The trade war between the US and China has forced companies to diversify their networks of suppliers so that they would not be found wanting should crucial components suddenly become unavailable one day. At Huawei’s smartphone plant in Dongguan, China, the diverse origin of machinery used in the production lines for the P30, one of the company’s high-end models, provided a lesson in hi-tech global manufacturing supply chains. It literally takes a world to make one of these nifty devices, which our sister tech site, Abacus, declared to have an “amazing” camera zoom. And we are not even talking about the origin of the 1,631 parts that go into a P30 Pro, just the equipment used to assemble and test the phones. To enter the factory floor, we had to wear a white lab coat, a hat and anti-static shoe covers. Each production line for the P30 was 120 metres long. There were machines for slathering on the soldering paste, others to heat and join the parts onto circuit boards, and yet more to assemble, inspect and test the phones. One line can produce 100 P30 smartphones per hour. There is equipment from Brady, a Guangdong, China-based robotics company. South Korea’s Koh Young Technology make solder paste inspection equipment. Japan’s Fuji Corp., Mitsubishi Electric, Saki Corp. provide various machinery that check that the correct parts are adhered properly and where they should be on the printed circuit boards. Nutek, headquartered in Singapore, makes bar code labelling machines and automated loaders that feed components into the conveyor system. Down the production line, I come across German company Kurtz Ersa, which makes big industrial ovens that melt soldering paste to create a permanent joint for the hundreds of components on a printed circuit board. Huawei enters period of reckoning for its smartphone business Founded in 1779, most of the company’s 1,350 employees are in three towns in Germany, including Wertheim (population: 23,405), located on the left bank of the Main river and famous for its castle and medieval town centre. Far south of Wertheim lies the headquarters of the Swiss engineering giant ABB, whose robotic arms install parts in a precise and hypnotic fashion. The Zurich-based company has a new US$150 million robotics factory in Shanghai. Across the Atlantic Ocean in New Jersey is Heller Industries, maker of curing ovens. The US is also represented on this P30 assembly line by a Camalot Prodigy dispensing system, made by ITW EAE, a division of Illinois Tool Works, which has manufacturing centres in Camdenton, Missouri, and Lakeville, Minnesota. Its other production location is in Suzhou, China. All this time, tray-bearing automated guided vehicles move slowly along the factory floor, transporting semi-finished parts between the different stations. The increasing level of automation means that Huawei has managed to cut down the number of human operators on this single line from 86 in 2013 to just 17 today, or a reduction of 80 per cent in the number of factory workers. They perform tasks such as visual inspection, labelling and boxing. The precision work is all handled by machines. Before the devices reach these human inspectors, each P30 would have spent 10½ hours in a testing machine, where it would have been repeatedly switched on and off, had its memory tested, been used to play videos and so forth. Another robot claw picks up each brand-new P30 and drops them 30 centimetres to ensure everything is in order. This short, 120-metre walk down one smartphone assembly line illustrated for me two important trends that underpin manufacturing as we know it today: firstly, the decades of global division-of-labour specialisation, and secondly, the increasing replacement of human labour by robotics and machines. Huawei offers US$300,000 salaries to lure top tech talent It also underscored how unwinding these supply chains will be very difficult, if not impossible, resulting in significant costs to businesses, and ultimately, consumers. The question then remains, how much more are you willing to pay for that holiday snap for your Instagram? For more insights into China technology, be part of our Inside China Tech group on Facebook . Listen to our Inside China Tech podcast and subscribe via iTunes , Spotify or Stitcher . For a comprehensive survey of China’s digital landscape, download the 2019 China Internet Report .