After Apple announced a large new campus in Austin, Tex. — creating as many as 15,000 jobs, none of them expected to be manufacturing — it’s worth looking at the company’s flirtation with advanced manufacturing in Silicon Valley in the 1980s. Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs, had an abiding fascination with the tradition of Henry Ford and the original mass manufacturing of automobiles in Detroit, as well as the high-quality domestic manufacturing capabilities of Japanese companies like Sony. But his efforts to replicate either in California were examples of his rare failures.
“Steve had deep convictions about Japanese manufacturing processes,” recalled Randy Battat, who joined Apple as a young electrical engineer and oversaw the introduction of some of the company’s early portable computers. “The Japanese were heralded as wizards of manufacturing. The idea was to create a factory with just-in-time delivery of zero-defect parts. It wasn’t great for business.”
What Mr. Gassée found several years after Mr. Jobs was forced out of the company, was that the reality of manufacturing was different than the personal computer pioneer’s original dream.
“I embarrassed myself attaching a display to the computer bezel with a screwdriver,” Mr. Gassée recalled in a recent interview. At the end of his shift, Mr. Gassée grabbed a broom and swept up the parts that had fallen off the production line. “It was really shameful,” he said of the noticeably slipshod process.
“We don’t have a manufacturing culture,” Mr. Gassée said of the nation’s high-technology heartland, “meaning the substrate, the schooling, the apprentices, the subcontractors.”
It took Mr. Jobs a bit longer to grasp that idea, however.