Foxconn, One of Apple’s Original Equipment Manufacturers, plans to automate its workforce in their factories in China in the upcoming years, according to the company’s General Manager for the Automation Technology Development Committee, Dai Jia-peng.

A report from Digitimes established that this large manufacturer plans the automation in a three-phase program, Jia-peng said. In this scheme, the objective is to replace the human workforce for what they have called “Foxbots.” These robots will use a special unique software and will function as in-house robotic equipment.

Foxconn plans to replace its human workforce for what they have called “Foxbots.” Photo credit: Digital Trends
Foxconn plans to replace its human workforce for what they have called “Foxbots.” Photo credit: Digital Trends

In the first phase of the human workforce replacement, the goal is for people to stop working on tasks that are either too dangerous or repetitive, as they get replaced by specialized machinery. The second phase of the plans supposes the improvement of the current production streamline to avoid the excessive robot using.

The third and final phase involves the automation of entire manufacturing fabrics with only a “minimal number of workers assigned for production, logistics, testing, and inspection processes,” Jia-peng explained.

Foxconn is currently the biggest technologic device manufacturer company in the world, as works for both Apple and Samsung giants. This manufacturer produces almost 40 percent of all the electronic devices in the world. The company said in July that they planned to replace 30 percent of their 1.3 million people workforce with robotic equipment by 2020.

In March this year, the Taiwanese enterprise stated that 60,000 jobs were being replaced with Foxbots at one of their factories. In fact, according to declarations from the company officials, Foxconn can produce over 10,000 Foxbots a year.

Complications for automation: Money and local government

One of the principal reasons Foxconn and other companies want the automation of their workforce is for financial comfort. In the long-term, robotic equipment becomes cheaper than human payrolls. However, at the very beginning, the initial investment in the building of all the robotic machinery represents an enormous amount of money.

Another complication to Foxconn is the specialized programming that the Foxbots require. Is hard, expensive, and time-consuming for the company to program each particular group of robots to engage in several tasks and duties that are not the original function. Unlike humans, robots cannot change their work area so easily.

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Another difficulty Foxconn has on its way is the Chinese government that for some years has proposed human employment measures for manufacturing companies inside its frontier.

In fact, in cities where Foxconn factories are located in like Chengdu, Shenzhen, and Zhengzhou, the local administration has granted several benefits to companies to promote employment expansion. Among the benefits the government has given, there are bonuses, energy contracts, and even public infrastructure constructions that Foxconn and other enterprises have received.

Foxconn currently has about 1 million Chinese workers in their factories in that country. Most of these workers live in the campuses the company and the government have built for them, where they receive both alimentation and health care.

The New York Times reported this Thursday the current situation of one of the major Foxconn factories called “iPhone City.” This Foxconn factory located in Zhengzhou can produce over 500,000 iPhones per day, according to official information from the company’s records. In 2012, the company had about 120,000 employees in that facility.

According to Dai Jia-peng declarations, some of iPhone City’s production streamlines are currently undergoing the second phase of the automation program. This means that the goal for Foxconn is to convert the Zhengzhou factory in a fully automated fabric within the next years.

While robots get more jobs, humans become unemployed

It is a fact that if Foxconn automates its workforce not only it will be a smart long-term decision financially speaking, but it will stop forcing the company to keep improving working and living conditions for the people. However, as Foxconn put Foxbots to work, it would fire millions of people across the globe.

Earlier this month, the theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking warned about the danger that represents the automation phenomenon to the middle-class workers. This, along with the rise of artificial intelligence, might mean the deepening of the inequality among the social classes and even the fomenting of a social and political convulsion, Hawking said.

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“The rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining,” Hawking said while explaining the upcoming accented inequality caused by the job automation.

A Citibank report, in collaboration with the Oxford University, established that nearly half of American workforce is at risk of being automated in the upcoming years, while in China the risk climbs to 77 percent.

According to the World Economic Forum, for the year 2020, there could a 5  million human job replacement. The biggest employers in the world like Walmart, the U.S. Department of Defense and Foxconn itself, are working intensively to automate their workforce and that, according to Hawking, could reverberate considerably in the global society.

Source: The Verge