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Foxconn adds X-ray inspections to reduce defects in Apple products

post #1 of 22
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Apple supplier Foxconn has begun adding automated X-ray machines to its assembly lines, allowing it to inspect and cut down on defects with devices like the iPhone and iPad.

Citing a source with first-hand knowledge of the changes, CNet reported on Monday that Foxconn's inline X-ray inspection systems have begun to appear at its plants in China. The machines are said to rely on software algorithms to quickly inspect solder joints or printed circuit boards at speeds that allow the production line to continue moving quickly.

The new equipment could not only allow Foxconn to improve efficiency and cut down on errors, it could also allow the manufacturing company to reduce rising labor costs. In the face of rising criticism, the company announced last month that it had raised the wages of its workers by as much as 25 percent.

But the source who revealed Foxconn's investment in X-ray machines also suggested there could be "quality issues" on the company's production line that may have prompted the purchase. It was said the machines are being bought in "unprecedented quantities."

Foxconn remains the primary assembler of devices for Apple, and Apple continues to see tremendous year-over-year growth for its popular products like the iPhone and iPad. For example, last quarter Apple saw its iPhone sales grow by 128 percent, while iPad sales grew 111 percent from the same period a year prior.


Foxconn workers file down the Apple logo on an iPad component. | Credit: Almin Karamehmedovic/ABC News.


An inside look at Foxconn conducted last month by ABC's Nightline showed that the iPhone is basically handmade by Chinese workers on the company's assembly lines. There are a total of 141 separate steps that go into the production of Apple's smartphone.

[ View article on AppleInsider ]
post #2 of 22
Right now someone is trying to spin this article to state that Apple is forcing Foxconn to x-ray all their employees daily make sure they aren't stealing.

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"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #3 of 22
Nothing like hiring less ppl with a high dose of radiation. j/k. Hope they put in the proper worker protection this time.
post #4 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

Right now someone is trying to spin this article to state that Apple is forcing Foxconn to x-ray all their employees daily make sure they aren't stealing.

Or that the workers will now be dying off in droves because of radiation.

Ah, and as I look below this as I type

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post #5 of 22
The biggest news is going to be from people wanting to work, protesting outside that machines are taking jobs.

Just wait to hear the freakin unroar when people aren't even earning per day
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post #6 of 22
Remember back in the day when you had those tags baby pinned to your just purchased dress shirt or found in the pocket of your just bought blue jeans that stated "Inspected by #12" or some such number...

Now we have new tags for our Apple iPads/iPods/iPhones, "Inspected by R2D2CP3O!"

Meet yur new Inspectors...


/
/
/

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post #7 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

Right now someone is trying to spin this article to state that Apple is forcing Foxconn to x-ray all their employees daily make sure they aren't stealing.

Brilliant.

On a more serious note, can someone in the know tell us if a similar manufacturing facility in the US, Canada, or Mexico would invest in this type of quality control?
post #8 of 22
I'm surprised Foxconn didn't already use xray inspection. BGA parts have covered solder joints that are impossible to inspect without using xray. Maybe they were just testing parts electrically.

Adding xray inspection wouldn't mean workers losing their jobs to be replaced by xray inspection machines. Unless Foxconn has been employing workers with xray vision. It should mean more workers to man the xray inspection stations.
post #9 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by anantksundaram View Post

Brilliant.

On a more serious note, can someone in the know tell us if a similar manufacturing facility in the US, Canada, or Mexico would invest in this type of quality control?

I used to work in a small contract manufacturer in the US. And we did have an xray inspection machine.

At that business, US-based companies would typically contract with us for prototype or small volume builds to work out the kinks in the quality of the board designs, manufacturing process, choice of parts, etc. Once the kinks were worked out, they would typically move manufacturing to a larger volume facility in China. If volume was low enough, we might continue building their stuff though.
post #10 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by trugoy View Post

Once the kinks were worked out, they would typically move manufacturing to a larger volume facility in China. If volume was low enough, we might continue building their stuff though.

Interesting. Thanks.

If labor cost was not an issue, would you have faced any issues in scaling up in the US?
post #11 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by anantksundaram View Post

Interesting. Thanks.

If labor cost was not an issue, would you have faced any issues in scaling up in the US?

Labor cost as far as I know was the only issue. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Foxconn didn't have xray inspection machines. They probably don't have many AOI (Automatic Optical Inspection) machines either. AOI machines ARE something that can replace human labor. These machines take a top-down picture of a board completely populated with parts and compare it to a template picture of a known good "golden" board. This kind of inspection can detect if there are missing parts, or skewed parts, or wrong parts installed in the place of correct parts, etc. because the machine can compare the image of each board against the golden board. Because it's an automated machine, it can inspect boards a lot faster than a person can. But I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of facilities in China don't have them because labor is so cheap and the machines are so expensive. You just have armies of visual inspectors rather than a handful of AOI machines. Because labor is comparatively expensive in the US, it makes sense to invest in the machines instead.

I think there are larger volume facilities in the US, but they are few. Most US facilities will be small niche facilities that add value that the larger facilities in China can't provide or just don't provide at a cost that small businesses in the US can afford. Small contract manufacturers typically service regional small businesses that require custom built circuit boards in their products.
post #12 of 22
I was a bit surprised to see the degree of human input in the build of the iPhone. Maybe that explains why my 1st 4S took two attempts to dial out before connecting successfully. Apple gladly replaced it and things are chummy now.

It's been a while since I've experienced such a defect in a new electronic product.

I would prefer a highly-robotized plant, but perhaps that's where Apple can spend some of their impressive loot.
post #13 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by anantksundaram View Post

Brilliant.

