Google tries something retro for new tablet: Made in the U.S.A.
Posted in the Fitchburg Forum
#1 Jun 28, 2012
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Google tries something retro for new tablet: Made in the U.S.A.
Google's Hugo Barra holds up the new Google Nexus7 today in San Francisco. The tablet will sell for $199 and be available in mid-July. It has a screen that measures 7 inches diagonally, smaller than the 10 inches on Apple;s iPad -- meaning it's likely to challenge Amazon's Kindle Fire, which is also 7 inches.(THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SAN FRANCISCO Etched into the base of Google's new wireless Nexus Q home media player, introduced today, is its most intriguing feature.
On the underside of the Magic-8-ball-shaped tablet reads a simple laser-etched inscription:Designed and Manufactured in the U.S.A.
It has become accepted wisdom that consumer electronics products can no longer be made in the United States. During the last decade, low-cost Chinese labor and looser environmental regulations have virtually erased what was once a vibrant American industry.
Since the 1990s, one American company after another, including Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Apple, have become design and marketing shells, with huge work forces deployed at contract manufacturers in Shenzhen and elsewhere in China.
Now that trend is showing early signs of reversing itself.
It's a trickle, but American companies are again making products in the United States.
There is no single reason: Rising labor and energy costs have made manufacturing in China significantly more expensive; transportation costs have risen; companies have become increasingly aware of the risks of the theft of intellectual property when products are manufactured in China; and in a business where time-to-market is a competitive advantage,
it is easier for engineers to drive 10 minutes down the freeway to the factory than to fly for 16 hours.
At 58 cents an hour, bringing manufacturing back was impossible, but at three to six dollars an hour, where wages are today in coastal China, all of a sudden the equation changes, said Harold L. Sirkin, a managing director at Boston Consulting Group.
In April the firm reported that fully one third of American firms with revenue greater than $1 billion were either planning or considering to move manufacturing back to the United States. It predicted that the reversal could bring two to three million jobs back to this country.
The companies who are investing in technology in the U.S.A. are more nimble and agile, said Drew Greenblatt, president and owner of Marlin Steel Wire Products, in Baltimore, a company that continues to manufacture in the United States by relying on automation technologies.Parts are made quicker and the quality is better.
Other factors are playing a role as well, said Mitch Free, chief executive and founder of Mfg.com , an electronic marketplace for manufacturing firms. He pointed to trends including distributed manufacturing and customization as playing an important role in the reshoring of manufacturing to the United States. He said that in April 40 percent of his customers said they had benefited from manufacturing that had recently moved back to this country.
Still, the Google executives and engineers who decided to build the Q here are cautious.
#2 Jun 28, 2012
Andy Rubin, the Google executive who leads the company's Android mobile business, said that the Mountain View, Calif., company is engaged in an experiment and not a crusade.
We've been absent for so long, we decided why don't we try it and see what happens? Mr. Rubin said.
The biggest challenge in bringing manufacturing home has been finding component suppliers nearby. Industry executives note that the decision to stay in China is often determined by the web of parts suppliers that surround giant assembly operations such as the one that Foxconn, the manufacturing partner of Apple and many other big electronics companies, operates in Shenzhen. The advantages can be dramatic. A design change made in product may be executed in a few hours.
Google's Q links a TV or home sound system to the Internet cloud in order to play video and audio content downloaded from the Internet.
The engineers who led the effort to build the device, which is based on the same microprocessor that is found in Android smartphones, and which contains seven printed circuit boards, said they had been able to almost completely source components from manufacturers in the United States.
Google was able to find a company to make the metal base in the Midwest and another supplier for the molded plastic components like the case in Southern California.
Semiconductor chips are more of a challenge. In some cases, the chips are made in the United States, but then shipped to Asia to be packaged with other electronic components.
Google did not take the easy route and encase the Q in a black box.
The dome of the ball-shaped case is the volume control you twist it a feature that required painstaking engineering and a prolonged hunt for just the right bearing, said Matt Hershenson, an engineer, who is a member of an a small team of consumer product designers who have worked together at companies such as Apple, General Magic, Phillips N.V., Web-TV and now Google.
The engineers also designed the computer innards without a fan, which required extensive engineering and reliance in part on a dense zinc base to wick away the heat from the system.
At $299, the wireless home controller is priced significantly higher than competing systems from companies like Apple, Roku and others.
Google is hoping that consumers will be willing to pay more for the device, though it is unlikely that the Made in America lineage will be part of any marketing campaign.
Last week the Q itself was being assembled in a large factory a 15 minute drive from Google headquarters.
It's the kind that was once common across Silicon Valley during the 1980s and even 1990s. More recently, former semiconductor fabrication and assembly factories have given way to large office campuses that house the programmers who design software and support Internet Web sites. Google's engineers repeatedly stressed the fact that it was a significant advantage to have design located close to manufacturing, especially as more companies closely integrate their software with their hardware.
For us it's really great that we can be at our desk in the morning, have meetings with hardware and software people, and then a subset of that team can be in the factory in the afternoon, said Mr. Hershenson.The time it takes from being in the assembly process to being in the living room of a product tester we can measure in hours and not days.
The same was true for a small American company ET Water Systems, a maker of irrigation management systems which recently moved its manufacturing operation from Dalian, China to Silicon Valley.
You need a collaboration that is real time, said Pat McIntyre, ET Water's chief executive.We prefer local frankly because sending one of our people to China for two weeks at a time is challenging.
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