Apple this week held its first Smart Manufacturing Forum for SMBs event in South Korea at the Apple Manufacturing R&D Support Center. It’s not only a education and research hub, it also builds smart process related equipment, potentially for use across Apple’s supply chain.
The special event underscores the company’s focus on Industry 4.0 at the heart of its APAC manufacturing chain in South Korea.
Apple’s Industry 4.0 research center
The event took place at the $55 million research and training hub in Pohang that Apple was forced to build in 2021 to settle a case with South Korea’s FTC. This facility was designed to help small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) learn about Apple’s manufacturing techniques, while also serving as an innovation hub for developers.
Apple promised that the center would, “provide training for using advanced smart technologies well aligned with environment protection.”
Subsequent reports indicate this is the world’s first such center created by Apple.
Bridging the smart industry gap
The Smart Manufacturing Forum was opened by Priya Balasubramaniam, an Apple vice president from the operations team. “Not many companies have bridged the gap between conventional and smart manufacturing,” she said, according to The Korea Herald. “Many, especially small and medium-scale enterprises, don’t know where to begin. At Apple, we believe that we can help bridge this gap. And we saw an opportunity to work toward that mission here,”
Participants were given the chance to learn about the latest manufacturing technologies. They heard lectures from Apple officials, academics, and women leaders in the manufacturing arena. Speakers included people Postech, SMBs, and thought leaders from AI and machine learning.
World Economic Forum Lighthouse companies also took part, inclduing Posco, LG Electronics, LS Electric, and Kenvue, all of which discussed what they know about smart manufacturing. Those on hand also got experience with smart manufacturing processes.
How Apple thinks about smart industry
The sessions were arranged across three primary pillars: Smart Data, Smart Process, and Smart Quality, and explored real-life applications of Apple’s machine vision intelligence in manufacturing and predictive maintenance.
This likely shows us both the importance of applied machine vision intelligence in the company’s products, as well as its outlook for future implementation of such sophisticated tech in future.
The Machine Learning With Vision track for example, included:
- An explanation of vision-based algorithms and their practical applications;
- How to use the Automated Optical Inspection (AOI) framework for image inspection;
- How to use vision to detect issues in sample products;
- The scope and power of ML models;
- How to build an ML model with Create ML to identify defects in nuts and bolts;
- Part identification using an ML model.
Of course, these kinds of industrial solutions aren’t unique to Apple. They’re already used across production lines today, and Apple obviously hopes to unlock innovation in smart industry processes. You can anticipate extensive use of any great ideas that emerge from the research center to spreadacross Apple’s own supply chain, and to diversify across other factories and locations.
Production as a product
This matters, because while Apple’s adventures in Industry 4.0 aren’t the first thing most of us think about when pondering the company that invented the iPod, the fact is that how the company works means it is deeply immersed in manufacturing design. Its experts don’t just develop products, they also build manufacturing processes for those products in partnership with third-party suppliers. Why wouldn’t the company explore how to improve, or even monetize, some of what it learns?
It’s easy to imagine part of Apple’s work in smart industry development will involve unlocking more environmentally friendly production processes and the adoption of renewable energy sources. With a view toward its carbon targets and its continued work to convince third-party suppliers to become carbon neutral, a research hub to identify tech solutions to enable this empowers core business objectives.
After all, what is arguably the world’s biggest consumer electronics company today has a lot of insight to share to help create smart manufacturing processes. I say, watch this space.
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