Apple Inc. Supplier Hires Robots To Replace 60K Factory Workers

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Foxconn a major supplier for Apple and Samsung, has replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots at a factory in Kunshan, China. On Wednesday, a report said Apple’s primary manufacturing partner has reduced its factory workforce from 110,000 to just 50,000 at that factory.

Apple’s iPhone could be made by robots

A government official told the South China Morning Post that the factory’s workforce has shrunk by 60,000 people. Also a company spokesperson confirmed in a statement to the BBC that Foxconn is automating many of the manufacturing tasks associated with its operations. However, the Apple supplier denied that it means long-term job losses.

In an interview with the BBC, Foxconn said it is applying robotics engineering and other innovative manufacturing technologies to replace repetitive tasks previously done by its employees. Foxconn added that it will allow its employees to focus on higher value-added elements in the manufacturing process, like process control and quality control and research and development, through training.

“We will continue to harness automation and manpower in our manufacturing operations, and we expect to maintain our significant workforce in China,” Apple supplier said.

Foxconn’s factories are likely to become more automated, not only to keep up with Apple’s demand but also to stave off the impact of Chinese labor standards. The Post did not say anything about what Foxconn actually manufactures at its Kunshan plant. Last year, however, the companies in that area were said to have built around 20 million smartphones and 51 million laptops.

Pros and cons of robots

More companies are likely to follow suit, said Xu Yulian, head of publicity for the Kunshan region. China is investing heavily in a robot workforce. The machines are expensive up front, but the benefit to management is low labor costs, translating into stable prices for clients like Apple.

The South China Morning Post noted that around 600 other companies in Kunshan had the same plans. There are worries that automation could have a huge impact on the population of that region, which is mostly comprised of migrant workers.

For quite some time, Foxconn has been working to roll out robots in its factories. This move of employing an artificially intelligent workforce will cut labor costs in the long-term and could possibly impact the effects of slowing economic conditions in China. Also it means that other factors like the decline in iPhone sales do not have much effect on Foxconn’s bottom line.

Apple too appears to be interested in robotics. The tech giant unveiled a robot called “Liam” in March, which is designed to promptly and efficiently tear down devices for recycling.

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