The electronics industry may still be reliant on human workers to assemble products, but Apple supplier Foxconn Technology Group is hopeful that robots will take over more of the workload soon.
In three years, Foxconn will probably use robots and automation to complete 70 percent of its assembly line work, said company CEO Terry Gou on Thursday in news footage circulated online.
Although the Taiwanese manufacturing giant employs over 1 million workers in mainland China, it has also been investing in robotics research. Previously Gou said he hoped to one day deploy a "robot army" at the company's factories, as a way to offset labor costs and improve manufacturing.
Foxconn's biggest client is Apple, but the two companies have faced criticism over labor conditions in China, following a string of worker suicides in 2010. Labor watchdog groups have complained that Foxconn workers have in the past faced long hours and harsh treatment from management.
Both Apple and Foxconn have vowed to improve the labor conditions. But increasingly, robots are replacing human workers at the manufacturing giant.
Last year, Gou said that the company already had a fully automated factory in the Chinese city of Chengdu that can run 24 hours a day with the lights off.
Gou declined to say more about the factory, or what it produced, but Foxconn has been adding 30,000 industrial robots to its facilities each year, he said in June.
Despite the increasing automation, certain Foxconn facilities in China still heavily rely on human workers. The factory in Zhengzhou, China, assembling Apple's iPhone for instance, has been known to employ 300,000 workers.
On Thursday, Gou said his company needed to adopt more automation, due to the potential for labor shortages.
"I think in the future, young people won't do this kind of work, and won't enter the factories," he said.
Photo by Jurvetson (flickr)