Foxconn to use 300,000 robots for low-cost production

Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn will significantly increase its use of automated equipment in its factories, Chairman Terry Gou has told local media.

Gou said the company, whose bulk manufacturing load is done in mainland China, plans to have 300,000 robots in use by 2012 and 1 million robots in use within three years. Foxconn currently has 10,000 machines performing basic manufacturing work.

The company assembles electronics products for companies, including Apple, Sony, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Nokia. It employs approximately 1.2 million people, with 1 million based in China.

The new robots will be used for spraying, welding and assembly to help cut labour expenses and improve the factory’s efficiency. The shift to automated technology will also relieve workers from physical demanding and intensive tasks. The shift to automated factories is a growing trend in many manufacturing sectors in China, especially electronics.

However there are fears that the new robots might replace workers themselves; a concern which is not too far fetched considering the number of labour issues it has faced in recent years.

Chairman Terry Gou told workers of the news at a staff gathering in Longhua. He later released a statement released stating that the move towards automation was aimed at shifting "workers from more routine tasks to more value-added positions in manufacturing such as research and development, innovation and other areas that are equally important to the success of our operations".

The news is a change of pace for the motherboard manufacturer who has had a string of major labour issues in the past, including wage disputes and mostly recently worker suicides. At least 17 workers are reported to have committed suicide in the last five years.

The decision has attracted mixed opinions with some analysts saying that the company is leading the way in adopting automation technology for low-cost production in Asia.

Others say the decision is a significant investment by the company to rid itself of the labour issues which has long pervaded the factory. A trend that is reportedly growing among Chinese companies looking to avoid giving workers wage rises.

The company increased its mainland workforce from 600,000 just after the global financial crisis to a million., but has since faced increasing costs and copped growing criticism of working conditions.

Foxconn said last year it had overhauled conditions and more than doubled salaries at its vast plant in Longhua, Guangdong, after coming under fire over suicides by workers, smh online reported.

Image sourced: smh online

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