Will your next smartphone be assembled by a robot?
It may well be, given the plans of the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer to deploy robots in its assembly lines to replace some of the human hands at work.
Foxconn Technology Group, one of Apple’s biggest suppliers, has signaled that it is close to replacing some workers with robots, or “Foxbots”, to meet the demand for iPhone 6 production.
Terry Gou, chief executive of the Taiwan-based group which has huge factories in China employing hundreds of thousands of workers, said recently that a first batch of 10,000 Foxbots are undergoing final tests prior to deployment.
The machines are said to cost between US$20,000 and US$25,000 per unit. Each Foxbot can churn out about 30,000 devices annually, which would mean a yield of about 300 million devices a year from the first batch, according to a Fortune magazine report.
While the group is stepping up automation, it is however not turning over the entire production to the Foxbots. To meet the iPhone 6 rush, Foxconn is said to have hired about 100,000 additional workers. Apple’s new smartphone is expected to debut this fall.
The workforce boost – both human and robotic – is aimed at helping Foxconn avoid the kind of mishap that occurred in 2012 with the launch of the iPhone 5 when pressures on production saw damaged phones landing in the hands of customers, Digital Trends technology portal noted.
Foxconn’s interest in factory-based robot technology also came as the company faced mounting criticism in the recent past over its military-style labor practices.
Workers have protested low wages and poor conditions, and some have even committed suicide, prompting the group — which currently employs about 1.2 million people in China — to act.
Welcome to a new era in industrial automation.
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