Here’s a paradox of America’s highly automated, increasingly labor-independent manufacturing: While sophisticated, for the most part, it isn’t all that high-tech. Picture metal-stamping machines in an auto-parts factory that can easily have a long useful life of up to 40 years.
Now picture the assembly line just outside Austin, Texas, where Samsung Electronics Co. makes core chips for Apple Inc.’s iPhones. I toured the facility last summer. It is a pristine white environment filled with WALL-E-like robots ferrying boxes full of silicon wafers from one station to the next. Every detail of the factory is measured by sensors pouring data into a centralized repository where it can be processed to optimize production. The only humans present are there to fix the machines doing all the work.