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China Iphone Robotics Apple Technology

Will Your Next iPhone Be Built By Robots? 251

itwbennett writes "Foxconn has ambitious plans to deploy a million-robot army on its assembly lines. But while robots already perform some basic tasks, when it comes to the more delicate assembly work, humans still have the edge. George Zhang, senior principal scientist with ABB, a major vendor of industrial robots, thinks Foxconn will eventually replace human workers for much of its electronic assembly, but probably not in time for the iPhone 6. For now, humans are still a cheaper and more practical choice."
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Will Your Next iPhone Be Built By Robots?

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  • Is labor dying? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrEricSir ( 398214 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @06:09PM (#41553567) Homepage

    Seems more and more jobs are being replaced by technology. What happens as the population grows but jobs dissapear?

  • Re:Robots in China? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AcidPenguin9873 ( 911493 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @06:21PM (#41553665)

    Supply chain. The entire supply chain for electronics manufacturing currently exists almost completely in Southeast Asia and China. Not that it couldn't be moved, but you'd need a huge effort to move the whole set: raw materials like rare earths, silicon wafer processing, packaging, PCB manufacturing, case manufacturing, final assembly, etc. Instead of shipping the finished device to the US, you'd be shipping about 50 different components unless they were also available from the US.

    Now, hypothetically, if you could get all of the raw materials in the US (or I suppose shipped to the US, but China is increasingly refusing to ship raw materials these days), and get companies to set up robotic manufacturing facilities in the US, then yes, you could do the whole thing in the US.

    At that point, there aren't any jobs involved in the manufacture of that device, so why do we care where it's manufactured? If it's built completely by robots at every point in the supply chain, the only people making any money off of the device are the 1%er capitalists who own the factories, the people who designed the device, and the people who designed the robots (which also were presumably built by other robots). Most of that design work is still in the US. Oh and I suppose the people who own the land where the raw materials came from.

    If you can't tell, I'm getting at a completely post-labor society here, which is probably still quite a ways off, but not outside the realm of thinking.

  • Robotic people (Score:5, Interesting)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @06:27PM (#41553715)

    "For now, humans are still a cheaper and more practical choice."

    That's been the argument about labor since the dark ages. Slavery was cheaper than horses. The pyramids were built by people dragging slabs up the sides using ropes and pulleys; Even though it's almost a certainty that the Egyptians knew of more advanced engineering. They also buried the slaves (alive) with the king when he died. The question has never been whether humans are cheaper than machines: The larger the size of the labor pool, the lower the cost of labor. Supply and demand; Basic economics.

    The question has been how workers are treated, and what level of servitude a society is willing to accept for some, or all, of its members. Even by the laws of the United States, what China routinely allows with its workforce is inhumane. I say this with the full knowledge that my country has some of the worst labor laws in the first world -- the fewest number of vacation days, the spread between what the head of a company is paid and its entry-level workers the highest of any country on Earth, and a grossly underfunded federal workforce safety department.

    We shouldn't be doing business with them; They don't even have child labor laws worth a damn. But they have a lot of our money and they're cheap. For many countries, that's enough. I wish it weren't -- where are the europeans' "citizens of the world" speeches when they really matter? You're just as guilty as we are, that's why. Until human rights are something afforded to our enemies, as well as our friends, then we should be honest with ourselves: Nobody really has human rights. What we have... are privileges. And we live our lives in comfort because a significant portion of the world doesn't, and we aren't willing to help them get them.

  • Good question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TopSpin ( 753 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @06:29PM (#41553729) Journal

    Your specific question (if robots, why China?) was answered directly a few years ago by Terry Gou, Chairman of Foxconn. According to Terry, the US has "too many lawyers." Linky here [].

