Hours after a new iPhone hits retails stores, couriers start putting defective devices on FedEx planes and shipping them right back to Cupertino. There, engineers try to figure out the problem and come up with a solution, which can be relayed to assembly lines in China before they manufacture more faulty iPhones.
It's a fascinating cycle of events that Bloomberg neatly captures.
The idea is to keep problems from becoming punch lines for late-night comics, says the article. Many times, Apple's engineers jury-rig a hardware fix and then coordinate a solution across Apple's global supply chain, because lets face it: when you mess it up, you pay an enormous price. You piss off customers, and then you have the economics of reworking your supply chain, Michael Fawkes, the former head of HP's supply chain tells Bloomberg. "Every day they don't recognise a problem," he says, "they are potentially manufacturing more bad products."
The system, known internally at Apple as "Early Field Failure Analysis" (EFFA), was set up in the late 1990s, and has potentially saved the company millions of dollars.
[It] paid off with the original iPhone in 2007, when many were quickly returned with faulty touchscreens, according to an engineer involved in fixing them. Some suppliers manufactured iPhones with a flaw near the earpiece that let sweat from a person's face seep in, shorting the screen. The EFFA team added a new coating to shield the leaky area and told their suppliers to do the same on their assembly lines. Other EFFA workers, investigating the failure of early iPhone speakers, concluded that the problem was a lack of airflow that caused the speakers to build up pressure and implode during flights from Chinese factories to the U.S. The team relieved the pressure by poking holes in the speakers.