Foxconn, manufacturer of many of the world’s favourite gadgets has started its own robotic revolution. The first small step has now been taken with Foxconn recently activating the first batch of 10,000 Foxconn robots or Foxbots.
The trials and tribulations of Foxconn over the last two years could fill volumes. Making the situation worse for Foxconn everything they try seems to make the situation worse. Installing suicide nets, exorcisms and pay rises have all failed to ease Foxconn’s HR PR nightmare.
Have no fear though Foxconn’s president Terry Gou is a man with a plan, the first 10,000 Foxbots have now been activated and another 20,000 are due to be installed before the end of 2012, the Foxbot revolution is now underway.
Foxconn started life as a small Taiwanese manufacturing company named Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Limited, founded in 1974. Initially manufacturing connectors and other components for the electronics gadgets of the time, the Atari 2600 included.
2001 Foxconn win the contracted to manufacture Intel’s motherboards, as Intel concentrated on their core business of making Pentium flavoured chips (CPU’s). This began the rise of Foxconn as a manufacturer of electronics, not just the plugs that connect them together.
Foxconn is now a manufacturing powerhouse with a million person army assembling the various gadgets we all love so much. Their largest factory is the infamous Foxconn City located in Shenzen China. The walled in factory city covers 1.6 square miles and employees up to 450,000 people at any one time.
Foxconn’s president Terry Gou remarked last year that he aims to replace a million workers with a million Foxbots. At the time it was taken as an almost off the cuff remark, it turns out that Gou was deadly serious, his plan is now being rolled out throughout Foxconn’s many factories.
It is important to keep in mind that at the time of the statement Foxconn actually had 1.2 million employees, replacing a million factory workers with robots still isn’t completely replacing the Foxconn workforce but it is a definite shift.
With Gou’s plan well under way 30,000 Foxbots will be operational by the end of 2012, by the end of 2013 300,000. The millionth Foxbot should be installed during 2015.
The Foxbot’s themselves cost $20,000 to manufacture, cheap for a robot but this initial generation is only simple bot capable of simple tasks; lifting, selecting and placing. This simple generation won’t replace the entire workforce, more intricate assembly work will still to be in the hands of Foxconn’s people-bots.
The Foxbots are made in house, with Foxconn’s human assembly workers putting together their replacements. Some day we may even see robot’s assembling other robots, self replication, a skill we probably should take care in doling out, lest we set Skynet free.
Until now the robotic revolution has been put on hold by the outsourcing adventure of the last decade, ironic that the outsourcing powerhouse of the world is actually the one that will initiate the robot revolution.
The implications are enormous if Foxconn can pull this one off, with the potential to change the way we manufacture the entire world. If Foxconn can succeed their competition will have little choice but to jump on the robotic bandwagon and make it work, the floodgates may soon be opened.