iPhone 6 will not be delayed by Chinese wheel hub factory explosion

Foxconn iPhone product unaffected by temporary shutdown.

An explosion Saturday at a Chinese factory that electroplates aluminum wheel hubs will almost certainly not cause a delay for Apple’s iPhone 6, despite anguished speculation on a range of news, technology and Apple-focused websites.

The connection between wheel hubs and the iPhone, a connection not immediately obvious to the masses, was traced in a series of alarmist headlines and web posts that were short on facts but not fantasies.

The online reaction is reminiscent of the venerable parable that traces how a missing horseshoe nail leads to a lost horseshoe and thence inevitably to the loss of a kingdom: “for want of a nail….” But in the case of Apple products, it’s often a chain-of-unreasoning.

+ Also on NetworkWorld: iPhone 6 rumor rollup for the week ending Aug. 1  +

Here’s a sampling of headlines:

iPhone 6 release date may be further delayed due to factory safety concerns, TechTimes

iPhone 6: explosion in factory could spell delays or shortages, USwitch

Explosion at China plant may delay release date for iPhone 6, NY Post

iPhone 6: Chinese factory explosion aftermath could delay production and release date, Daily Mirror

TheStreet.com wondered Will GM Stock be Affected By China Factory Car Components Explosion? It’s only a matter of time before that becomes “Will Apple stock be affected by China car factory explosion?”

The actual details are grim enough, without another Chinese factory atrocity being reduced to Western anxiety over whether the rumored sapphire-covered, curved-edged, big-screened iPhone 6 arrives on time.

On Saturday a blast ripped through a factory owned by Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products Company, in Kunshan, a satellite city just northwest of Shanghai, according to an Associated Press story. The company’s core business is electroplating aluminum alloy wheel hubs, which it supplies to a range of vehicle makers, including General Motors. Authorities suspect the explosion was caused in the hub polishing department, when a cloud of fine metal dust ignited. Dust explosions are a threat in industries as diverse as coal mining and grain storage. The explosion blew off most of the factory roof, according to AP.

The AP story, citing state media sources, reveals that the explosion killed 75 workers, at least 25 dying of injuries in or on the way to hospitals. Another 186 were injured, many with severe burns. The dust was covering and clinging to the workers’ skin when it ignited, “burning between 50 and 90 percent of their bodies.” Britain’s Daily Mail posted a range of on-site photographs, showing both the extensive damage and gruesome images of the injured.

In response, Chinese authorities temporarily ordered a halt in work at several area factories, pending safety inspections by the State Administration of Work Safety, according to a Bloomberg news story published Monday, which in turn cited a Chinese language story posted at China News Network [here in Google Translate].

One of those factories is owned by Foxconn, which is the biggest assembler of Apple products, including the iPhone. Without knowing anything about the Kunshan facility, or even about inventory management, some writers and commenters speculated that the shutdown could delay assembly and delivery of the iPhone 6.

But the Bloomberg story declares that “Foxconn doesn’t assemble Apple products in Kunshan and most of its manufacturing takes place elsewhere.” Here’s a high-level map of Foxconn facilities in China, from “The politics of global production: Apple, Foxconn and China's new working class,” published in August 2013 by The Asia-Pacific Journal.

Even if the Foxconn plant had been assembling iPhones, or iPhone parts, it would be unlikely for a temporary suspension to seriously affect production. That’s the case for GM, which uses these wheel hubs. The DetroitBureau.com, which covers the automotive industry, asked GM about possible delays in its own production as a result of the explosion. “GM officials told TheDetroitBureau.com today that it has ‘sufficient inventory of the effected parts and [they] do not expect an impact on production,’” according to the web post.

If Apple plans to release new iPhone models in September or October, then its suppliers have been ramping up production and assembly, to reach some target number of phones on hand for retail purchase and shipment, and to create a pipeline of inventory to meet anticipated demand going forward.

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