Foxconn robots better, but still not precise enough to assemble Apple iPhones

Back in 2011, Foxconn’s CEO (Terry Gou) revealed that the company plans to automate its production line by year 2014, by ’employing’ one million robots which we all came to refer to as ‘Foxbots,'” Mihai Matei reports for G 4 Games.

“While Foxconn made some progress in this area, and although Foxbots have been used in the company’s production line ever since June, the first generation of robots isn’t precise enough to be used in the entire assembly line. The Foxbots are given menial tasks, which fall more in the lines of tightening screws, assembling larger exterior components and so on,” Matei reports. “Now, according to a Chinese financial website, it has become very clear to Foxconn that the technology is not there yet, and that Terry Gou’s original plan to rely on a million robots in the assembly line by 2014 was more than ambitious.”

“The Chinese financial publication known as Jiemian recently reported that Foxconn is facing various difficulties in making its Foxbots good enough for the complete automation program,” Matei reports. “One of the main issues is that these robots are simply not precise enough, having a production accuracy of 0.05 mm while assembling Apple products requires an accuracy of 0.02 mm.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: The robots will come eventually. There are too many benefits. They don’t get tired. They don’t make mistakes. They don’t jump off roofs. They don’t have tubs o’ lard lying about them in one-fat-ass plays. Etc.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Readers “Fred Mertz” and “Dan K.” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
Foxconn CEO disappointed with current-gen iPhone-assembling robots; next-gen ‘Foxbots’ in the works – September 22, 2014
Foxconn to deploy ‘Foxbot’ robots for iPhone assembly – July 7, 2014
Why Foxconn’s iPhone robots could create American jobs – February 2, 2014
Apple dives deeper into designing and inventing robots, other manufacturing tech – November 22, 2013
Whatever happened to Foxconn’s one million iPhone-assembling robots? – May 15, 2013
Robots made Apple switch to ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ Macs – December 11, 2012
Foxconn’s 2012 plan: More robots, no layoffs, zero suicides, new factories – November 22, 2011
Foxconn to replace some workers with 1 million robots within 3 years – July 31, 2011

21 Comments

  1. It’s hard to believe humans are at least 0.3mm more precise. I think the real operative word is “adaptability”, not “accuracy/precision”, i.e. if the hole for the screw is off by a tad, a human will automatically adjust, whereas a robot will try and force the screw in regardless or abort because it’s outside specified parameters.

    1. The article discusses Foxconn’ robots. Their issue is that they decided to build their own, while the industry best manufacturing robots are actually made in Japan. Foxconn did not want to pay, it is cheaper for them to make own robots. However, they are not as precise as better Japanese devices.

      1. Sounds like the newfound chinese superiority complex rearing its ugly head. It’s well known that both Germany and Japan have some of the most precise manufacturing robots and methodologies and it’s a product of their culture, something that’s not easily replicated. In other words, the pursuit of perfection comes natural to a larger percentage of the population. It’s not cheap.

        1. ‘The persuit of perfection comes natural …’ What a load of stereotyping bullshit. You could just as easily say that unquestioning obedience comes naturally to them, fact is the answers are a little more complex than that and differ somewhat between the two countries.

          1. Well WWII would suggest that unquestioned obedience does come more naturally to some cultures than others.

            Culture differences are real. One problem with spreading democracy in the Middle East is non-democratic leaders being elected when democratic processes are introduced. People need to understand democracy before it can work.

            In Egypt my experience was that they have all the know-how to modernize their cities, but their infrastructure stays behind because people are satisfied with so much less than we are.

            I am not an expert, but I would say perfection is not China’s national advantage, but that a cultural sense that economic advancement is a survival imperative is. They are scrambling to get ahead with an intensity the western world has long forget. A few decades ago they were literally a country of starving uneducated peasants held down by Mao. In a blink of an eye it has become inevitable they will be the next world economic superpower.

  2. “These robots need to be quite flexible, figuratively, in order to be capable of undergoing numerous tasks, and one of the most challenging requirements to make these units more versatile is to develop Foxbots with 5 flexible fingers.”

    Utterly stupid comment in the article. Why don’t they develop automation to address the various assembly tasks required for the iPhone or whatever instead of trying to replicate a human.

    Robots are so much more exciting, I guess!

    1. Right. There is a photo of one of the robots in the article. My immediate reaction was “too many degrees of freedom”. You might be able to make that robot precise enough, but it will be hard to configure it to perform the many different tasks without making it very expensive.

      The Japanese are able to build with precision because they learned from Dr W Edwards Deming and widely adopted his principles and processes. US industry has largely resisted. I doubt China has followed Japans lead in this.

  3. I just disassembled and reassembled (successfully) my iPhone 3GS to replace its battery. And that’s an older (much less complex) design. I can see how it would be VERY difficult to design a completely automated process.

  4. Robots: “They don’t make mistakes”

    As with any programmed device: Wetware makes the mistakes. Robots will be no exception. For all the wacky abstractions about ‘Artificial Intelligence’, again AI is subject to wetware error, except on a more massive scale.

    It constantly amuses me how we humans love to pump out Jetson level futurist abstractions with no practical idea of how to obtain them. No Rosie The Robot for us. No ‘singularity’. No flying car in every garage. Instead there is the practical future.

    …That is, if the bizTards and poliTards don’t throw us into another dark age of overlords and peasants. That certainly appears to be their current ambition. 😛

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