By Roger Fingas
Friday, December 30, 2016, 06:53 am PT (09:53 am ET)
Apple’s main manufacturing partner, Foxconn, is planning to eliminate human workers from its Chinese factories in three phases —something already complete at some locations, a manager with Foxconn’s Automation Technology Development Committee revealed on Friday.
In the first phase a factory is equipped with robots at individual workstations, handling tasks that are too dangerous for humans or simply things people don’t want to do, Dai Jia-peng toldDigiTimes. The second stage scales up to entire production lines, and by the third stage, only a minimum staff is present for production, logistics, testing, and inspection.
Factories in Chengdu, Shenzhen, and Zhengzhou have reached the second and third phases, Dai said. Notably, at Zhengzhou —where roughly half of Apple’s iPhones are made —only a CNC line has been fully automated.
Foxconn has deployed over 40,000 “Foxbots” so far, and is capable of building about 10,000 per year, according to Dai. On top of the industrial robots, the company is also developing medical ones. Dai commented that the industrial machines can’t completely replace humans, since the latter have the ability to quickly switch from one task to another.
Ultimately automation should offer a number of benefits to Foxconn executives, including faster production, cheaper labor expenses, and the ability to outbid the competition. The switch has already eliminated thousands of jobs however, and could disrupt the economies of some Chinese cities.