Robots failed Apple

Robots failed Apple
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Few people have heard that Apple has been experimenting with robots for 8 years ... and ultimately, the company gave up on total robot automation of production processes – thousands of its Chinese workers can sleep a peaceful sleep.

Back in 2012, the leadership of Foxconn, a Taiwanese company, which assembled most of Apple's equipment, made a lasting impression on Tim Cook by showing automated lines for the production of iPads and then promised to install a million robots at their enterprises in two years and replace most people with their machines.

Former accountant Cook was so inspired by the Chinese ambitions and upcoming super excess profits that he founded his own secret lab of robotics, which set a seemingly achievable goal: to reduce the staff in production by 2 times.

After all, robots do not get tired, they do not need breaks and they perform precision operations better than a human. In addition, robotic production is easy to scale up or down the fluctuations in demand, and robots are instantly retrained.

Did it work?

In 2019, the number of robots at Foxconn enterprises was 100 thousand (i.e. 1/10 of the plan for 2014), and the Apple laboratory was closed in 2018. Why?

The beautiful dream of automating complex production processes has so far proved to be extremely far from reality.

First, it turned out that when assembling complex equipment, it is necessary to perform many operations that require physiological feedback and high sensitivity. Moreover, this sensitivity can only be provided by robots that are still very expensive to manufacture.

Furthermore, it turned out that such robots are not only expensive in production, but also in maintenance. It is much more difficult to fix a failed robot than to replace a human. In an environment where production is tied to logistics and sales on a global scale, idle time on the production line turns into a serious loss.

However, even if you do create a fully automated production line, there is another problem.

Reprogramming such a line to produce new models of devices takes much longer and is more expensive than retraining experienced assemble line workers whereas scaling the production is simpler by merely bringing in additional suppliers.

In general, Apple's robot economy is not yet making sense. It does not work with Tesla either, where factories are still dominated by manual labor. Neither does it work with Amazon, whose warehouses still employ people, despite the very high level of technical expertise of all three companies.

The bourgeois dream of being completely independent of people in their factories and plants remains a dream. However, it is time for office workers to start straining their muscles.

Practical experience shows that management processes are easier to automate than production processes, and so-called artificial intelligence and robotics, which are tightly linked in the minds of an average person, develop at very different speeds.

That is why it is one thing to build models of employee outflow based on their personnel data or automate the calculation of wages, and quite another – to automate the actual Assembly-line process, which requires the physical movement of parts and what is called “fine motor skills” of a person. Let’s face it here, even food cannot be properly delivered without a living person yet.


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