Apple Inc. plans to build some Mac computers in the U.S. for the first time in about a decade, investing $100 million next year in an effort that could serve as a high-profile test of American manufacturing competitiveness.
The world's most valuable company has faced political pressure to bring jobs home and reduce its reliance on foreign subcontractors whose treatment of workers has come under harsh scrutiny.
The investment is a small sum compared with the billions of dollars Apple spends annually on manufacturing world-wide, mostly in Asia, whose factories produce the bulk of its high-tech goods.
Apple isn't providing details about the plans disclosed by Chief Executive Tim Cook on Thursday, beyond stating that it will work with manufacturing partners and do more than assemble parts built elsewhere. It said the investment would go toward production of an existing Mac line.
A company spokesman declined to comment on which parts would be made on U.S. soil.
Piper Jaffray estimates that the sum would amount to 2% of Apple's 2013 capital expenditures. The company spent $9.5 billion on manufacturing process equipment and other corporate facilities and infrastructure in its last fiscal year.
Apple's plan runs counter to a decades-old shift of production of computers, smartphones, TVs and other gadgets to Asia, particularly mainland China.
The Cupertino, Calif., company has built up one of the industry's most sprawling and complicated global supply chains, a feat often credited to the efforts of Mr. Cook before he succeeded Steve Jobs as Apple's chief executive last year. Mr. Cook disclosed the new plan in interviews with NBC News and Bloomberg.
Apple has taken heat from human rights groups for safety incidents and high working hours in factories where their products are assembled, prompting Mr. Cook to invest in improvements. He has also publicly lamented the loss of manufacturing skills in the U.S. and played down the odds of bringing the bulk of production back from Asia, where years of investment have created sophisticated networks of parts suppliers and factories with specialized production tools.
But Tom Mayor, a Cleveland-based expert on manufacturing at Booz & Co., a management consulting firm, says Apple's latest move appears to be 'more than just political expediency.'
He said some technology companies have been rethinking their manufacturing strategies after last year's earthquake in Japan, which disrupted global supply chains.
Some now believe they should reduce reliance on Asia and avoid being caught 'with a supply base that sits on the ring of fire.'
Labor costs in China, which have been rising in the double digits annually, are also changing the equation on the margin.
Still Matt Sheerin, a senior supply chain analyst for Stifel Nicolaus, says doing PC manufacturing 'in a very big way' in the U.S. doesn't make sense.
He says electronics manufactures like Flextronics International Ltd. and Jabil Circuit Inc., which both make parts for Apple, have largely exited the PC business. 'They would have to get major margin and price concessions or they would take a big hit,' he said.
Flextronics and Jabil didn't respond to requests for comment.
Apple faces a series of challenges with the Mac production plan, including likely investments in production tools and training. Apple sold 18.2 million Macs in its last fiscal year.
Another hurdle will be qualifying for a 'made in the U.S.A.' label.
The Federal Trade Commission, which sets standards for such claims, says that products can carry that label only if 'all significant parts and processing that go into the product' are of U.S. origin.
At least some of the parts in any sophisticated electronic device would be likely to come from Asia.
But companies are allowed to make qualified claims about their U.S. production, such as by describing products as being assembled in the U.S. Companies also can specify the percentages of content that come from the U.S. and elsewhere.
Mr. Cook has also identified increasing Apple's manufacturing investment in the U.S. as a priority.
Yet he has also pointed to the challenges, including the shortage of skilled tool and die makers compared with China.
Jessica E. Lessin / James R. Hagerty
这家总部位于加州库比蒂诺的公司已经建成了业内最庞大复杂的全球供应链之一。在库克去年接替乔布斯(Steve Jobs)担任苹果首席执行长之前，这一成就常常被归功于库克。库克是在接受NBC News和彭博(Bloomberg)采访时披露这一新计划的。
但管理咨询公司Booz & Co.驻克利夫兰的制造业专家梅厄(Tom Mayor)说，苹果的最新举措似乎不止是政治上的权宜之计。
然而，美国投资银行Stifel Nicolaus的高级供应链分析师希林(Matt Sheerin)说，在美国大规模进行个人电脑的制造并不合理。
他说，伟创力国际(Flextronics International Ltd.)和捷普科技(Jabil Circuit Inc.)等电子产品制造商从很大程度上已经退出了个人电脑生产业务。他说，它们必须在利润率和价格上获得重大让步，否则就将受到严重冲击。这两家公司都为苹果生产零部件。
美国联邦贸易委员会(Federal Trade Commission)负责为此制定标准。该委员会说，只有当产品的全部主要零部件及产品的加工都是在美国进行的，产品才能贴上“美国制造”的标签。
Jessica E. Lessin / James R. Hagerty