Robots Could Soon Replace People In The Factories Building Consumer Electronics
By now most people who know anything about the world of consumer electronics knows that most of the gadgets they love — their iPads, iPhones, Android tablets and so on — are made in China in huge factories, many of them owned by a Taiwanese company called Foxconn. ~ Arik Hesseldahl
Manufacturing electronics by the millions isn’t exactly mentally stimulating. The Wired story used the phrase “repetitive, exhausting, and alienating,” and it’s not hard to imagine going stir crazy after doing it for any length of time. That’s why its interesting to see the news out of China today that Foxconn is going to boost the number of robots on its assembly line doing those repetitive tasks.
The story from Xinhua News, China’s state controlled news agency, is headlined “Foxconn to replace workers with 1 million robots in 3 years,” and relates that the announcement came from Foxconn CEO Terry Gou himself at a company dance party.
Robots are efficient, they don’t get tired, and aside from routine maintenance, they don’t take breaks. They also don’t complain about soul-killing work conditions. All this makes them appealing to Foxconn management and its growing list clients.
But as anyone who knows even the barest details of the history of factory automation in the US auto industry, robots have a funny way of causing job losses. While Foxconn already uses some 10,000 robots now, the story says, the number is going to multiply by a factor of 100 to 1 million robots within three years. If those numbers turn out to be accurate, there is simply no mathematical way that some portion of the 1.2 million people currently in Foxconn’s employ can avoid losing their jobs. And that can’t help but cause other unexpected ripple effects throughout the Chinese economy.