Huge employer in China makes big step toward robots
Foxconn, a big contractor for Apple and others, breaks ground for robot facilities. It plans to replace 500,000 workers with 1 million robots.
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Foxconn’s move also represents a wakeup call to ABB, KUKA, and Fanuc – the world’s largest robot manufacturers currently. Its plan to develop robots on its own implies that the current lines of industrial robots are not flexible and easily trainable enough for the likes of Foxconn.Skip to next paragraph
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Foxconn’s move into the robotics business reflects how things are changing in the industry. The days when industrial robots had a small library of moves but precisely and reliably repeated those moves 24/7 are no longer. New tech is more personalized and manufacturing is following with small quantities of thousands of variants of base products. Robots have to keep up with those changes. At present they have not.
Foxconn’s plans are hugely ambitious, nevertheless. According to the latest statistics from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), there were 52,290 industrial robots in China of which approximately 10,000 were in Foxconn factories. Thus, the company is aiming to go from 10,000 to 1 million robots in three to five years.
That would nearly equal the number of industrial robots currently deployed worldwide –1,035,016, according to the IFR.
Some analysts remain skeptical that Foxconn really intends to build robots. It will concentrate on automation machinery instead, they say. But two sources – both claiming not to be able to provide details because of nondisclosure agreements – say the opposite: Foxconn is planning on entering the robot manufacturing business with a variety of flexible, easily trainable, and low-cost assembly-line robots.
China is the fastest-growing market for the use of industrial robotics, IFR says. It forecasts that industrial robotics applications in China will increase by 64 percent next year.
Swedish power and automation technology company ABB Group recently built a robot manufacturing facility in China, supplementing numerous sales and integration offices.
The stock of Foxconn’s parent company, Hon Hai, has fallen about 22 percent so far this year, but margins are improving as plant relocations are completed. One Barclay’s financial analyst says the next 12 months look much better. Factory relocation costs have still taken a toll on Hon Hai's bottom line profitability, though analysts say the expansion could pay off in the long-run, thanks to the lower wages that Hon Hai will be able to pay in these less affluent regions.