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iPhone builder Foxconn just replaced 60,000 employees with robots

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A Foxconn factory’s workforce today shrunk from 110,000 employees down to 50,000, according to a report from the South China Morning Post. Why? Because robots can do the same job.

Foxconn is Apple’s primary manufacturing partner, and there is a fear that other factories in the Chinese city of Kunshan will do the same thing, something that could have a disastrous impact on the population of the area, which is largely made up of migrant workers. In fact, according to the report as many as 600 companies in the area have plans to rely more on automation.

Foxconn has been working toward replacing workers with robots for a while now, obviously in an attempt to save money and increase profits. Sure, the robots are expensive up front, but over time they’re far cheaper than hiring and employing workers. It’s not known exactly which products are manufactured at the Kunshan plant. However, The Post says that companies in the area made 51 million laptops and 20 million smartphones last year.

Over time, Foxconn plants are going to get increasingly automated — not just to save money, but also to continue to meet Apple’s demands. Foxconn regularly hires extra workers to meet the demand when a new iPhone launches.

Foxconn has made headlines in the past for how it treats its employees, and Apple has received much of the backlash. Back in 2012 Apple began investigating the working conditions at Foxconn factories, prompting Foxconn to start improving those conditions.

Of course, it’s not like Apple is uninterested in robots itself. The company recently unveiled a new robot it calls Liam, which is designed to quickly tear down used devices so that their parts can be recycled. Other companies are likely to follow suit. Former McDonald’s CEO Ed Rensi recently said that a raise in the minimum wage would cause companies to invest in robot workers.

“It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who is inefficient, making $15 an hour bagging French fries,” said Rensi in an interview with Fox Business.

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