Terry Gou, Chief Executive Officer at Foxconn, had an ambition goal in mind for 2015: replace one million workers with robots for menial tasks during the assembly of consumer electronic devices, including those sold by companies like Apple. With Foxconn coming under increased scrutiny for labor violations and workers demanding higher wages, replacing workers with robots that don’t require payment or complain about working conditions could be just what the doctor ordered.
However, Jiemian, a Chinese financial publication, reports (via G for Games) that not all is going according to plan. While Foxconn has plans to field a fully automated plant within five to ten years, its first foray into the field is having some early teething problems. Foxconn had hoped to use its “Foxbots”, which cost between $20,000 to $25,000 each, to help assemble the extremely popular iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus smartphones, but the robots aren’t precise enough to meet the specifications handed down from Apple.
Apple requires accuracy to 0.02 mm in assembling its smartphones. However, the first generation Foxbots have only managed accuracy to 0.05mm during production. Yet another knock against the Foxbots comes from the limited usefulness of their five flexible “fingers.” While the robots are designed to mimic the movements and match the dexterity of human fingers, the technology to truly make this possible is still another two years away from reality.
In addition to the shortcomings with respect to precision and dexterity, the Foxbot also can’t keep up with the high volume of production required on the iPhone assembly line, and the machines are simply too large to easily integrate into the current assembly line. This is understandable as the Foxbots were initially designed to work in automobile factories.
While we have no doubt that Foxconn will eventually reach its goal of fielding a fully automated manufacturing city, it may have to push out its launch window a few years to allow the technology to catch up to optimistic projections.