Apple supplier Foxconn automates 60,000 jobs, but says quality, productivity will improve

As goes Foxconn, so goes the rest of China's manufacturing.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Foxconn has automated 60,000 jobs, according to the South China Morning Post. The Apple supplier, which is the largest electronics manufacturer in the world, has long been pursuing mass automation.

The company has taken a deep dive into robotics -- both in its manufacturing portfolio and on its factory floors. Foxconn has an ownership stake in SoftBank Robotics Holdings, which makes Pepper, the emotionally intelligent robot, and Foxconn's CEO famously predicted that 70 percent of his company's factory labor would be performed by robots in the next five years, a statement he walked WAY back in subsequent statements, claiming the actual number is more like 30 percent.

"We are applying robotics engineering and other innovative manufacturing technologies to replace repetitive tasks previously done by employees, and, through training, also enable our employees to focus on higher value-added elements in the manufacturing process, such as research and development, process control and quality control," according to a statement. "We will continue to harness automation and manpower in our manufacturing operations, and we expect to maintain our significant workforce in China."

The company still has jobs for 1.2 million people.

Foxconn calls its industrial robots Foxbots. The devices include everything from robotic arms and pick-and-place machines to automated transport vehicles. The company has already created some "lights out," or workerless, factories.

But robots still have a tough time reliably working with minute components, which is the coin of the realm in electronics manufacturing.

Foxconn manufactures its own robots, producing about 10,000 Foxbots each year, according to a Wall Street Journal article earlier this month. Ironically, the factory where Foxbots are made employs about 1,600 people.

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