Pictured above: Forging the iPhone 4’s stainless steel band

Terry Gou, the CEO of Apple’s long-time contract manufacturer Hon Hai Precision Industry (that’s Foxconn for Westerners) hinted at optimizations in the iPad production process that will help Foxconn profit more from its assembly contract with the California-based gadget maker. Bloomberg reports that Gou told investors at a recent shareholder meeting that working with Apple requires the latest in manufacturing technology because Cupertino’s gadgets are “very difficult to make”. The CEO praised Apple as a high-value customer:

We’ve helped Apple make a lot of money. If our customers make money, then we can also make money. I most fear customers that don’t make money.

Why are Apple products “very difficult” to make?

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Working with Apple is not only the matter of re-tooling the factory with expensive equipment or using advanced assembling techniques, such as the optical lamination which improves image quality on iPhone 4 by precisely gluing the LCD and glass panel together. It’s about choice of materials – something very close to Apple’s heart – and even more so about the precision and overall build quality. Apple engineers agonize over every detail and the company requires the same from its manufacturers. Precision requirements take manufacturing facilities worth hundreds of millions of dollars to technological limits. Take the shiny edges of the iPhone 4’s stainless steel frame – just this one bit is being precisely machined down to one micron. And while Apple’s gadgets use some of the off-the-shelf components readily available to everyone, engineers and industrial designers in Cupertino often break new ground with industry-first designs, such as the unibody construction process of machining the MacBook body from a single aluminum block.

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