Foxconn - also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry - is widely known as one of the largest manufacturing companies in the world. They've got trade agreements with Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and - most notably- Apple; they manufacture the vast majority of Apple's hardware. They're also more than a little infamous, known for the terrible working conditions which many of their employees are forced to endure.
Turns out, that abuse might soon be a thing of the past. This week, it was revealed that the Taiwanese content manufacturer has been working in secret with Google for quite some time. According to the Wall Street Journal, the company's been in talks with Google's robotics head Andy Rubin since last year.Although we're not entirely clear on what they've been discussing, it's likely that this is a two-way street: Google wishes to make use of Foxconn's considerable manufacturing power to produce its robots; in return, Google's likely going to provide some of its robotics technology to Foxconn's factories.
To that end, Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou recently met with Rubin in Taipei to discuss new robotics technologies. Sources close to the matter say that at this meeting, Gou expressed excitement over the new automation technologies owned by Google, while Rubin asked Gou to help integrate a technology company that Google's in the process of acquiring - noting that Foxconn's greatest strength lies in mechanical engineering.
As most of you likely recall, Google's been making a huge robotics push since acquiring eight different firms last year (including the widely-known Boston Dynamics). Given that Google's focusing on the manufacturing core above all else, Foxconn's interest in the partnership is hardly surprising. The latter's been dealing with rising labor costs and workplace disputes in China, where it employs over a million workers; amongst all this chaos, it's been desperately looking for ways to accelerate automation efforts at its factories. Toss in rapidly declining revenue from contract manufacturing, and it's pretty clear why: if something's not done soon, Foxconn is on the fast track towards being unprofitable.
Gou, for his part, has made no secret of his desire to transform Foxconn into a high-tech manufacturer, expanding the company's focus to automotive and medical equipment, among others. Taking into account that Google's rumored to be building a new operating system for
manufacturers (similar to its proprietary Android OS for mobile
devices), the deal gets even sweeter for Foxconn, which has also been actively seeking locationsfor research and technology investment in the United States.
"Foxconn needs Google's help to step up automation at its factories as the company has the lowest sales per employee among the contract makers, given its large workforce," explained CIMB Securities Analyst Wanli Wang. "Using robots to replace human workers would be the next big thing in the technology industry. Not just Google, other major technology companies such as Microsoft and Amazon also have been developing robotics technology to capture the future growth opportunities."
So...it's obvious what Foxconn gets out of all this. But what about Google? According to analysts, the partnership makes just as much sense for the search giant. Due to Foxconn's established presence in the manufacturing industry, its factories are probably the best testing ground Google's going to find for its new robotics technology.
Foxconn might not have the best reputation for how it treats its employees, but its importance as a business partner can't be denied. Together with Google, the Taiwanese manufacturing corporation might be well on its way to designing the first truly automated factory. I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty cool to me.