The largest private employer in all of China and one of the biggest supply chain manufacturers in the world, Foxconn announced it will soon start using robots to help assemble devices at its several sprawling factories across China, IT Home reports (via MacRumors).
Apple, one of Foxconn’s biggest partners to help assemble its iPhones, iPads, will be the first company to use the new service.
Foxconn said its new “Foxbots” will cost roughly $US20,000 to $US25,000 to make, but individually be able to build an average of 30,000 devices. According to Foxconn CEO Terry Gou, the company will deploy 10,000 robots to its factories before expanding the rollout any further. He said the robots are currently in their “final testing phase.”
The news doesn’t come as much of a surprise, considering Reuters in 2011 said Foxconn was planning on building as many as a million robots by 2014 to help assemble devices and cope with the rising cost of labour.
The new robots may also help Foxconn repair its reputation, which has been mired in controversy for years after countless allegations of hiring discrimination, poor working and living conditions, abuse by management, insufficient wages, and environmental pollution, among other complaints. There were also a string of employee suicides in 2009 and a couple of sobering reports from The New York Times that eventually forced CEO Tim Cook to amplify Apple’s supplier responsibility efforts to promote good will and transparency.
It’s possible Apple may have helped Foxconn build its new robots, as the company’s annual 10-K report from 2013 revealed an investment of $US10.5 billion on “advanced supply chain technology,” with a percentage of that money going directly towards “advanced machinery including assembly robots,” according to MacRumors. Earlier this year, the somewhat reliable Chinese newspaper Digitimes said Apple would automate the production of its iPhone batteries to reduce the massive manpower involved with that production to focus on other parts of the device.
Robots aside, Foxconn has been reportedly ramping up in preparation for the launch Apple’s latest iPhone, presumably called “iPhone 6,” by hiring roughly 100,000 new workers, according to Reuters. That phone is said to feature a thinner and rounder form factor and a 4.7-inch Retina display made of sapphire glass, made possible thanks to the company’s new plant in Arizona. Apple may also launch another larger 5.5-inch iPhone model, a few new iPads, and even the company’s first smartwatch around that same timeframe, meaning Foxconn has a big role to play in Apple’s various product rollouts this fall.
Besides Apple devices, Foxconn also builds millions of devices for companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sony, BlackBerry and Nintendo.