Former Apple employees and supply chain sources revealed that the travel restrictions imposed by the outbreak of the new coronavirus around the world coincided with the time when Apple engineers flew to Asia to complete the production tasks for the new iPhone this fall.
Two former employees of Apple said that although the company will not start mass production until the summer, they communicate with partners such as Foxconn about the specific assembly process in the first few months of each year.
A former Apple employee who asked not to be named mentioned production problems and said: “They may be trying an assembly line.”
“Are Apple’s engineers in contact with Foxconn’s engineers? If they are, then they may be making progress. But if they are isolated, it will be troublesome.”
Supply chain experts said that although Apple uses Wistron and other outsourcing companies to produce certain iPhones, Foxconn is often responsible for the production of new models because of its most advanced technology.
Foxconn is the world’s largest Electronic product outsourcing manufacturer. The company postponed the resumption of major iPhone factories in Shenzhen and Zhengzhou after the Spring Festival holiday, but is expected to resume half of its production capacity in China by the end of February.
A person familiar with the matter said that Foxconn executives who have been working remotely in Chinese Taipei since the holiday have not yet returned to China on a large scale.
Apple declined to comment. Foxconn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Apple warned investors last week that they are unlikely to meet their revenue targets for the first three months of 2020 and that global iPhone supply will also be restricted because China’s production bases have not accelerated production as expected.
Foxconn said this month that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus will reduce the company’s revenue this year.
As a major Apple customer, United Airlines announced earlier this month that it would cancel all flights to mainland China until late April. At the same time, Apple also stated on January 28 that it would restrict employees from traveling to China.
According to informed sources, when the Spring Festival holiday ends in late January and early February, the company has already begun to earnestly promote the transition from prototype to mass assembly.
By that time, Apple had tested many prototypes and was in the late stage of so-called engineering verification, which allowed Foxconn workers to assemble a small amount of equipment and the engineers from both sides jointly carried out troubleshooting.
If there is a delay at this stage, it will delay the final time for Apple to determine the order for chips and other parts, and these components are almost all customized for the iPhone.
Ron Keith, founder of Supply Chain Resources Group, said that because of the huge demand, “they can’t wait to choose components.” Supply Chain Resources Group has a cooperative relationship with electronic product manufacturers such as Alphabet’s Nest.
In March and April, Apple engineers usually work with Foxconn counterparts to establish a new assembly line and conduct trial runs, and then make final adjustments in April and May. The goal is to start the production line in June so that other production lines can be gradually added to increase production.
“It’s very complicated.” A person familiar with the process said: “There are too many environmental variables, including even small factors such as air pollution.”
Anna-Katrina Shedletsky (Anna-Katrina Shedletsky) is a former Apple engineer. She founded Instrumental, a startup company focused on factory automation. The company is headquartered in Mountain View, California, and he said that on-site engineering cooperation is essential for new products.
“It is also possible to let engineers fly to other places, but some knowledge is closely related to the production environment of the product. Although this kind of knowledge is not impossible to teach, it is really difficult.” She said.
Although supply chain experts and industry insiders said that Apple still has time to maintain the annual iPhone release schedule, travel restrictions did bring some negative effects.
An executive of a semiconductor company that provides services to smartphone companies mentioned the production cycle of the entire smartphone industry and said: “There is currently no face-to-face work.”
“And this situation is difficult to change in another month. So the actual loss is two months, which is already very serious in the consumer electronics cycle.” He said.