Dongguan city in Southern China hosts one of the world’s first almost entirely unmanned factories, run by Changying Precision Technology Company to produce parts for cell phones. Apparently, there have been fewer defects and higher productivity levels since 90% of humans have been replaced by robots. Automated production lines involve robotic arms and the factory also boasts automated machining equipment and even autonomous transport trucks.
There are humans working at the factory to check and monitor the work done. Three workers monitor each production line and other employees monitor a computer control system. The employee number has been slashed from 650 to 60. General Manager, Luo Wuiqiang, predicts that that number will fall to 20 in the future.
Productivity levels are reportedly higher by 162.5% with the robots producing approximately three times as many pieces as were produced before. Production per person has grown from 8,000 pieces to 21,000 pieces. Quality has apparently also improved. Prior to the robots manning the production lines, the product defect rate was 25%. It is now under 5%.
Dongguan is known as the “world’s workshop” because of the high number of factories based there. It is an hour’s car journey from Shenzen, one of the most important regions globally for gadget manufacturing. Part of the rapid push behind automation, and the loss of manufacturing jobs, is connected to the Made in China 2025 initiative, a push to comprehensively upgrade Chinese industry partially through the integration of intelligent technology. Furthermore, earlier this year, the Guangdong government specifically announced a three year plan to increase automation in the region by helping subsidize the acquisition of robots.
The shift into automation in China has been happening for some time. Foxconn who manufacture the iPhone and iPad announced its own robotic initiative in 2011. In May 2015, Shenzen Evenwin Precision Technology announced that their electronics factory in Dongguan intends to replace 90% of its 1800 employees in the near future. The 200 that remain, as at Changying’s factory, will oversee the automated workforce.
The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) reported recently that electronics production was one of the major growth drivers affecting increased sales of industrial robots. In 2014, the IFR estimated that 225,000 units were sold with China as the world’s largest market; almost 60,000 robots were sold there in 2014.
According to Business Insider’s Kathleen Elkins, experts predict that one-third of jobs will be replaced by software, robots and smart machines by 2025. Southern China may prove to be the tipping point region that signaled imminent, far-reaching change within the global workforce.