Robots making machines: it's as natural as people making babies, though probably not as much fun. Just ask some of the hundreds of thousands of workers who churn out everything from the latest Apple iPhone models down to standard printed circuit boards.
Since Taiwan-based Foxconn (officially Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd) opened their first manufacturing plant on the Chinese mainland in 1988, employment has ballooned to 1.2 million and the company itself is now Greater China's largest exporter. At the massive Longhua Science & Technology Park in Shenzhen (nicknamed “iPod City”), up to 450,000 workers toil away at 15 discrete factories.
Within what is essentially a walled city, employees sleep in crowded dormitories and have access to a swimming pool, restaurants, a grocery store, a bank and a bookstore. An on-site hospital services their medical needs while a fire brigade is ready to answer any alarm. In their free time, the workers can watch programming on Foxconn TV.
All is not well in the world of Foxconn, however. Too-frequent overtime, soul-crushing work conditions and ultra-strict discipline has driven some workers to make the ultimate escape. The number of so-called “window divers” grew to the point where an embarrassed Foxconn installed nets below factory windows and forced employees to sign contracts in which they promised to “cherish their lives”. Still love that shiny new iPhone of yours?
Of course you do... and Foxconn is bending over backwards to ensure the pipeline of essential electronic components and devices from Apple, Acer, Amazon, Asus, ASRock, Intel, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Nintendo, Nokia, Microsoft, MSI, Sony Ericsson, and Vizio (to name a few) keeps on flowing – while a complementary flow of money floods back into Foxconn's coffers.
If only those spoiled, petulant, fragile human workers would simply perform their repetitive tasks quickly, quietly and with robotic precision... wait, that's it!!
Yes indeed, it's come to this: machines making machines. Foxconn's founder and chairman, Terry Gou, painted a glowing future of robotic ascendance at a workers' dance party on the evening of July 29th. Gou pulled no punches, stating the company's move from organic to mechanic is motivated by the need to “cut rising labor expenses and improve efficiency.”
Approximately 10,000 robots currently slave away in Foxconn's factories but that army will swell to 300,000 by the end of 2012 and to 1 million within 3 years.
“The robots will be used to do simple and routine work such as spraying, welding and assembling which are now mainly conducted by (human) workers,” said Gou, but it's obvious the writing's on the wall for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who flocked to Foxconn in an effort to improve their lives.
As for what the robots might think, who cares? Robots don't think... yet. (via Xinhuanet and HotHardware)