Foxconn heading to nearly fully automated factories

Apple iPhone maker, Foxconn, is automating its factories in three phases — and it has already completed the automation process at some of its plants, Dai Jia-peng, general manager in Foxconn’s Automation Technology Development Committee

Phase 1. Factories are equipped with robots at individual workstations. Those robots will handle tasks that are either too dangerous for humans or are simply things that humans normally wouldn’t want to do.

Phase 2. Implementing robots in entire production lines.

Phase 3. Factories fully automated with a small staff for roles such as logistics, inspection, and quality control.

Plants in the Chinese cities of Chengdu, Shenzen, and Zhengzhou are already in either the second or third stage. The Zhengzhou plant is where as many as half of Apple’s iPhone’s are made. There, only one CNC line has been fully automated so far.

There are 10 lights-out (fully automated) production lines at some factories, including table one in Chengdu, AIO (all-in-one) PC and LCD monitor lines at a factory in Chongqing, western China, and a CNC line in Zhengzhou, Dai indicated.

Foxconn has deployed more than 40,000 Foxbots, industrial robots developed and produced in house, at factories in China, Dai said. Foxconn can produce about 10,000 Foxbots a year. In addition to industrial robots, Foxconn is developing robots for use in medical care, Dai said. Although robotic technology keeps improving, industrial robots will not be able to completely replace workers because humans have the flexibility to quickly switch from one task to another, Dai noted.

60,000 Foxconn jobs were automated in early 2016