AbstractsComputer Science

The Dynamics Of Design-Manufacturing Laptops: How Taiwanese Contract Manufacturers Matter In The History Of Laptop Production

by Ling-fei Lin

Institution: Cornell University
Year: 2015
Keywords: field knowledge ; history of computer production ; design ; manufacturing ; and society
Record ID: 2058972
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1813/39461


This dissertation aims to open the knowledge production "black box" of laptop contract manufacturers in Taiwan and their factories in China from 1988 to 2012. By examining their engineering practices, I demonstrate the complexity and changing dynamics of design-manufacturing laptops across different time periods, which not only refutes a perception of linear progress from manufacturing to design for Taiwan's industry, but also challenges the idea that manufacturing lacks innovation and importance. I show how manufacturing and design capability are equally crucial and argue that it is also the intensive interaction between design and manufacturing, internally and externally, that matters. I develop a concept, field knowledge, to describe this interactiveness that involves frequent multiple-sited and trans-organizational exchanges between actors from heterogeneous backgrounds. My research, based on extensive interviews, unpacks the sociotechnical process in producing laptops that involves the transnational flow of people, ideas, and materials. In Chapter One, I show how Taiwanese producers designed their first laptops in the late 1980s based primarily on design engineering capability and how they learned to specialize the development process through collaborating with brand-name firms. In Chapter Two, I explore the complexity of the product development process, analyzing how the relations between design and manufacturing are intertwined. Chapter Three covers the issue of ever-thinning margins for producers and the practice of field knowledge that enabled them to create useful knowledge through constant interaction with internal and external partners to reduce costs. In Chapter Four, I analyze how these manufacturers, as mediators in the production world, have been contained and standardized by powerful partners. In Chapter Five, I examine how large-scale factory relocation from Taiwan to China after 2001 affected the practices and the lives of employees engaged in a permanent struggle between rootedness and mobility. I also show how their manufacturing capability was ever expanding, along with growing design expertise. Overall, this dissertation problematizes the production process and demonstrates the changing dynamics of design-manufacturing laptops within their social and historical context, arguing that it is the proficient capability of both design and manufacturing, and the effective integration between them that increases and maintains laptop consolidation.