It was three years ago when we first heard about Foxconn’s plans to replace assembly-line workers with robots. Although progress toward this goal has been slow, Foxconn CEO Terry Gou said recently that its so-called ‘Foxbots’ are now ready to help build the next iPhone.
Speaking at a recent shareholder meeting, Gou said the new robots cost between $20,000 and $25,000 to make, with around 10,000 of them undergoing final tests prior to deployment. It’s not clear if the machine is a version of the robotic arm the company is thought to be already using, or something more sophisticated.
Production of the iPhone 6, which is expected to launch this fall, hasn’t been entirely given over to the Foxbots, with recent reports suggesting the company has hired up to 100,000 additional workers to help cope with expected high demand.
The workforce boost – in both human and robotic terms – is designed to help steer the firm away from the kind of mishap that occurred in 2012 with the launch of the iPhone 5 when pressures on production saw damaged phones landing in the hands of customers.
Gou admitted at the time that Foxconn was “falling short of meeting the huge demand,” with Apple later turning to rival Pegatron to help with the production of its cheaper 5C handset. The move eased pressure on Foxconn while giving the Cupertino-based company more balance and control with its supply chain.
Foxconn’s interest in factory-based robot technology emerged a couple of years ago at a time when it was facing mounting criticism regarding harsh labor practices, with reports of employee suicides – allegedly brought on by the challenging working conditions – forcing the company to act.
Gou, however, has always largely rejected the idea of a link between the suicides and working conditions, claiming as recently as last month that the deaths were usually connected with “personal relationships or family disputes.”