Re: Wouldn't that be ironic?
>I'll avoid a mental image of hundreds of people hand-placing components with tweezers and magnifiers
A modern pick and place system is a lot faster and more accurate than any human being, even assuming a human can actually place the parts in the first place. The units I'm familiar with are German, BTW, which explains why the German economy has been doing OK, they're big in industrial automation.
Not all parts can be placed by the machine. Typically what will happen is that the bulk of the board gets placed and soldered in a very long 'oven', the board will get cleaned and any parts that can't go through this process due to size or intolerance to being cooked in a ten zone oven will be placed and soldered manually. (A factory's procedures will vary depending on the product volume.) After cleaning and testing the board will then be given a conformal coating. Its wonderful to watch and while we're aware that there's Chinese facilities that are sub-standard any serious one will be using the same state of the art equipment that we do.
There's nothing stopping the same kind of lines being set up in Mexico but why would you bother? We're the other side of the border in California and so you wouldn't be surprised to discover that if you're on the shop floor the most common language spoken by the workforce is Spanish**. The workforce is reasonably well paid but that's only part of the story -- its the setting up and supervision of the lines that's the skilled work -- its seriouisly skilled work (and diagnosing problems isn't trivial, either).
(**Obviously everyone being a local is totally bi-lingual. Its a cultural thing.....)