Apple Faced Numerous Issues in an Attempt to Replace Assembly Line Workers with Robots

BY Asif Shaik

Published 4 Jun 2020

Apple Daisy Disassembly Robot

We’ve all seen Apple’s disassembly robot Daisy, but did you know that the company has also tried to automate its assembly lines using robots? A new report claims that the Cupertino-based company’s attempts to replace humans with robots in the assembly line was met with limited success.

Apple reportedly started assembling a team of automation and robotics experts at a secret lab in Sunnyvale, California, to find a way to reduce the number of workers in its product assembly lines. The team is said to have faced a lot of issues in designing robots that could imitate human capabilities.

Building robots that can fasten screws is among the hardest tasks in the production line industry. A robot needs to pick up a screw at a specific angle and align it with a hole, and that requires multiple industrial cameras. Since Apple uses tiny screws in its products, robots had no way to measure the force that is needed to fasten those screws without breaking them. In comparison, humans can feel resistance using their hands when something is off.

In other cases, like putting glue on the display panels, Apple’s guidelines are so strict that the adhesive must be placed within millimeters of the advised target spots. The report states that in many cases, well-trained Chinese workers turned out to be more proficient than robots.

Most automation attempts were abandoned as the company found them to be more trouble than it was worth. However, for some simpler products like the Apple Watch, Apple TV, and the iPad, Apple had some success. In 2014, Apple had to delay the launch of the 12-inch MacBook due to the challenges it faced during assembly automation.

In early trials that involved using robots to assemble the 12-inch MacBook, conveyor systems reportedly moved erratically, slowing down the movement of parts. A robot that was meant to install the keyboard using 88 screws is said to have kept malfunctioning, and works had to intervene and rework most of the process.

A few years ago, the company unveiled Daisy, a disassembly robot that could take apart 200 iPhones per hour, and sort parts for recycling.

Our Take

Although Apple did not meet with much success in completely replacing humans with robots, the company was able to automate specific parts of the assembly process. This means that it is possible that a few years down the line, the company could automate more sections of the process, leading to job losses.

[Source: The Information]