RR WWW - René's Home Site

The nursery of the Mac

Apple Computer in Cork

Ireland is a beautiful holiday destination: green, quiet, beautiful nature, good beer and kind people. But when a Mac-freak like René Ros is on vacation in Ireland he hás to visit the Apple factory in Cork. Armed with lots of RAM memory in the upper chamber and a anti-static heal band he was allowed in.

The Apple factory in Cork manufactures 25% of all Macintosh computers, almost entirely destined for the European market. However, peripheral devices and monitors aren't made there. The modern factory is located in a industrial estate in the northeastern part of Cork and is one of the largest employers around. Cork is a large harbor town and has its own international airport. Handy for a factory which works with just-in-time delivery!

The factory already has existed since 1980 when they assembled Apple II's. The first Macintosh models were packed by the company with a European keyboard, cables and manuals. The total ground area grown from 3700 m2 to 31.600 m2. The number of employees also increased: from 100 to 1200 á 1600 now.
By using temporary labor the production can be enlarged when needed. With night-shifts and external contractors the capacity is flexible to increase production quickly by 40%.


The two main departments are those for the manufacturing of motherboards (PCB: Printed Circuit Board) and for the assembly of computers (Systems Operation, "Systems" for short).
Each manufacturing unit can produce every model motherboard or computer. Each line works as independent as possible. The same group of people is from start to finish responsible for all the steps in the production-proces, including testing, so each group sees its own results and mistakes. And not only quality is looked at, but also if the planned production schedules are met.

PCB Department (JPEG, 19 Kb)

The PCB department consists of four production-units which turn a printboard into a Macintosh-motherboard.
Most of the work is done automatically and requires attention only for checking the machines and refilling them with parts. An external manufacturer supplies the empty printboard. Nowadays Apple populates printboards on both sides with electronic parts, which requires special steps in the manufacturing process. The process begins when a machine picks a printboard and puts it on the conveyor. Next another machine presses solderpaste through a stencil, in order to fill all the holes corresponding with parts for the upper side.
Three machines put these parts in the holes. The first two get small components from a long plastic bag rolled onto a spool. The resistors and other parts are shot into the board with the speed of a machinegun. After that the board moves to the third machine. That one places the larger chips, like the PowerPC-processor. Each of these chips come from a different spool and are picked by a robot-arm. Using image-recognition the computer checks if all pins of the chip are properly aligned and if so, it places the chip in the printboard.
As soon as the components for the upper side are placed, the printboard goes through an oven to bake the solderpaste.
After a visual inspection of the printboard it is turned over and the process with the solderpaste and components is repeated for the downside of the printboard. Of course the machines must again bake the the printboard to harden the solderpaste for the downside, but this happens at a lower temperature otherwise the components on the upper side (now hanging upside down) let loose!
Larger parts, like connectors and memory slots, are manually inserted. They are then fixed with solder by moving the printboard over a tin bath.
And finally each motherboard is manually and automatically inspected. If an employee finds an error, he repairs it on the spot. If a certain error occurs too often, the workers can search for the cause in the assembly unit and try to fix it. The approved motherboards are then stored into a buffer stock, until Systems needs them.


The Systems department then builds a single computer from the separate parts. The so-called assembly is obviously a more labor intensive process: each part is placed and connected manually. Here also the assembly lines, five in total, are almost independent. Most parts are made by other companies, like the metal frame and the housing. "Other companies are much better than we" according the Apple Cork spokesman.
Systems then places subsequently the motherboard, CD-ROM, power supply, hard disk and disk-drive in the frame. For some models, like the PowerBooks, another order applies.
Even before placement testsoftware is very quickly written onto the harddisks. On the conveyor the power cable is hooked up and the diagnostics software starts. The last step is for the technicians to check the results of this test. Every day Apple puts a number of computers aside and tests them for a longer time.
A conveyor belt transports the new computers, only wrapped in a plastic bag, to the localization- and shipping area. Optionally Apple stores in them warehouse for some time. For the final localization the plastic bag is opened and the computer is connected to a monitor and external hard disk. Within one minute the hard disk is filled with the system-software in the requested language. For that technology Apple apparently has some patents. But wouldn't it be nice if the Finder could copy that quick?
After localization the computer, together with the proper manuals and accessories, is put into a box and transported by truck to, for example, the Dutch distribution center in Apeldoorn.

Other Departments

A separate department with their own assembly-line is the CDM-group (Customer Driven Manufacturing). When an order for a larger number of computers with unusual configurations comes in, this group can make a separate assembly-line for the production. The example given by the guide are a few thousand PowerBooks which were fitted for British Telecom with different modems, memory-configuration and software.
In the same hall where the motherboards are produced (PCB), is the Service department located. Every defective motherboard is returned there for inspection and repair. The service technicians provides feedback to the PCB departments. The mistakes are found by the PCB workers, but real blunders via the Service department!
Next to the department that tests software for new Macintosh models and translating systemsoftware, a research- and development department emerged. The first tv-tunercards that were developed in Cork became so succesfull that now all tv-tuners from Apple are developed in Ireland.
Also a more or less Cork-only is the Power Macintosh 8200, which is only manufactured for the European market. The model is a response to demand for a 7200 computer in a tower-case. Apple Cork is proud on the independent way it is able to leave its imprints in the productline.

Main Entrance (JPEG, 6 Kb)

Our short visit to the Macintosh-birthplace was very pleasant. The factory gave an efficient impression, while the atmosphere among the workers seems good and informal. A look into the warehouse wasn't given to us. Or perhaps the size of it would have given us an impression of inefficiency?

The Apple workers enjoyed the sun outside during the lunch break. It was nice holiday weather, but Cork was left as it was because what's a tourist got to do there?

René G.A. Ros, 1996

Thanks to Mark B. Johnson, Padriac Allen, Nuala O'Donoghue and Liam Donohoe. Illustrations were provided by Apple Computer Ltd, Cork. Jim Lee provided some corrections for this English translation.

This report was previously published in MacFan (issue 7), a magazine of publishing company Uitgeverij Divo in Zoetermeer. It is published by the author, with some minor corrections, on the web with permission of the publisher. Commercial distribution is not allowed without permission of the publisher.