Apple engineers and executives generally making the pilgrimage to China this time of year, as Apple’s Chinese suppliers begin readying the manufacture of the new iPhones. However, this year that process is being delayed due to coronavirus travel restrictions.
The actual production of new iPhones kicks off in the summer. But during these first months of the year, Apple employees usually visit China to smooth the wrinkles out of the manufacturing process with assembly partners like Foxconn.
Reuters spoke to former Apple employees who asked not to be named that said, “They probably have one assembly line they’re trying things out on.”
“Are Apple’s engineers with the Foxconn engineers? If they are, they’re probably making progress. But if they’re not, if they’re quarantined, that could be bad.”
The people familiar with the iPhone production process said work on the process generally kicks off after the Lunar New Year holiday. By February, Foxconn workers assemble a small number of devices and the manufacturing process is reviewed. This year though engineering validation has been delayed.
Delays during the early stages can eat into the time Apple requires to finalize orders for iPhone components, all of which need to be manufactured well in advance of the beginning of full-blown iPhone production.
Apple and Foxconn engineers work together during March and April to set up assembly lines and make trial production runs. Final adjustments are usually made during April and May. A Reuters source said that it’s “very complicated” and there are “so many variables in the environment.”
While there’s still time to keep the new iPhones on schedule, supply chain experts say the travel restriction has made it difficult,
Foxconn and other Apple suppliers were shut down for multiple days during February and while production is gearing up, factories aren’t yet operating at full capacity due to labor shortages, travel restrictions, and quarantines. Senior Foxconn officials are working remotely, and haven’t yet begun returning to China in any great numbers.
U.S. airlines have suspended numerous flights to China, and won’t be resuming flights to many parts of the country until late April. Those people that do travel to China are subject to health screenings and possibly being quarantined upon their return stateside.
Apple earlier this month announced an update to its financial guidance for the March quarter, revealing that the firm will not meet its previously announced revenue goals due to the impact of the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak.