back to article iPad maker to replace 1 million staff with robots

The world's biggest computer components vendor plans to replace nearly its entire factory workforce with robots by 2014. Foxconn, which makes kit for Apple, Sony and Nokia, said it would cut loose staff and reduce labour costs by automating spraying, welding and assembling jobs at its factories in China, where harsh working …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    But why is the rum gone?

    This sounds like a joke article.

    The cost of automating so much production at once will bankrupt whoever tries it.

    PS: it kind of completely destroys the reason why the factories would be in China in the first place.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Bankrupt them?

      You DO know how much PROFIT they make?

      Hint, £Billions.....

    2. ravenviz

      Re: But why is the rum gone?

      Just goes to show how quickly outsourcing to poor people has now switched to outsourcing to no people. This was supposed to be the bright new future of the 50's, all that leisure time to spend in misery!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I predict robots failure...

    ... by robot suicide.

    The good thing about robots as far as Chinese corporations are concerned is that they eliminate the following snags:

    - accusations of eexploiting underaged robots.

    - accusations of making the robots work too long hours without breaks.

    - accusations of unsafe working conditions for robots.

    Things it doesn't help:

    - Low wages for robots. Human workers were probably not paid much more than a robot anyway.

    Now I'll go back to play with all my made in China gadgets, hence contributing to an unfair system of exploitation and delocalisation. Hey, I never said I wasn't an hypocrit. But these days, who isn't?

  3. Anonymous Coward


    Our work force are suicidal, what shall we do?

    Sack them all, that'll cheer them up.

    1. Chemist

      Not all will be sacked ....

      for how can any business manage without HR ( now to be renamed Robot Resources) ?

      1. ravenviz

        Re: Not all will be sacked

        If they're anything like some companies they'll soon be affectionately referred to as Robot Remains.

  4. spegru

    slip of the tongue?

    "the firm currently has 10,000 robots working on the production line."

    10,000 now?

    Now that says something about how they treat their staff!

    1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

      No slip of the tongue,

      The root meaning of the word robot is forced labor or serf labor.

      The word robot was first used by the Czech writer Karel Capek in his play Rossum's Universal Robots and comes from the Czech word robota means literally 'corvee'*, 'serf labor', 'drudgery' or 'hard work' in Czech.

      Seems like foxconn has their robots already

      * corvee is a form of labor that is imposed on people of a lower social standing by their superiors and the only difference between corvee and slavery in that the worker is not owned outright.

      1. nyelvmark

        etymology <> meaning

        The original Czech meaning of the word "robot" is interesting, but has no influence on its modern English meaning. In South Africa, I understand, the word is used to mean what Brits call a "traffic light". This is also interesting, but is no more relevant than the "slave/peasant" meaning to the topic under discussion here.

  5. HP Cynic


    Time to learn how to design, build or maintain robots. Though presumably robots do all that now.

  6. Thomas 18

    The industrial revolution

    all over again. I'm guessing there won't be much in the way of severance pay.

    1. Guido Esperanto

      severance snape

      Those requesting severance will be escorted to the rooftop "Executive Office".

    2. Richard Ball


      Only it's taken China about 40 years to do what the 'leading edge' of the industrial revolution did in, what, 200 years?

      Hope they have big Jobcentres.

      I for one welcome our not-very-far-in-the-future-if-not-in-fact-already overlords.

      1. Semaj


        Well yeah but it's not like they started from scratch is it...

  7. Efros


    for Del Spooner to arrive to vet the robots.

  8. It Wasn't Me, I Swear.


    If Stevie J. finds out that this is actually cost effective he will bring production back into the fold at Cupertino... Robots don't leak prototypes, see?

  9. Thomas 4

    In future news....

    The managing director of Foxconn was tragically killed today outside the Foxconn plant in China. Early reports suggest that he has been crushed to death by a robotic arm that was attempting the world's first recorded incident of "robot suicide". The arm has been offered theraputic programming and a firmware upgrade and should be back at work soon, once they've finished scrapping the managing director off him.

    1. Your Retarded

      The managing director was scrapped?

      How much was he worth? Did he contain lots of copper and aluminium?

  10. eBusiness

    1 Worker != 1 Robot

    The numbers don't add up, in the very worst case a single small cheap robot might do the work of 1 human, but humans don't work all day long (not even those employed at Foxconn), so 1.2M people will only do around 400000 "full time" jobs. On top of that not every human can be replaced, and a lot of the robots in an automated production will do the job of several humans.

    So unless they also plan a massive increase of production capacity there is no way the numbers of this story adds up.

    1. Guido Esperanto


      They dont if you look at the current production.

      However this will have exactly increased production capacity in mind. They produce electronics for hundreds of big names. all with major launches on their cards.

      If Foxconn wants to remain competitive, it needs to ensure costs are managed, quality is confirmed and that capacity can be achieved.

      The problem with meatbags is that costs nearly always go up, quality has to be checked and verified and those increase further with increased capacity.

  11. Anonymous Cowherder

    The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

    How long will it be before someone realises that if all "efficiency savings" are actually made then there won't be anyone left in a job to earn the cash to buy their products?

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Ultimately the people will be paid by the country not to work.

      The country will be taking far more tax from the companies to pay the people to have a non-work life balance, but the profits at the companies will be so large they won't care - they'll positively endorse the philanthropy.

      Having a job will be left to those volunteers who like to keep themselves busy. The computers and robots will be designing and building their own replacements anyway.

      Meanwhile in other news, scientists have proven that the Higgs Boson far from being the God particle, is in fact God herself, and that major religious groups were in fact all wrong.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re Utopia

        > Ultimately the people will be paid by the country not to work.

        Erm, well, we have that in the UK already... :-£

  12. M7S

    I remember the future well

    In the '70's we were all going to have by now so much leisure time as a result of technology.

    All we've done in the west is offshore all the lower value manufacturing jobs. No-one really foresaw the social and economic results of extensive unemployment. Only Jeremy Kyle seems to have gained from this.

    Now the same could be coming to China.

    Interesting times ahead.

    1. Guido Esperanto


      economically China has been well behind the west for some time.

      Their industrial revolution is coming which may actually benefit the rest of the world because it may not be financially viable to go to China, and maybe more cost effective to hire local talent.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        economically China has been well behind the west for some time.

        Pop quiz.

        Which country is massively in debt to which other.

        Is it

        a) The USofA to China

        b) China to the USofA

    2. ian 22

      Re: the future, I remember it well.

      They did promise leisure time didn't they. However I have no recollection of promises of food, clothing, shelter, etc.

      The future is so bright, it's blinding.

    3. Gulfie

      Does this include Jeremy Kyle?

      That is to say, will Jeremy Kyle be going to China as well? I'm sure we could have a whip-round, should be able to raise the money for a one way first class ticket in no time at all.

  13. digital_age

    Same job, different day

    In other news, Foxconn will be hiring for 1 million employees to build the robots that will build the computer equipment.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    It is not 1st April?

    1 Million robots at capital cost of £15k each? £15 Billion?! double this for the installed cost. Conservatively each robot will take at least 1 person month to design, build, install commission and handover. 1 million months is about 80k years? to be completed in 2 years is 40k people.

    Either it wont happen or they're not robots or it is a massive boost to the automation industry. But with more people out of work who will buy the product?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Who will buy the products?

      ...err the America's, Europe, Japan, Korea, in fact pretty much the same market as now.

      1. Your Retarded

        The America's what?

        Oh I see what you did there. The America's Europe.

        But I don't think that Japan and Korea belong to them.

    2. Robot

      Robots will build other robots

      Re: "conservatively each robot will take at least 1 person month to design, build, install commission and handover"

      No, these robots will be built by other robots.

  15. yossarianuk

    Will they be like Marvin?

    Given the harsh conditions in the plants the robots I imagine that either (1) The robots will become so depressed they die or (2) They overthrow their human evil masters and take over the planet.

    1. CD001


      I was thinking pretty much the same thing...

      The whole plant comes to a standstill and the last thing heard was...

      "I have a terrible pain down all the diodes on my left side" :)

    2. ravenviz

      Re: Will they be like Marvin?

      Or park cars for 20 million years. After that they go into a bit of a decline.

  16. This post has been deleted by its author

  17. Arctic fox

    "iPad maker to replace 1 million staff with robots"

    Perfect, now all the Cupertino Posse need to do is replace all their customers with.........oh ok, I won't go there - the cognoscenti will get all of a mother.

  18. Adam T


    So long as they remember not to network them. Because you know what happens next.


    1. Arctic fox

      @Adam T Perhaps we should remind their customers that they have........... fate but that which they make themselves - for good or ill.

  19. farizzle

    SKYNET, anyone?

    so THAT'S where Skynet was spawned!!! Damn you Foxconn, i had my money on Japan!!!

