Archive for ‘robots’

12/06/2016

Electronics Maker Automates as China Costs Rise – China Real Time Report – WSJ

Regardless of the assurances, I am concerned that we have started down a very slippery slope and in a generation or two we will have personless factories and maybe personless offices.  When that happens where will humans be earning salaries and hence, are going to be buying the stuff the factories will be churning out and who will pay for the offices; and – indeed – what will be done in those offices?

Is anyone in government, whether Chinese, Swedish, Japanese or American, putting their minds to this frightening future?

“A new generation of machines is gradually transforming this electronics factory in China’s manufacturing hub.Inside the sprawling factory, owned by Jabil Circuit Inc.—the world’s third-largest contract manufacturer for companies such as Apple Inc. and Electrolux SA—robotic arms assemble circuit boards as driverless components-laden carts glide nearby. Machines also are starting to replace workers in checking circuit-board assemblies for errors.

“This is the past,” said David Choonseng Tan, an operations director at Jabil, pointing to a line of workers hunched over the assembly line. “And this,” he said, gesturing to a line of machines next to them, “is the future.”

Rapidly changing product models make it challenging for electronics companies like Jabil to automate all aspects of the assembly process, according to John Dulchinos, a vice president at the company. Still, Jabil has increasingly embraced automation and advanced technology, a shift encouraged by the Chinese government as the world’s second-largest economy grapples with labor shortages and high costs that are making neighboring countries like Vietnam increasingly competitive for mass production.

Manufacturers elsewhere in the world are also investing in automation and robotics in an effort to wean themselves off “chasing the needle”—moving to ever-lower-cost countries in pursuit of cheap labor.

In Stockholm, Sweden, roughly 8,000 miles away from China, fuel-cell maker myFC has built a 2,000 square-foot smart factory that will eventually have five robots doing the work of 20 full-time humans. The robots assemble power cards used for portable electronic devices while 3D printers churn out prototypes of new designs.

“We are building one cell, then we can export that to any country, any customer,” says Bjorn Westerholm, chief executive of myFC.

Jabil says that it’s hoping that a key piece of its automation—a boxy white platform it calls Flexi-Auto Cell—can also be redeployed at factories elsewhere in the world. The idea, according to Jabil, is for technology to be able to emulate the worker’s flexibility in switching from one task to another.

Jabil’s vision of manufacturing, however, isn’t one in which machines will replace workers completely, but rather one in which they’re freed up to focus on less-tedious tasks.

“We are not going for a lights-off factory,” says KC Ong, a senior vice president of operations for Jabil. In the factory of the future, “we’ll still have a lot of people.””

Source: Electronics Maker Automates as China Costs Rise – China Real Time Report – WSJ

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27/05/2016

Foxconn replaces ‘60,000 factory workers with robots’ – BBC News

If manufacturers like Foxconn and high street companies like McDonald’s and, no doubt soon, offices too start replacing humans with robots, where will it all end? Where will all the ‘surplus’ people find jobs and pay.  And, eventually, who will be able to afford the iPhones, the hamburgers and so forth?  Won’t it be self-defeating in the long run for the employers with no customers or, at best, not enough customers to keep all the robots occupied and earning their keep.

“One factory has “reduced employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000 thanks to the introduction of robots”, a government official told the South China Morning Post.

Xu Yulian, head of publicity for the Kunshan region, added: “More companies are likely to follow suit.”

China is investing heavily in a robot workforce.

In a statement to the BBC, Foxconn Technology Group confirmed that it was automating “many of the manufacturing tasks associated with our operations” but denied that it meant long-term job losses.

“We are applying robotics engineering and other innovative manufacturing technologies to replace repetitive tasks previously done by employees, and through training, also enable our employees to focus on higher value-added elements in the manufacturing process, such as research and development, process control and quality control.

“We will continue to harness automation and manpower in our manufacturing operations, and we expect to maintain our significant workforce in China.”

Since September 2014, 505 factories across Dongguan, in the Guangdong province, have invested 4.2bn yuan (£430m) in robots, aiming to replace thousands of workers.

Kunshan, Jiangsu province, is a manufacturing hub for the electronics industry.

Economists have issued dire warnings about how automation will affect the job market, with one report, from consultants Deloitte in partnership with Oxford University, suggesting that 35% of jobs were at risk over the next 20 years.

Former McDonald’s chief executive Ed Rensi recently told the US’s Fox Business programme a minimum-wage increase to $15 an hour would make companies consider robot workers.

“It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who is inefficient, making $15 an hour bagging French fries,” he said.”

Source: Foxconn replaces ‘60,000 factory workers with robots’ – BBC News

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