On 2020-02-17, Apple published updated investor guidance addressing the degree to which their supply chain is vulnerable to disruption by COVID-19. In it, they note:
While our iPhone manufacturing partner sites are located outside the Hubei province — and while all of these facilities have reopened — they are ramping up more slowly than we had anticipated.
Looking at Apple's own supply chain transparency reports, we can at least partially verify this statement. Since 2011, Apple has disclosed three supplier locations in Hubei, which as of this writing has far and away the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases:
What can we tell from each of these report records about Apple's supply chain presence in Hubei?
Meiko is listed as a supplier to Apple in production years 2011 and 2012. Apple did not disclose geographic locations in 2011, and Google's Geocoding API returned no results for the location string that Apple provided for the 2012 report, but it appears to be here:
Regardless, Meiko has not appeared on Apple's supplier reports since then. Meiko has apparently been conscious of the risk of infectious disease for some time; their 2012 Investor Report specifically calls it out. As with other factories in the area, Meiko's Wuhan factory has been closed since 2020-01-22; as of 2020-02-14 they are planning to reopen on 2020-02-21.
Asia Vital Components has appeared on Apple's supplier reports since the production year 2013. In production year 2019, they were listed in four report records:
According to their website, AVC supplies a variety of components related to cooling and electronics cases. Their website's "news" section hasn't been updated since 2017, and their US sales office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. According to a 2017 blog post on the English website for the Wuhan East Lake High-tech Development Zone, AVC's Wuhan facility makes "spindles, computer cases, and heat-dissipation models."
Foxconn's presence in Apple's supply chain cannot be understated. In 2019 alone they appeared in 35 report records.
Foxconn's Hubei factory is listed at `No. 1 GuangGu Second Road, Dong Hu New Technical Development Zone, Wuhan, Hubei, China` in Apple's supply chain transparency reports. According to Xinhua, parts of the Dong Hu New Technical Development Zone have already returned to work as of 2020-02-15, but Foxconn is not mentioned in the article and their website only says that "As a matter of policy and for reasons of commercial sensitivity, we do not comment on our specific production facilities."
According to a 2007 report on MIC, Foxconn's Wuhan facility is "dedicated to the production of LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) monitors and DSCs (Digital Still Cameras). Moreover, LED (Light Emitting Diode) manufacturing is included in the future plan as well. Foxconn is expected to invest approximately US$3 billion in this facility covering an area of more than 10,000 acres. With an estimated workforce of 150,000 to 200,000, Foxconn's Wuhan production base is expected to turn out 15 million LCD monitors and 30 million DSCs per year."
Of course, the impact on Apple's supply chain will not be limited to the facilities located within Hubei. But as the epicenter of the outbreak, it is likely that the products that Apple sources from Wuhan will loom large in any supply chain disruptions in the coming months. Specifically, we expect that cases, cooling & heat dissipation systems, LCDs, camera modules, and LEDs are likely to be the hardest hit components in Apple's supply chain.
In the fall of 2018, I stumbled upon a Hacker News thread about Apple's most recently published supplier list. The thread was active (it now contains over a hundred replies), with subtopics ranging from Taiwanese national identity to how even enormous contract manufacturers exist in popular obscurity.
While I agreed with the commentary ("There is so much information here," began the OP) I found Apple's presentation to be inscrutable. The PDF document presented an abstracted and disconnected view into their supply chain, providing data that was neither consistent, nor accurate, nor complete. Previous years' reports were even worse, containing typos and varying in their presentation and nomenclature. Worse yet, Apple seems to delete every years' report when the subsequent one is published - making it hard to understand how their supply chain is developing over time and leaving a concerned consumer (or competitor) to instead trust the greenwashed generalities presented in Apple's beautiful sustainability reports.
It left me to wonder. What was Apple's supplier list really for? And if someone wanted to truly understand - and assess the impact of - Apple's supply chain, what additional information would be needed?
Dong xi attempts to answer those questions.
Apple sells hundreds of millions of devices a year. Their CEO, Tim Cook, is often credited as a supply chain visionary. Known for their on-the-ground presence at contract manufacturers' facilities, Apple apparently spends $150 million dollars per year on airfare from just one airline. The organization has their supply chain locked down, and they're more than willing to invest time and money in understanding it.
And yet, as it turns out, the information density in their supplier lists is sparse. They fail to specify whether a particular facility is supplying components or services; they don't provide hyperlinks to suppliers' own transparency data; they don't say what products or even product categories a given supplier worked on. Apple's recent reports are just lists of company names and addresses, many of which are incomplete or inaccurate. Their first supplier list, published in 2012, contains only company names.
What would drive anyone to spend the time to copy and paste names and addresses into a search bar to reconstruct a snapshot of Apple's supplier list? And once that work was done, how many browser tabs would it take to understand how an iPhone comes to life - let alone how that process has changed through the years?
Dong xi is devoted to truly understanding supply chains like Apple's. We provide tools to visualize, assess, and track manufacturers who make the most complex - and the most ubiquitous - products in the world.
Over the coming months, we'll be writing here about what we've reconstructed from Apple's supplier lists - and introducing a series of tools to compare Apple with other manufacturers. These companies have enormous footprints; Dong xi's mission is to enable them to be understood.
We look forward to sharing what companies like Apple rarely do.