Mundane repetitive tasks will be taken care of by robots in the future - but what about the workers?

Electronics maker wants to replace people with robots

Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn wants to reduce its workforce with the help of robots and automation.

The world’s largest contract electronics maker and key supplier for Apple, Foxconn Technology is currently employing 1.3 million people, making it one of the world’s largest private employers.

Special assistant to the firm’s chairman and group spokesman Louis Woo told Reuters the company hopes to stabilise its headcount by delegating more work to robotic systems.

"We've basically stabilised (our workforce) in the last three years," Woo said. "We would like to stabilise our employee headcount no matter how fast we are growing in the future."

The company may be looking to robots to help reduce its production costs as it has been witnessing revenue growth slowing down over the past two years as a result of rising wages in China and falling prices of electronic gadgets.  

Woo said the company hopes to have robotic arms completing mundane tasks currently done by workers. The company’s chairman Terry Gou estimated earlier the firm would aim to have one million robots in its factories, something Woo referred to as more of a generic concept than a firm target.

When asked if the company seeks to reduce overall headcount, Woo said it would be done over time as a goal and that the company had internal targets, but he could not disclose figures.

"It depends how successful we are in terms of introducing the process automation and also the robotics," Woo said.

Labour costs had more than doubled since 2010, Woo said, when the company faced intense media scrutiny following a string of worker suicides.

After an extremely successful decade which saw the company’s revenues growing at a double digit rate, the revenue growth tumbled to 1.3 per cent in 2013 and only partially recovered to 6.5 per cent last year.

The firm’s success was largely driven by the increasing popularity of American technology firm Apple. However, with the growing competition and falling prices of smartphones and other gadgets, the future prospects remain rather grim.

Growth in smartphone sales is expected to halve this year from 26 per cent in 2014, according to researcher IDC, while PC sales will contract by 3 per cent.

Similarly, the average smartphone will sell for 19 per cent less in 2018 than last year's $297.

"Even if technology is improving, the price will still come down," Woo said. "We've come to accept that, our customers have come to accept that."

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