    1. Your Retarded

      Skynet already exists

    2. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart


      SKY (dot) NET, the unholy child of SKYpe and Microsoft

  20. Winkypop Silver badge

    This is were the robots will arise

    I for one.....

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Bring it in house Apple.

    If robots can do this don't know why Apple does not do it 'in house'...

    1. Anonymous Coward


      That would require large amounts of capitol investment. Also, if Lord Jobs and Co started building an automated factory in the US, screaming hordes of unionists would burn it down.

      The lack of Unions (and the accompanying lack of worker representation) in China is the reason Foxconn can get away with this.

      It's sad that just about every manufacturer found it easier to outsource so many jobs when automation would at least have kept the profits in the western world, as opposed sucked into China and India, never to return.

      1. James Loughner

        They did already

        The origianl Mac was built in an automated factory.

  22. Pete 43
    Thumb Up

    It'll only push the price up

    All those rare earths being used to make robots that make gadgets

  23. h4rm0ny

    If you can do this in China...

    ...then why not in the USA? China has the advantage of cheap labour. If robot technology is getting good enough that not even dirt cheap and overworked humans can remain cost-effective, then it might be that the domestic consequences of off-shoring will be in decline. Wont happen instantly of course, so the question is will the uptake of robot production kick in before Western manufacturing entirely collapses?

    1. farizzle

      Money talks

      and right now most western countries are raising debt ceilings and arguing about how much to borrow, lend or print..

      It's a race against time to get the cheapest most efficient next-generation labour force on the ground, and China is leading the way by the looks of it. It will never get cheaper than robots, unless the robots start manufacturing robots, and then well, see SKYNET posts above...

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anonymous has the Stuxnet source code...

    ... or so they say.

  25. FuzzyTheBear

    Cost effective ? LOL

    Simple. Never buy their products.

    If they can't make the people work , we have no use for them.

    The whole thing is counterproductive and even in China , they probably

    raise serious objections at a factory laying off a million people.

    Indeed .. replace all people with machines , put everyone out in the street and see how long the economy of any given country survive.We need administrators that have a clue.Simple

    You can't treat people like this and expect to survive long.

    To all FoxConn employees : general and indefinite strike NOW.

    Let em deal with the crap they created in their little used brains.

    Better : write their customers ( apple etc ) and tell them that as long as they support and deal with businesses that treat their employees like crap that you wont buy their products.

    Refuse to play the game and help real human beings treated like dirt.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Cost Effective ? Well Yea

      You seem to have forgotten that unfortunately my country, America exported among other things, its traditional method of labour relations: "My way or highway."

      I read my employment offers/contracts and in America, and much of the world (particularly places being outsourced to), employment is on an 'at-will' basis. That effectively means that the company can fire anyone, for any reason (without stating that reason, hence anonymous coward). And the burden is on employee to prove dismissal was illegitemate (hence forth marking them for retaliation or at least a hostile work environment.)

      It kinds blows, but that’s why outsourcing is cheap: no unions, labor relation, living wages,etc.

      Incidently, if a company is considering outscourcing or using foreign contractors like this, they are thinking with their checkbooks and projected production costs. Based on the success of Wallmart, what we think is a moot point.

      China probably doesn't care, a likely response is indifference or failling that embracing automation as a 'bold leap forward', (not unlike some Communist Party campaign of past years.)

    2. Charles Manning

      Silly moral outrage

      Most of the electronic assembly work is already done by robots and has been for the last 20 or so years.

      Most of the manual effort in electronic manufacture was taken away by surface mount and pick and place machines, each of which replaces dozens of workers.

      So it you really wanted to save jobs in the electronics industry you're already twenty years too late.

      Of course the flip side to this is asking yourself whether you'd be prepared to pay an extra $500 for an ipod so that it could be made by meat workers rather than robots.

  26. Richard Scratcher

    I have no problem with this... long as the jobs are given to American robots rather than Chinese ones.

    Or maybe robots designed in California and assembled in China.

  27. Morteus

    Evolutionary Redundancy

    So, the labour pool can be superceeded by automatons that can easily perform the mundane physical tasks. This throws countless millions into unemployment.

    I suppose eventualy, middle management and administrators in both the private and public sector, will become redundant as smarter programmes manage and administrate more efficiently than their error prone counterparts.

    Why can't someone invent a robot that can procrastinate, lie and bullshit? Then we can sack all the politicians as well!

