iPhone maker replaces half its factory workers with robots

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Tim Cook greeting Foxconn workers in China. Photo: Apple
Tim Cook meeting with (human) Foxconn workers.
Photo: Apple

Apple manufacturer Foxconn has been talking about investing in robots for years now, but apparently it’s finally done it — replacing more than half of the employees at one of its factories with machines.

“The Foxconn factory has reduced its employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000, thanks to the introduction of robots,” said a government official, adding that “it has tasted success in reduction of labour costs” and that more companies are now likely to follow suit.

The factory in question is based in manufacturing-heavy hub Kunshun, although it is likely that the strategy will be employed elsewhere too. Back in August 2011, Foxconn chairman Terry Gou said he wanted to replace 500,000 factory employees with robots for carrying out “simple work.” Today’s report doesn’t explicitly mention which devices are built by the robots, but Foxconn has long since worked as one of Apple’s leading iPhone and iPad suppliers — with the former helping drive it to record-breaking revenues.

Personally I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, Foxconn has frequently been lambasted for its poor worker conditions; most notoriously being the company which erected suicide nets at its factories due to worker suicides. Replacing humans with robots is surely one of the more moral uses of robots here in 2016.

On the other, automating production is likely to drive (human) employee wages down even lower, which certainly doesn’t bode well for the thousands of people who rely on companies like Foxconn to earn a living.

Where do you stand on the automated production of devices and Foxconn’s robot army? Leave your comments below.

Source: SCMP