Million robots to replace Apple workers


THE MACHINES are taking over at Apple manufacturer Foxconn, which plans to use one million robots to replace human employees doing simple tasks over the next three years.

Foxconn’s owner, the Taiwan tycoon Terry Gou, told China Business News that his company, which assembles iPads and iPhones in Beijing, as well as phones and laptops for Nokia and Dell, had set up an automation robotics division and was hiring engineers to design and repair the cybernetic workers.

Foxconn is a monster-sized company, far and away China’s largest original equipment manufacturers with plants all over the country, including in Shenzhen, where it employs 420,000 people.

Last year the Shenzhen site saw a spate of employee suicides, which some blamed on the dull nature of their work there, although others said broader economic factors such as rising house prices were a bigger factor.

The company currently employs 1.2 million people and has about 10,000 robots.

In a statement quoted by local media, Mr Gou said the move to automise was more about helping its employees move up the value chain, away from basic manufacturing work.

“The use of automation is driven by Foxconn’s desire to move workers from more routine tasks to more value-added positions in manufacturing such as RD, innovation and other areas that are equally important to the success of our operations,” the statement ran.

Mr Gou apparently made the announcement at an employee dance, one of a number of such events organised to improve the lot of the average worker in Foxconn’s southern China campuses. Robots will also help to defray rising wage costs, as inflation in China means pay is surging. Mr Gou also implemented massive wage increases last year after the suicide wave.

Foxconn and other factories are moving their facilities inland away from the booming coastal regions, to take advantage of cheaper labour there.

The suicides are still going on, although at a slower rate than last year. A worker fell to his death last month at a manufacturing plant in the south.

By some assessments, robots can do about 50 per cent of the jobs carried out by the employees, many of them young, from China’s provinces.

Moving up the manufacturing value scale is a big obsession in China these days, as the world’s fastest growing major economy tries to transform itself from a low-cost manufacturing hub into an innovation centre, with biotech industries and IT development.

More automation also means good news for pigs: thousands of pigs are slaughtered every day for the company’s canteens in south China.