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.
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.
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.
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.”
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。
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 $50 million to buy up all the available holiday air freight space, says John Martin, a logistics executive who worked with Jobs to arrange the flights. The move handicapped rivals such as Compaq that later wanted to book air transport. Similarly, when iPod sales took off in 2001, Apple realized it could pack so many of the diminutive music players on planes that it became economical to ship them directly from Chinese factories to consumers’ doors. When an HP staffer bought one and received it a few days later, tracking its progress around the world through Apple’s website, “It was an ‘Oh s—’ moment,” recalls Fawkes.
當時，大多數的電腦製造商選擇以海運來運送產品，比起空運要來的便宜許多。根據與Steve Jobs一同安排航班的貨運公司管理人John Martin敘述，為了保證公司嶄新的半透明藍色iMac能在耶誕節大量鋪貨，Jobs支付了US$ 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。
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.