Foxconn gears up to build industrial robots – world industrial robot population to double

Will undoubtedly put China at the top of the automation industry

The world’s industrial robotics industry will get considerably larger in the near future as Taiwan-registered Hon Hai Precision Industry Co (best known as Foxconn) has announced plans to begin building industrial robots. Its initial plans of building one million industrial robots for its own purposes will nearly double the number of industrial robots in the world (currently The International Federation of Robotics puts that number at 1,095,000). Foxconn is best known as the largest exporter in China, the assembler/manufacturer of Apple’s iPad and iPhone and for the extraordinarily high suicide rate of its employees.

Hon Nai is planning to invest heavily in the robotics area, with US$223 million for a new Research and Development facility and more for a robot manufacturing plant. The company is expecting to gross NT$120 billion (US$4 billion) from robot sales over the next 3-5 years and it has the additional benefit of its own diverse manufacturing facilities becoming its first and biggest customer.

Industry analyst and the publisher of the Robot Report, Frank Tobe, told Gizmag that Foxconn’s move has massive ramifications for the robotics industry, which has previously been dominated by Japan and Germany.

“It’s a painful wakeup call to ABB, KUKA and Fanuc that their products are not flexible and easily trainable enough to be useful to Foxconn or any other new-tech electronics assembler and sub-components manufacturer even though the electronics business is a big client of those very same robot manufacturers”, said Tobe.

“Things are changing from robots having a small library of moves, where they precisely and reliably repeat those moves 24/7. New tech is more personalized and manufacturing is following with small quantities of thousands of variants of base products. Industrial robots now need to keep up with those changes, and at present they have not, hence, Foxconn’s intent to build robots that will,” said Tobe.

“Some are skeptical that what they are planning isn’t really to build robots but rather automation machinery. My sources are saying the opposite – Foxconn is planning on entering the robot manufacturing business with a variety of flexible, easily trainable and low-cost assembly-line robots.”

The project is expected to create around 2,000 jobs in Taiwan, and initial indications from other news sources that the million industrial robots would replace the jobs of half a million Chinese workers have now been clarified.

The robots are intended to assist in overcoming Foxconn’s well-documented workforce problems, not by replacing those workers with robots, but by supplementing those workers.

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Hon Hai Chairman Terry Gou said that the company intends to maintain its workforce and train existing workers for more important tasks. Gou founded Hon Hai in 1974 and now produces consumer electronics products for the likes of Apple, Acer, Amazon, Intel, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Nintendo, Nokia, Microsoft, Motorola and Sony Ericsson.

Foxconn has had a lot of trouble hiring, training and maintaining a workforce capable of such massive output and the industrial robots will enable the company to reduce its hiring frenzy while improving output and workforce morale.

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