Apple is said to be considering a move that will bring Mac mini production to the U.S., through manufacturing partner Foxconn, according to supply chain sources speaking to Digitimes. Foxconn already has an estimated 15 “operating bases” in the U.S. according to Digitimes. Indeed two of those at least include factories in California and Texas that finish assembly of partially assembled products, and while Foxconn officially denied plans earlier in the year to expand to Detroit, it did note that it has multiple U.S.-based facilities already in place.
Part of the production effort will involve Foxconn’s push to outfit some of those facilities with more automated workers, something else we heard the manufacturer was planning for a future ramp-up back in November. More automated production lines would help Apple get around the limitations it has cited in the past for failing to do more production at home in the U.S.: costs, and getting production facilities up to its exacting standards.
The Mac mini is a good candidate for Apple getting its feet wet once again with U.S. production for a number of reasons. First, like the Mac Pro which was first suggested as the likely target for Apple’s $ 100 million investment in U.S. production, it doesn’t have a screen. Eliminating display components from the equation represents a significant cost savings in terms of shipping components, and it likely has other benefits, too. Displays on most Mac and mobile device models are now integrated tightly with other components including the glass and other internals, so having production facilities near to display partners just makes sense in case things go wrong or need adjustment once limited trial or full production has already begun.
The Mac mini is also a Mac with relatively low shipping volume: Digitimes predicts 1.4 million units total for 2012. While Apple doesn’t break out individual Mac sales figures, that would make for a relatively small chunk of the 18.1 million Macs it sold during fiscal 2012. It’s small enough to be manageable for what is essentially a trial run, while also being large enough to represent a serious undertaking, where producing the niche and aging Mac Pro would’ve been a symbolic gesture, at best.
This is Digitimes, which has a spotty track record, so be wary of its veracity as usual, but remember also that the publication has proven in the past to have significant upstream supply chain access, too, and Apple CEO Tim Cook is on the record saying the production of one Mac line in particular will move stateside in 2013.