New hiring strategy: 1 million robots in three years…

Thursday, August 18th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

One of the Foxconn plants in Shenzhen

According to Xinhuanet Foxconn is planning to “hire” 1 million robots within the next three years to replace a significant part of its 1.2 million workers.

Currently Foxconn uses 10,000 robots in its production lines and plans to get 300,000 more by next year to reach 1 million by 2014. They will be working on components mounting, welding and varnishing, activities that today are performed by blue collar workers. Curiously, the announcement was made at a workers’ dance party.

Foxconn is a Taiwanese company with several plants in mainland China where it produces products for Apple, Sony and Nokia among others. In the recent years they have been harshly criticized for a string of suicides attributed to the harsh working conditions.

The announcement may be read as a step in the direction of moving to robots those activities that are more repetitive. There has been no statement on what will happen to workers that today are doing the activities that will be taken up by robots in the coming years.

Clearly, this is a much broader issue affecting many companies and many workers all around the world. In a way as robots will become more and more flexible (and thus their cost can be spread over longer periods of time and more products lines) many human activities in the factory will be taken over by them and this might have a greater impact on countries having absorbed most of the production jobs of the world.

Robots are making the labour cost an even field for every country so we might see by the end of this decade a reverse trend with manufacturing plants returning to today’s high labour cost countries. The robots will require highly skilled personnel and this will be a deciding factor on selecting a manufacturing plant location, no more the cost of salary.

Interestingly, the robots flexibility will also made possible to increase the customization and this in turn will change the relation between the point of sale and the manufacturing plant. And, what we have in between is telecommunications networks with the product becoming an integral part of the telecommunication infrastructure and pathway from the customer to the service.