Migrant workers in China face competition from robots

July 20, 2012

Chinese factory workers (credit: Robert Scoble/Wikimedia Commons)

The International Federation of Robotics tracked a 50 percent jump in purchases of advanced industrial robots by Chinese manufacturers in 2011, to 22,600 units, and now predicts that China will surpass Japan as the world’s largest market in two years, Technology Review reports.

Foxconn, said last July that the Taiwan-based manufacturing giant would add up to one million industrial robots to its assembly lines inside of three years.

The aim: to automate assembly of electronic devices just as companies in Japan, South Korea, and the United States previously automated much of the production of automobiles.

But China’s leaders see employment as essential to maintaining a harmonious society. The imperative of creating jobs often trumps that of efficiency.

Also, Foxconn can’t replace human workers right away because automating assembly lines would require rejiggering its entire manufacturing process.