Bringing manufacturing jobs back to America might be one of the tentpoles of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and Apple might be at least studying the feasibility of manufacturing the iPhone in the US. But Foxconn, the company that actually produces a significant portion of the iPhones out there, is looking to replace human workers with fully autonomous robotic lines, which adds yet another obstacle in Trump’s quest for an American-made iPhone.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that Foxconn is deploying robots inside its factories. But a new report indicates that Foxconn already has no less than 10 fully automated production lines building various products in China.
The company operates more than 40,000 Foxbots, which are industrial robots developed and produced in-house, according to Digitimes.
Turning its production lines into fully-automated lines is a process that requires several steps. First, Foxconn aims to set up individual workstations in factories for tasks that are either dangerous, or that workers are unwilling to do. Then Foxconn will automate entire lines, and eventually entire factories. Human workers will be needed in different capacities, related to logistics, testing, and inspection.
According to the report, the automated lines currently manufacture tablets, all-in-one PCs, and LCD monitors. There’s also an automated CNC line in China. Foxconn is able to produce 10,000 Foxbots a year, as well as other robots that could be used in fields including medical care.
Even so, human workers are still indispensable, according to Foxconn’s Automation Technology Development Committee general manager Dai Jia-peng. Foxconn can’t completely replace them, as humans still have qualities robots lack, including the ability to quickly switch from one task to another.
These fully automated lines aren’t producing iPhones yet, but that may happen in the future. In the meantime, Apple has reportedly asked Foxconn to investigate the feasibility of manufacturing some of its products in America.