  • Re:Robots in China? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @06:36PM (#41553771)

    many industries are moving manufacturing back to the states and Europe not because the Chinese can't do it cheaper but shipping has become so damn expensive.

    once robots are built to do that fine dexterity work it becomes feasible to build small factories in various countries around the world and only ship raw materials/bulk products around. why build USA's and Europe's demand in China when they could be built in Canada or Ireland for a fraction of the overall shipping costs. In the next 30 years I see that trend coming out. combined with advances in material sciences and 3D Printing/Robototic assembly. one massive factory will become franshise factories.

    If you want an idea. a restaurant only cooks and prepares food it doesn't grow/gather the raw materials.
    a franchise factory will build your item. to designer specs, and with possibly raw materials supplied by the designer.

  • Re:Is labor dying? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by javilon ( 99157 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @06:37PM (#41553783) Homepage

    I have thought a lot about this lately. In a very short time during this decade, we will see most of this factory work automated (e.g. Foxconn), then we will see road transportation automated (e.g. google cars) and farm work automated. I don't think there is time for the economy to generate jobs for the growing unemployed part of the population. We are told that western jobs are moving to the east, but this is only a part of the story. Globally, jobs are being lost (Unemployment has risen globally to 210 million, or 30 million jobs lost since 2007 according to the IMF).

    But this is only the current round of automation. If the singularity is near, and I believe it is, probably around 2035 as per Kurszweil's extrapolations of current trends, by the 2020's the value of human work will tend quickly to zero.

    So it is clear to me that:

    1) We should stop taxation of work, asap. Instead we need to tax corporate profits. Google, Microsoft and most of the big corporations pay close to zero taxes. That is unacceptable. For two companies with the same income, the one employing most people pays the more taxes. Also, people is taxed on their job income at a higher rate than its investment profits.

    2) Society needs to come to terms with the fact that most people will not be able to work. World citizens need to have their basic needs covered. Then if they manage to work, they can have extra income. Most people I know would work just to be occupied in something useful.

    Right now, the world is going the wrong direction. Income inequality is at its highest for the last decades all around the world. Economic output is going down and middle class standard of life is going down. What happened in Spain and Greece will soon happen in France, US and other western countries. The sooner the elites realize that they need consumers, the sooner we can change the system so we produce what people needs to survive and we can all move to the next level.

    The alternative is for the elites (and this means 1% of the population, so most of us smartass IT people won't be there) to transcend and the rest of the world to be left in the dust fighting to survive miserable lives. I may be too optimistic, but I don't think that is what the elites want.


  • Re:Robots in China? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bennomatic ( 691188 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @06:42PM (#41553805) Homepage it worth the shipping costs? Believe it or not... shipping costs... even with todays gas prices are still quite low relative to the costs of everything else.

    If you believe that global temperature shifts are causing greater weather destabilization, then--regardless of gas prices--that could shift significantly. Shipping is cheap because, let's say you're sending phones--you can fit thousands of them into a container, probably more than 100,000 on a single ship, maybe more. But there's always a non-zero chance of losing that cargo, and if you suddenly can't make a trans-Pacific journey for six months out of the year because of constant hurricanes, production in China won't seem to be such a great deal.

    Of course, by that point, we'll probably have bigger fish to fry. Assuming there are any fish left.

  • by kroyd ( 29866 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @07:37PM (#41554181)
    .. and the robots will be be located in Taiwan, at least for now: []

    Sure, it is possible that they will start building mainly robot based factories in mainland Chinal, but why bother? In its purest form a robot factory would just take raw materials and energy as input, with product as output. You want to place a factory like that in a location with a really stable energy supply, good infrastructure, and a stable political situation. Staff costs wouldn't be such a big issue, since you wouldn't have too many staff anyway. So, why choose China, where you would have to deal wiith rampant corruption, bad infrastructure and millions of starving former factory workers?

    Personally I would put the factories in Japan, northern Europe and Canada, that way they would be closer to the consumers as well. It would certainly save a fortune in security!

  • Re:Robots in China? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:33PM (#41554869) Homepage Journal

    It was never about lower wages, it was about fewer regulations and fewer taxes. Wages themselves are a distant third or even further compared to the costs added by government regulations and taxes.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.