in the upcoming 14 and 16-inch redesigned MacBook Pro models. As reported by DigiTimes, TSMT had initially been facing production constraints with the circuit board and...
Foldable iPhone 2023 Feature Yellow

Kuo: Apple to Launch 8-Inch Foldable iPhone in 2023

Sunday May 2, 2021 8:43 pm PDT by
Apple is working to launch a foldable iPhone with an 8-inch QHD+ flexible OLED display in 2023, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said today in a note to investors that was seen by MacRumors. Based on our latest industry survey, we forecast that Apple will likely launch a foldable iPhone with an 8-inch QHD+ flexible OLED display in 2023, with SDC as the exclusive display supplier and Samsung Foundry...
iOS 14 on iPhone feature emergency

Apple Releases iOS and iPadOS 14.5.1 With Fixes for App Tracking Transparency Bug, WebKit Security Issues

Monday May 3, 2021 10:04 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS and iPadOS 14.5.1, minor security updates that come just a week after the release of the iOS 14.5 update. There is also a companion watchOS 7.4.1 update for Apple Watch and an iOS 12.5.3 update for older iPhone and iPad devices that don't support Apple's latest operating system versions. According to Apple's release notes, the update fixes a bug with App Tracking...
General Music and AirPod 3 Feature

Rumor: Apple to Announce Third-Generation AirPods and HiFi Apple Music Tier in 'Coming Weeks'

Saturday May 1, 2021 3:57 am PDT by
Citing sources within the music industry, Hits Double Daily reports that Apple is preparing to launch a new HiFi Apple Music tier in the "coming weeks," which will come alongside the release of the rumored third-generation AirPods. According to the report, the new tier, which will offer high-fidelity music streaming, will cost the same $9.99 monthly subscription as the current individual...
Top Stories 58 Feature 1

Top Stories: iOS 14.5 Released, AirTag Launch, New iMac and iPad Pro Pre-Orders

Saturday May 1, 2021 6:00 am PDT by
After nearly three months of beta testing, Apple this week finally released iOS 14.5, the company's biggest update since the iOS 14 launch last September. One of the main new features included in the update is support for AirTags, Apple's item trackers that also finally became available this week some two years after their existence first leaked. Apple this week also began taking orders for...
tile sticker e1570533758981

Tile CEO: 'We Welcome Competition From Apple, But We Think It Needs to Be Fair'

Tuesday May 4, 2021 9:51 am PDT by
Just after Apple announced its AirTags, Tile CEO CJ Prober relayed his concerns about competing with Apple in the tracking space, and said that Tile would ask Congress to investigate Apple's business practices specific to Find My and item trackers. Prober this week did an interview with Bloomberg, where he further expanded on Tile's complaints about Apple and why he feels that Tile is...
apple music album cover art

iOS 14.6 Beta 1 Code Hints at Upcoming HiFi Apple Music Support

Saturday May 1, 2021 10:41 am PDT by
Apple is laying the groundwork for adding HiFi support to Apple Music which would offer Apple Music subscribers and owners of compatible devices, such as certain models of AirPods, access to high-fidelity audio streaming, according to code within the iOS 14.6 beta discovered by MacRumors. Earlier today, a report claimed that Apple will announce a new $9.99 per month Apple Music tier that...