MacBook Air isight greenlight

iSight (Working), Photo by iron_monk

本文譯自Bloomberg Businessweek的「Apple’s Supply-Chain Secret? Hoard Lasers」一文,作者為Adam Satariano 與 Peter Burrows。

About five years ago, Apple (AAPL) design guru Jony Ive decided he wanted a new feature for the next MacBook: a small dot of green light above the screen, shining through the computer’s aluminum casing to indicate when its camera was on. The problem? It’s physically impossible to shine light through metal.

大約在五年前,Apple設計小組的Jony Ive決定,他想要在下一代的MacBook上加入一個新功能──在螢幕上方加上一個小綠燈,在啟動相機時,可以穿過電腦的鋁製外殼發光。

不過有個問題。在物理上,光線是不可能穿透金屬的。

Ive called in a team of manufacturing and materials experts to figure out how to make the impossible possible, according to a former employee familiar with the development who requested anonymity to avoid irking Apple. The team discovered it could use a customized laser to poke holes in the aluminum small enough to be nearly invisible to the human eye but big enough to let light through.

根據一位熟悉開發過程,要求匿名的前Apple員工表示,Ive找來了一組製造與材料的專家,試著找出如何讓不可能成為可能。研究團隊發現,可以使用特製的雷射在鋁材上打穿一的小洞,小到幾乎無法被人眼看見,但是又大到可以使光線穿過鋁材。

Applying that solution at massive volume was a different matter. Apple needed lasers, and lots of them. The team of experts found a U.S. company that made laser equipment for microchip manufacturing which, after some tweaking, could do the job. Each machine typically goes for about $250,000. Apple convinced the seller to sign an exclusivity agreement and has since bought hundreds of them to make holes for the green lights that now shine on the company’s MacBook Airs, Trackpads, and wireless keyboards.

不過,將此方案應用到大規模生產完全是另一回事,Apple需要非常非常多的雷射機器。團隊找到了一家生產晶片製造用雷射設備的美國公司,他們的機器在經過一些調整後,就可以使用在生產上。

每部機器通常價格大約為$250,000。Apple說服了該公司,並簽下了獨佔契約。至今為了MacBook Air、Trackpad與無線鍵盤等產品上出現的小綠燈,Apple已經購買了數以百計的機器。

Most of Apple’s customers have probably never given that green light a second thought, but its creation speaks to a massive competitive advantage for Apple: Operations. This is the world of manufacturing, procurement, and logistics in which the new chief executive officer, Tim Cook, excelled, earning him the trust of Steve Jobs. According to more than a dozen interviews with former employees, executives at suppliers, and management experts familiar with the company’s operations, Apple has built a closed ecosystem where it exerts control over nearly every piece of the supply chain, from design to retail store. Because of its volume—and its occasional ruthlessness—Apple gets big discounts on parts, manufacturing capacity, and air freight. “Operations expertise is as big an asset for Apple as product innovation or marketing,” says Mike Fawkes, the former supply-chain chief at Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and now a venture capitalist with VantagePoint Capital Partners. “They’ve taken operational excellence to a level never seen before.”

大部分Apple的顧客,也許從未對這個小綠燈有多少想法。不過這個小綠燈的誕生,同時也道出了Apple最巨大的競爭優勢──營運。

生產、採購與物流,這是屬於新任CEO──Tim Cook的世界,同時也讓他出色地贏得了Steve Jobs的信任。根據超過十多位前員工、供應商的管理階層以及熟悉Apple運作的管理專家指出,Apple已經建立了一套封閉的生態系統,在此系統內,Apple強化了對供應鏈每個環節的控制,從設計一路到零售商店。

由於它龐大的數量,以及其不時無情的決策,Apple在採購零件、生產以及空運上,得到了大量的折扣。

「營運的相關知識,對於Apple來說就如同產品創新,或是市場行銷一樣地重要。」HP的前任供應鏈負責人,現為PVCP風險投資家的Mike Fawkes如此敘述。

「他們已經將營運水平提升到了前所未有的境界。」

Apple began innovating on the nitty-gritty details of supply-chain management almost immediately upon Steve Jobs’s return in 1997. At the time, most computer manufacturers transported products by sea, a far cheaper option than air freight. To ensure that the company’s new, translucent blue iMacs would be widely available at Christmas the following year, Jobs paid $50 million to buy up all the available holiday air freight space, says John Martin, a logistics executive who worked with Jobs to arrange the flights. The move handicapped rivals such as Compaq that later wanted to book air transport. Similarly, when iPod sales took off in 2001, Apple realized it could pack so many of the diminutive music players on planes that it became economical to ship them directly from Chinese factories to consumers’ doors. When an HP staffer bought one and received it a few days later, tracking its progress around the world through Apple’s website, “It was an ‘Oh s—’ moment,” recalls Fawkes.

Apple開始從供應鏈管理的細節開始逐步革新,幾乎是從1997年Steve Jobs回到Apple後,就立刻開始了。

當時,大多數的電腦製造商選擇以海運來運送產品,比起空運要來的便宜許多。根據與Steve Jobs一同安排航班的貨運公司管理人John Martin敘述,為了保證公司嶄新的半透明藍色iMac能在耶誕節大量鋪貨,Jobs支付了US$ 50,000,000買下了所有耶誕假期間可購買的空運航班。此舉同時也阻礙了諸如Compaq等競爭對手在之後的空運。

同樣地,當iPod銷量在2001年漸漸提高時,Apple了解到,將大量的音樂撥放器經由空運,並直接從中國工廠運送到消費者家中的方式已經變得更為經濟。

當HP的員工買了一台iPod,經由Apple網站在全球追蹤整個流程,並在幾天後收到貨品時。「當時只有『Oh S──』一句話可以說。」Fawkes回憶道。

That mentality—spend exorbitantly wherever necessary, and reap the benefits from greater volume in the long run—is institutionalized throughout Apple’s supply chain, and begins at the design stage. Ive and his engineers sometimes spend months living out of hotel rooms in order to be close to suppliers and manufacturers, helping to tweak the industrial processes that translate prototypes into mass-produced devices. For new designs such as the MacBook’s unibody shell, cut from a single piece of aluminum, Apple’s designers work with suppliers to create new tooling equipment. The decision to focus on a few product lines, and to do little in the way of customization, is a huge advantage. “They have a very unified strategy, and every part of their business is aligned around that strategy,” says Matthew Davis, a supply-chain analyst with Gartner (IT) who has ranked Apple as the world’s best supply chain for the last four years.

這種意識──只要需要便花費鉅資,並從長期、大規模的量來獲利──是從Apple的供應鏈開始制度化,並從設計階段就已經開始的事。

Ive與他的工程師們,有時會在旅館房間裡住上數個月,只為了能更接近供應商與製造商,以便微調整個生產過程,將原型變成可大量生產的裝置。而為了新的設計,例如MacBook由單片鋁材切割而成的Unibody機身,Apple的設計師與供應商一同合作,來製作出新的加工設備。

只專注於少數幾個產品線,並在訂製上只提供少數選項的決策,成為了巨大的優勢。

「他們有非常統一的策略,而事業中的所有環節,也都圍繞著此一策略。」Gartner的供應鏈分析師,同時也將Apple評選為四年來有著世界最佳供應鏈廠商的Matthew Davis敘述。

via Apple’s Supply-Chain Secret? Hoard Lasers – Businessweek