    1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

      Shurly you’re silly shirley

      you can't replace politicians with robots.

      1. Robots don't have trouser pockets to put brown envelopes into.

      2. Robots don't claim huge non-contributory pensions

  28. AceRimmer1980

    iFor one

    welcome our shiny, if expensive, overlords

    1. Jolyon Ralph

      re: iFor one

      i for one zero zero one zero one one

      1. AceRimmer1980
        Thumb Up

        Obscure M+W ref

        Don't tell me to f*** off, Hennimore

    2. Anonymous Coward



      1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart




        and these are the required letters

  29. Erik4872

    In the year 2525....

    I have a dumb question/observation. In the West, especially in the US, we have a huge "skills mismatch" where tons of factory workers or service-industry people are out of work because of automation and outsourcing. Now, the plan is to put even more people out of work by automating production in the outsourced regions also?? Who in their right mind thinks this will end well?

    We have an incredibly difficult time already finding qualified people to fill jobs where I work. What's going to happen when *all* of the manufacturing jobs are gone? Those jobs (used to) provide a semi-stable work environment and wage progression for people who weren't able to do "knowledge worker" kinds of jobs. If you couldn't even make it through high school in the past, you could at least get a job at the local factory, bust your butt and earn something approaching a living wage. Now, I only see a couple of outcomes:

    1. French Revolution 2.0, complete with decapitations

    2. The non-knowledge-worker types get pushed into education for knowledge worker jobs, pushing down the wages, skill level and driving other knowledge workers insane. (Already happening now...)

    3. Some kind of "subsidy for not working" would have to be introduced to quell dissent.

    I may be a Luddite, but I say we should bring back huge steel mills/factories employing 20,000 people at a shot. The work may have sucked, but at least it kept people busy. Otherwise, we may have to hide to avoid the guillotine!

    Personally, I like the idea of the old doesn't force people to chase promotions they aren't qualified for in order to keep advancing wage-wise. If I was a fantastic Systems Engineer II and never wanted to be a Systems Engineer III or (shudder) Manager of Systems Engineering, I could stay on a decent wage progression without topping out.

  30. nyelvmark

    I understand people's concern

    Anyone who watched "Lost in Space" back in the 60s knows what a robot is: something like Robbie. Robbie wasn't all that impressive, though. Sure, he knew the answer to any question, but he moved really slowly, and had only limited ability to manipulate physical objects.

    But that was 50 years ago. Today's robots can probably travel at rocket-ship speeds, and have all the necessary manipulators to do any job faster than a human can. They must be able to think, of course, because Robbie was able to, and so were HAL, Robocop and any number of robots in movies and TV programs ever since.

    Or am I confusing fiction with reality?

    1. nyelvmark

      Wasting my breath, obviously.

      Robots that design robots? How does that work? Are we engineers here, or plebs who think that science fiction is just a future version of reality, in which trips to the stars, time travel and thinking toast-makers are just waiting to be invented by some eccentric professor in his basement?

      The comments section of El Reg is one of the most intelligently populated forums I know of, but still I despair sometimes at the hivemind / luddite mentality.

      Surely, I can't be the only person here who knows what a REAL robot/computer is, and isn't distracted by the comic-book ideas we read in our youth?

      Hint: if you think that commanding a computer to calculate the exact value of pi will cause smoke to begin issuing from its orifices...

      1. Thomas Ross

        Wasting my breath, obviously. → #

        We have computers designing computers now, is it to far off before we see computers designing robots...

  31. zen1

    you have been RIF'd

    you must vacate your work station immediately. You have 10 seconds to comply <insert automatic gunfire here> have a nice day.

  32. JeffyPooh

    Remember iPhone Girl?

    I wonder if one robot will stop building iPhones long enough to take a few quick snapshots of another cute, grinning robot?

  33. Ross K

    I for one...

    ...welcome our new robotic overlords

  34. Tony Paulazzo


    >I may be a Luddite, but I say we should bring back huge steel mills/factories employing 20,000 people at a shot.<

    Or how about workhouses for the kids, or slavery - haven't built any pyramids for a while (although the Americans are ahead in that field already: - the prison industry in the US of A), or we could stop the women from voting, working or owning property...

    Lots of ways to reduce unemployment.

  35. Blackbird74

    Adapt this title

    "The bad news is robots can do your job now. The good news is we're now hiring robot repair technicians. The worse news is we're working on robot-fixing robots- and we do not anticipate any further good news."

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