Foxconn to rely more on robots for manufacturing

The company will deploy a total of 1 million robots to replace some workers, according to media reports

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management, Apple, Foxconn

Steve Jobs

A protester wearing a mask of Apple Inc founder Steve Jobs performs a street drama with a university student playing the role of a Foxconn worker during a protest in Hong Kong May 7, 2011. A workers' concern group demonstrated on Saturday to protest against what they say are dire working conditions of workers from Foxconn and Apple.

REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Foxconn, the maker of Apple's iPhone and iPad, plans to rely more on robots for manufacturing over the coming years, allowing the company to invest more in research and development and save on labor costs.

Foxconn CEO Terry Gou made the remarks in a speech last Friday at the company's campus in Shenzhen, China. But while Foxconn confirmed some of the contents of the speech, the company declined to offer specifics on the level of automation Foxconn plans to deploy.

Local Chinese media, however, reported that Gou had said the company plans on deploying 1 million robots over the next three years to complete routine assembly tasks. Foxconn currently uses 10,000 robots.

Foxconn needs to automate more of its manufacturing processes in order to make up for labor shortages and stay ahead of its competitors, said Amy Teng, an analyst with research firm Gartner.

The Taiwan-based company has more than 1 million employees, the majority of which are located at facilities in mainland China. Foxconn is one of the world's largest producers of electronics. Aside from Apple, the company also manufactures products for companies like HP, Sony and Nintendo.

The company, however, has seen its reputation suffer following a string of suicides that began occurring at Foxconn's factories in China. Last year, there were a total of 18 suicide attempts, with 14 deaths, according to watchdog group Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior. Nearly all the deaths were from the workers jumping off from company buildings.

Poor working conditions and long hours at Foxconn's factories have been blamed for the suicides, prompting Apple last year to send its COO Tim Cook to investigate the incidents. Foxconn has made changes by creating a 24-hour support hotline for workers, while also installing nets at the company's buildings. Foxconn has previously said it allows only for a 60-hour work week that includes overtime and pays the highest wages in the industry.

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