New autonomous manufacturing technology has enabled Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn to significantly reduce its worker numbers.
Foxconn has reportedly replaced 60,000 human workers with robots at its huge factory in Kunshan in Jiangsu Province.
“The Foxconn factory has reduced its employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000, thanks to the introduction of robots. It has tasted success in reduction of labour costs,” said Xu Yulian, the head of Jiangsu’s publicity department according to South China Morning Post.
Foxconn itself has confirmed that it has been working towards automating many routine ‘manufacturing tasks’, however has denied that the move will create long-term job losses.
Instead the company claims that automation will allow it to switch its human capital towards R&D and other more creative sections of their business.
Foxconn is part of a group of 35 Taiwanese enterprises operating in Kunshan that reportedly have together invested 4bn Yuan ($607m) into the development of robotic manufacturing within the city.
The city itself – a major manufacturing hub for tech products – believes that up to 600 other companies have plans for similar moves away from human manufacturing.
Foxconn robots part of wider Chinese economic transition
Provincial and city-level promotion of robotic automated factories has been ongoing in China now for more than a year.
Further south in Guangdong province, local authorities have earmarked billions of dollars in funding for the development of both robotic manufacturing, as well as an industry for manufacturing robots.
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While Foxconn claims that taking workers off its payroll is not its endgame, it is all but inevitable that significant job losses will result as more and more companies in the sector automate.
Currently around 20% of all urban workers in China are employed in the manufacturing sector, many of whom are low-skilled migrants from inland areas.
China’s government officially seeks to replace these positions with new opportunities in a growing service sector as part of a wider transition being managed by the Chinese government.
Nonetheless, very large amounts of investment will need to be earmarked by the authorities to retrain and support these former manufacturing workers in order to help them find new jobs, and thus avoid large-scale urban unrest.