There was a time when the idea of walking around with a supercomputer in your pocket would have been ludicrous, straight out of a science fiction story. But these days smartphones are largely ubiquitous in our society, providing inexpensive, instantaneous interfacing with anyone in the world in real-time.
However, the majority of people using smartphones remain mostly clueless as to how these devices are made. Many of us seem to think they grow on trees, but the truth is a prodigious pipeline of manufacturing processes predate the day you open a box to find your shiny new smartphone. The warehousing demands alone are intense, often requiring hundreds of employees to acquire OSHA 10 certification and adhere to industry and government regulations.
Given the importance of smartphones in our society, it’s worth taking the time for a brief primer on the process that goes into the mass manufacturing of these devices.
For the majority of smartphones, the first step is the design of a proof-of-concept prototype that allows developers to test out the aesthetics and the functionality of the handset. This process begins in a boardroom where various executives workshop ideas and cost considerations. Once the concept is green-lit, it moves along.
The pipeline passes the concept along to an electronics engineering department to consider factors like processing power and memory capabilities. Additionally, the electronics squad will determine the appropriate display screen that matches the device’s battery requirements. Once all the appropriate specifications and components are tested for functionality and performance, the device prototype heads back to the boardroom for a second green light.
The next phase in the pipeline involves a software team installing the operating system that the phone will use. This is a pretty crucial stage because the hardware has to be well-integrated with the OS. Typically, a company will not enter the mass production stage until they are 100% sure that the handset is configured for the software and vice versa.
Once this has been determined, the team will revisit the prototype and make necessary adjustments.
Testing the device
The next phase is a rigorous and multi-pronged sequence of tests. This includes hardware tests – seeing how the handset responds to drops, spills, and other problems – and software tests. Software tests include making sure apps properly load, data is stored properly, etc.
Mass production and assembly line-readiness
Once the prototype is ready and there is a game plan for test releases, it’s time to look for industry experts to review the handset and consult with your designers if necessary. Part of this process sometimes involves outsourcing the construction to third-party original equipment manufacturers (OEM).
This is obviously a very complex step in the process, sometimes involving hundreds of millions of dollars and multiple corporate partners. Bigger companies will have their own internal multi-step pipelines for this step alone.
Packaging the device
Making the smartphone ready for delivery is the next phase in the pipeline. Packaging the device will include making sure any applicable accessories are available as well as a user manual. These days, companies like Apple, Amazon, and other tech giants have perfected the art of packaging to the point where it’s hard to even imagine a badly packaged smartphone device.
Ultimately, the final stage of the smartphone pipeline is delivery. This is just as important as the other stages because it requires coordinating with distribution channels, stocking companies, and retailers. The end consumer in this pipeline will not be happy with a sloppily delivered product or one that has to be returned because of shoddy packaging.
These days, it’s also important that you try to make your packaging and shipping processes as sustainable and carbon-free as possible. Use green materials and work with third-party delivery providers that have invested in green energy.