On a more serious note, can someone in the know tell us if a similar manufacturing facility in the US, Canada, or Mexico would invest in this type of quality control?

All the time. There are thousands of similar devices in use in the U.S.
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Gatorguy 5/31/13
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post #14 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by anantksundaram View Post

On a more serious note, can someone in the know tell us if a similar manufacturing facility in the US, Canada, or Mexico would invest in this type of quality control?

Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

All the time. There are thousands of similar devices in use in the U.S.

I think the more apropos question might be: Do other vendors invest in this type of quality control for their consumer electronics?

"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #15 of 22
It sounds like Foxconn might be using This in combination with x-ray equipment.
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post #16 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Avonord View Post

Nothing like hiring less ppl with a high dose of radiation. j/k. Hope they put in the proper worker protection this time.

Firstly, the radiation dose of these industrial X Ray machines in tiny compared to the human ones.

Secondly, the X Ray does not improve quality control, it will just reject faulty manufacture (if set up correctly).
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post #17 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by bugsnw View Post

I was a bit surprised to see the degree of human input in the build of the iPhone. Maybe that explains why my 1st 4S took two attempts to dial out before connecting successfully. Apple gladly replaced it and things are chummy now.

It's been a while since I've experienced such a defect in a new electronic product.

I would prefer a highly-robotized plant, but perhaps that's where Apple can spend some of their impressive loot.

I am hoping they go instore micro-assembly
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post #18 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

I think the more apropos question might be: Do other vendors invest in this type of quality control for their consumer electronics?

Yes. Again, that's a very common use for industrial X-ray machines.

Google 'industrial x-ray electronics' to learn about it. It's common enough that some companies specialize in just electronics applications:
http://www.yxlon.com/Home

Quote:
Originally Posted by HellasMac View Post

Firstly, the radiation dose of these industrial X Ray machines in tiny compared to the human ones.

Secondly, the X Ray does not improve quality control, it will just reject faulty manufacture (if set up correctly).

Yes and no. Properly used, any tool that allows one to more accurately detect defects can be used as a quality improvement tool. Study up on the Toyota Production System. A key element in preventing and fixing problems is the ability to detect defects in real time rather than in large batches.

So if they're dumb, then you'd be correct. Detecting problems doesn't help you to fix them. But assuming that they have any decently trained quality or management personnel, they will certainly use that knowledge to improve their process.
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post #19 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by bugsnw View Post

I was a bit surprised to see the degree of human input in the build of the iPhone. Maybe that explains why my 1st 4S took two attempts to dial out before connecting successfully. Apple gladly replaced it and things are chummy now.

It's been a while since I've experienced such a defect in a new electronic product.

I would prefer a highly-robotized plant, but perhaps that's where Apple can spend some of their impressive loot.

Then consider yourself extremely lucky.

Defects in electronics devices are very common. For some types of devices, defect rates are a very significant percentage (even ignoring outliers like the early Xbox 360). A few percent of defectives is not out of line.
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post #20 of 22
One way the automated inspection machines save cost is to detect defects earlier in the build process. As others were saying, electrically testing the board can not always replicate what you as a consumer experience, hence the "bad" phone that has to be replaced. Imagine the savings/cost avoidance if everyone's defective phone was fixed during the build process instead of in the field. $$$$$ for Apple. (is that enough dollars?)

Now, getting enough x-ray machines to cover every product line is a HUGE investment that few companies (even FoxConn) can afford at the scale the iPhone is being produced. But once purchased, they can be set up for each follow-up phone at a fraction of the cost.

My experience with expensive networking and computer equipment ($,5000 to $250,000 per unit) is that automated machine inspections are not optional, but a mandatory part of the prototyping, qualification and production build process, in our US and outside of US sites.



Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

Then consider yourself extremely lucky.

Defects in electronics devices are very common. For some types of devices, defect rates are a very significant percentage (even ignoring outliers like the early Xbox 360). A few percent of defectives is not out of line.
post #21 of 22
One of the differences between journalism and the regurgitation of gossip and press releases (aka "advertising") is that a journalist would consider this story unpublishable. The failure to mention the possible health consequences for Foxconn employees of installing such a large quantity of potentially deadly equipment on what appears to be an emergency schedule not only renders the story all but worthless, but makes one doubt the integrity of the writer and publisher.

If such things still existed, a good editor at a decent newspaper would take one look at this and shout, "Who do you work for? Us or them?" An honest court trying to answer the same question would subpoena the publisher's and writer's financial records in an instant.

Have you no shame? Who are you people, really, and what's the actual purpose of this site? Fess up. You're either rolling in bribes or trying to establish Apple as a religion. I'm sure they're other possibilities, but right now I've only had one espresso, and consequently those are the only explanations I can think of which explain your toothlessness.

Reading AppleInsider is like watching a hooker remove her plate to give a CEO a gum job.
post #22 of 22
Foxconn has been using X-ray systems for almost a decade to inspect solder connections on printed circuit boards. The difference is...

Until recently (last few years) x-ray inspection at most PCB manufacturers has been on a sample basis because conveyorized x-ray systems were very inexpensive, difficult to program, and couldn't rotate the PCB to isolate solder joint inspection on the top side of the PCB vs. the bottom. In-line conveyorized systems that had 3D capability were slow, very hard to program, difficult to maintain and cost well over $500,000. When you have 100's of conveyorized PCB assembly lines the expense is 1/2 billion+.

Companies like YESTech (Carlsbad) have developed in-line conveyorized x-ray systems with 3D (tomography) at an affordable price. Foxconn is investing in this type of system because they are fast, accurate, and inexpensive allowing them to inspect 100% of the circuit boards they assemble rather than a fraction.
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