"...screws, polish[es] parts and assist[s] human workers..."
At least the workers are getting some benefits then ;-)
Foxconn's much-vaunted robot army will do little more than insert screws, polish parts and assist human workers, it has been claimed. A report in the Taiwanese press has suggested that "Foxbots" are nowhere near sophisticated enough to replace real people in Foxconn's factories, which have been the scene of worker suicides. …
"locking screws, components and polished appearance", meaning exactly what cheap and readily available automation systems do.
Automation takes an investment (plus a lot of time investment in development of product specific tooling and programming) that needs to pay back. Such an investment is only worth it if the cost of labor is significantly more than the depreciation of the equipment used. The labour for Foxconn is currently still cheap enough that significant investments in automation systems are just not worth it.
The main reason for the investment in "Foxbots" now is probably more about quality than about labour costs. (Robots tend not to leave fingerprints, smudges and scratches on parts like meatbag workers tend to do)
Look at what most growing companies in the western world goes through when growing. It starts of producing small numbers of parts with significant portions of manual labour. As labour cost per product starts rising, more automation is introduced. Until a point is reached where a significant portion, if not all, production is automated. Labour cost is the most significant driver behind automation. Foxconn has access to cheap labour, so has little drive to automate right now. If pay per hour keeps rising, more automation will be needed to stay competitive.
"The labour for Foxconn is currently still cheap enough that significant investments in automation systems are just not worth it."
And once it _is_ worth it, the factories are best sited where the logistics are best.
Generally that means closer to consumers than suppliers, or where energy costs are lowest. Either way, china will lose its advantage.
Sadly, the unhappy Foxconn cohort will get no robotic reprieve from life as an iAssembler, as it looks like the Foxbot has only the most basic of skills.
Sadly for the Foxconn cohort, who will retain their jobs? I would have thought they would have been reasonably happy about that.
it's a lot cheaper and easier to replace human beings with robots, who aren't known for forming unions or attempting suicide
...and can work almost 24/7 without getting tired or needing breaks, and have maintenance costs lower than a (even low) full-time wage, and will perform repetitive tasks in exactly the same way each time resulting in less defects - all of which can reduce costs and help Foxconn outbid competitors. I doubt unionisation and even the allegedly high rate of suicides are the primary factor in this drive towards automation.
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