FORT WORTH — Google Chairman Eric Schmidt called the production of the Moto X smartphone at Alliance in north Fort Worth just the first in a series of steps that will change the perception of manufacturing in the U.S.“American workers are ready for advanced manufacturing, complex tasks, reasonably sophisticated working environments and the kind of stuff we’re trying to do. We know it because it’s what we have here,” Schmidt told business and civic leaders who gathered at the plant. It’s the first smartphone assembled in the U.S.Motorola Mobility, owned by Google, and its manufacturing partner, Flextronics, opened the gleaming facility to public officials and the media on Tuesday. Full production at the former Nokia manufacturing plant started Aug. 6.“My favorite phone is the phone that was made here,” Schmidt said. “We have a winner coming out of this plant and we’re just getting started.” Other company executives as well as Gov. Rick Perry addressed the gathering, which included hundreds of employees. Company executives touted what they called a record-breaking pace to open the plant in less than six months. More than 100,000 phones have been made since the plant began production, exceeding expectations, said Mike McNamara, Flextronics CEO. Initially, the company said it would need about 2,000 employees, but that now stands at 2,500, McNamara said. Some of those employees also worked for Nokia when it operated the plant between 1995 and 2007.The facility covers about 450,000 square feet, although manufacturing lines take up only about half of that for now. There are 14 lines, with six more lines to be added in October.Flextronics and Motorola brought in manufacturing experts from 18 countries to help get the plant ramped up, said Mark Randall, Motorola’s senior vice president of supply chain and operations. “We’ve only been in mass production for a few weeks,” Randall said. “Looking at the discipline on the lines, the operators, the efficiencies, the yield, we’re very, very happy with where we’re at.” Employees dress in royal blue scrubs and white coats, standing in long lines at tall work tables behind video monitors. A Moto X starts to come together as employees begin assembling components shipped to Fort Worth from around the world. When the phone is complete it gets a quality test, is packaged and shipped. The plant is producing phones in black and white for the all the major wireless carriers, but only AT&T is offering custom colors for the back panels and accent pieces. A custom phone gets to a customer in about six days.Employees now work in two 12-hour shifts, but a Flextronics operations manager said that will soon change to three, 8-hour shifts. The plant runs seven days a week.Dennis Woodside, Motorola Mobility’s CEO, said experts balked at the company’s plans to manufacture a smartphone in the U.S., calling it too expensive, saying American workers couldn’t handle the task.“This is the most important technology of our generation, and we weren’t making it here,” Woodside said. “Well, you see they were wrong. Folks here at Motorola and Flextronics have accomplished something we think is on the leading edge of where manufacturing is going.”More than 150 million smartphones are used in the U.S., he said. Consumers want to be able to customize their phones, and that would not be possible if they were made overseas, he said.“We chose to be optimistic about the future of both technology and manufacturing,” Woodside said. “Bringing innovation back to the U.S. is just the right thing to do. Manufacturing locally is the right thing to do.”Fort Worth was among several sites Flextronics looked at for the Moto X plant, McNamara said. He said the decision came down to the company’s optimum logistics with its proximity to Alliance Airport, a foreign-trade zone that allows lower importing costs and better supply chain efficiencies, he said. Perry said Google is making a key investment in Texas.“Google is recognizing that Texas is a great destination for innovation,” Perry said. “Flextronics and Motorola could have picked anywhere in the world … to build this facility, but they chose Texas as the manufacturing site. Not every place in America can fill that demand for jobs.”Woodside presented Perry a Moto X phone customized in the maroon and white of Texas A&M, his alma mater, after pointing out that Perry was not among the 80 percent of cellphone users with an Android phone. “We have a bigger phone for you,” he told Perry, whose cellphone preference wasn’t disclosed.
Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727 Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST