Foxconn's CEO backpedals on robot takeover at factories

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Foxconn's offices in Taipei.

Credit: Michael Kan
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Foxconn Technology Group's plan for a "robot army" won't come as quickly as originally anticipated, according to its CEO.

For years now, the iPhone manufacturer has been talking about using robots to do some of the jobs done by humans at its factories. Back in February, CEO Terry Gou said he expected the automation to account for 70% of his company's assembly line work in three years.

But on Thursday, Gou backtracked from those statements, claiming that media reports had misquoted him.

"It should be that in five years, the robots will take over 30% of the manpower," he said during the company's annual shareholders' meeting in Taipei.

Foxconn aims to eventually create factories that are more robot-powered, but that will take ten to fifteen years, Gou added. For now, the company still largely relies on human workers. In China alone, it has over a million employees, many of whom work on the company's assembly lines.

However, even after using robots, Foxconn doesn't intend to rely less on human workers. The world's demand for electronics continues to grow, and Foxconn is moving into business areas such as smart car development and data centers. In addition, the company wants to expand its manufacturing base in India and Southeast Asia.

"That doesn't mean our manpower will be eliminated," Gou added. "That 30% of manpower will be upgraded to higher-grade work." The hope is that the robots can take over the monotonous duties at its factories, letting employees focus on tasks that require thinking, Gou said.

Foxconn is considered the world's largest electronics manufacturer, building products for Apple, Sony and Amazon, among others. But the company continues to face criticism over the labor conditions at its factories, despite progress made to correct the problems.

At the same meeting, Gou launched a tirade at the U.K. media and Hong Kong labor protection groups for being critical of his company.

"Our workers very much love to work at this company," Gou said. "If I put out a recruitment poster, crowds of people will come. We're not afraid that we can't hire workers."

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