iPhone Manufacturer Foxconn Plans for One Million Robots
Best-known as the manufacturer of Apple's iPhone and iPad, Foxconn Technology Group has unveiled a new business strategy that will significantly increase reliance on robots over the next three years. According to an article at Computerworld, the Taiwan-based Foxconn plans to increase the number of robots at its facilities from about 10,000 currently to one million, allowing the major electronics manufacturer to enhance its focus on innovation and research and development.
The world's largest producer of electronic components, and, according to Forbes, the fifth largest employer in the world, Foxconn has upwards of 1 million employees, with more than 500,000 located in one massive factory in Shenzhen, China. Aside from being the major manufacturer of Apple devices, Foxconn also has contracts with HP, Dell, Sony, Nintendo and many other top brands.
This latest announcement comes on the heels of several controversies, including allegations of poor working conditions and employee mistreatment. As laid out in an Economist article, Foxconn's reputation has suffered in the wake of a string of suicides and attempted suicides, which mostly involved employees jumping from company buildings. In response, the company has increased wages, enacted 24-hour counseling hotlines and installed netting along the building perimeters.
In a public statement, which received coverage in Xinhua News, Foxconn CEO Terry Gou expressed the company's commitment to transitioning employees "higher up the value chain, beyond basic manufacturing work." Gou also spoke of the "desire to move workers from more routine tasks to more value-added positions in manufacturing such as research and development, innovation and other areas that are equally important to the success of our operations."
The official message is that the heavy lifting will be automated to reduce stress on workers, but "doing more with less" is the hallmark of any automation strategy, and in the case of manufacturing, that means producing more with fewer employees.