Apple’s partnering OEM, Foxconn, is attempting to replace human labor with robots, but things aren’t going as smoothly as they had hoped. Human labor costs in China have seen a significant rise in recent years, and part of Foxconn’s restructuring process involves more than 1 million robots. The problem, however, is Foxconn hasn’t found an ideal implementation route for the bots, and so many of them are still sitting in the warehouse.
Foxconn took a hit in 2012 when the company incurred a net loss of $316 million USD, and as demands for Apple products this year have slipped somewhat, it’s possible that Foxconn will suffer another major loss. Despite the financial hit last year, Foxconn isn’t deterred from moving forward with its plan to install some 20,000 Foxbots within the next 1-2 years. It remains, however, that the vast majority of these bots are still currently inactive as production line managers have voiced their concerns about the bot’s inability to carry out tasks that traditionally relied on humans.
“The transformation from workers’ manual labor to using the robots means the models of production will be changed and the changes are complicated,” according to Xu Fang, director of the Center Research Institute at SIASUN Robot & Automation Co. Ltd.
Although robots can easily manipulate simple tasks and complete them in an efficient manner, there are still many intricate tasks that require human input. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly clear that Foxconn’s phase out of human labor won’t be as quick as the company had predicted.
Not only does the implementation of robots require huge amount of software programming, but it also requires a physical rearranging of the production line, another road block to installing the Foxbots.
Automation on Foxconn’s production line will happen if the technology advances quick enough, but currently it doesn’t seem like the company’s plan to implement 1 million robots by 2015 will be implemented as planned. As for the manual laborers, for the time being their jobs are relatively secure. However, even Foxconn has admitted that China’s younger generations are becoming increasingly picky about their occupations and pay rate.
Despite having increased its pay rate from 1200 to 2000 yuan for entry-level positions in 2010, it appears as if the steady stream of laborers wishing to clock in has become stagnant.
“Nowadays, young workers are picky about their workplaces, and it’s become difficult for us to find workers,” said Liu Kun, a Foxconn spokesperson.
On more than one occasions, Foxconn has received negative press coverage due to its poor working conditions and, in some cases, worker suicides as a result. Partnering firms such as Apple and Hewlett-Packard have pushed for Foxconn’s production line automation as they, too, bear some of the responsibilities for poor labor conditions.
Terry Guo, Foxconn’s president, had high hopes for the Foxbots, but as of right now Foxconn will have to continue to rely heavily on human labor.