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Apple's plans for 2014: robots, advanced manufacturing processes and more


Every time Apple introduces a new product at a media event, they love showing us a video depicting the incredible, and sometimes pioneering, manufacturing methods used to create their latest and greatest device. The most recent example came a few weeks ago during Apple's special media event where we were treated to a slickly produced video depicting how the Mac Pro is made.

The video, per usual, features an assortment of advanced manufacturing methods and fast-moving robots working together to bring Apple's award-winning hardware designs to life.

If we take a look at Apple's recently filed 10-K, it appears that Apple's manufacturing ambitions will continue to grow as we head into 2014.

During the 2013 fiscal year, the 10-K relays that Apple's capital expenditures checked in at US$7 billion. Of that figure, $499 million was allocated toward retail store operations while $6.5 billion was used for "other capital expenditures, including product tooling and manufacturing process equipment, and other corporate facilities and infrastructure."

Looking ahead to 2014, Apple notes that its capital expenditures will total $11 billion, with $550 million earmarked for real store facilities and $10.5 billion for various manufacturing processes and corporate facilities.

If we take retail store operations out of the equation, Apple's capital expenditures from 2013 to 2014 will increase by a sizable 61 percent.

So just what, exactly, is Apple to?

Bloomberg alleges to have some info as to Apple's plans,

To get a jump on rivals like Samsung Electronics Co. and lay the groundwork for new products, Apple is spending more on the machines that do the behind-the-scenes work of mass producing iPhones, iPads and other gadgets. That includes equipment to polish the new iPhone 5c's colorful plastic, laser and milling machines to carve the MacBook's aluminum body, and testing gear for the iPhone and iPad camera lens, said people with knowledge of the company's manufacturing methods, who asked not to be identified because the process is private.


Apple is increasingly striking exclusive machinery deals, said the people familiar with the work, outspending peers on the tools that it then places in the factories of its suppliers, many of which are in Asia.

While we often see and marvel at the manufacturing-centric videos Apple likes to produce, the Bloomberg report adds some interesting tidbits regarding how all that expensive equipment gets up and running.

Apple engineers often spend weeks at facilities in Asia making sure the parts and equipment they buy or make are working properly, people familiar with the work said. The company has hired robotics experts and its website has several job openings for engineers who can operate high-end manufacturing equipment.

Often times, the type of products and technologies Apple has in development require new manufacturing methods as current methods often cannot be run at the scale Apple needs. Some examples cited in the article include the method by which Apple tests the iPhone's gyroscope and how Apple manufactured the recently revamped 2012 iMac display.

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