iPhone supplier Foxconn Technology Co. has replaced 60,000 workers in a single factory with robots, according to a report by the South China Morning Post. The factory is located in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, the electronics-industry manufacturing hub of China. Foxconn Technology Group stated that this move is to free their employees from routine, mechanised jobs and move them to better, value-added roles such as R&D, and process control or quality control in the manufacturing process.
Around 600 companies in the same region are to automate their manufacturing facilities soon, by reducing labour and installing robots. This decision is to accelerate growth and cut down costs. Although the robots hold intensive capital requirements, in the long run, robots are more reliable and stable than humans, thus making it cost-efficient. In 2014, 35 companies in Taiwan spent 4 billion yuan ($610 million) on Artificial Intelligence for automating their manufacturing processes.
There have been various media reports which have labelled this move as lay-offs and robot domination, and these are allegedly disconnected from the truth. The original report does not refer to this move as lay-offs. According to it, Foxconn has been automating its manufacturing sites for a long time and the sheer size of the number of employees replaced has riled up the media and various NGOs in China.
“Across all of our facilities today, we are applying robotics engineering and other innovative manufacturing technologies to replace repetitive tasks previously done by employees,” a spokesman from Foxconn said. “As our manufacturing processes and the products we produce become more technologically advanced, automation is playing an increasingly importantly important role in our operations and we have plans to automate more of our manufacturing operations over the coming years.” With automation, Foxconn essentially groups the routine job of a few workers and replaces it with a single robotic workstation. Currently, it still requires an operator to load and unload the robotic workstation.
In recent years, Foxconn has been highly criticized for having inadequate working conditions. Many cases of suicides have been reported due to overworking, sleeping in poor quality dorm rooms, unfair wages etc. Also, with very high pressures placed on the manufacturing units, the factories demand high performance from their labourers to meet strict deadlines, hence leading to unethical work practices.
Foxconn has been taking steps to improve the work conditions. In this particular move, it has reduced the workforce from 1,10,000 to 50,000 workers.