Your next iPhone may not be made by a human. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is set to become one of the world’s biggest buyers of industrial robots after increasing its non-retail capital expenditure by 78 percent to $7.1 billion. The company is said to be buying robots as well as computerized machine tools that can be used in the manufacturing process at its Foxconn factories.
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Apple has been struggling with workforce management in the facilities of its manufacturing partners in China and other countries, with apparent labor code violations and the controversy over salary standards making a lot of noise lately. It employs up to 700,000 people in China, who take hundreds of steps and several days to assemble an iPhone or an iPad. Automating this process may save the company several headaches.
According to Seeking Alpha, Apple is likely to buy these industrial robots from Fanuc, the world’s leading robot maker, as well as ABB (NYSE:ABB), Siemens (NYSE:SI), and Yaskawa. Some analysts believe the scale of Apple’s purchases may take the company far ahead of competitors Samsung, Nokia (NYSE:NOK), and HTC when it comes to efficiency in manufacturing.
Camera maker Canon (NYSE:CAJ) is another company that is hoping to bring about a shift in its production systems, and plans to have a fully robotic plant in operation by 2015. Canon estimates the move could save it $4.82 billion in manufacturing costs over a four-year period.
Robots are already used by mining companies such as Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO) and BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP) to mine and transport ore. BHP even has a joint venture with Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) to develop robotic trucks. California-based Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG) also manufactures a robotic surgical system.
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