Life as a cog

A Night at the Electronics Factory


His task is to help complete 1,600 hard drives — his workshop’s daily quota — and to make sure every one is perfect. Seated in the middle of the assembly line in his black Foxconn sports shirt, cotton slacks and company-mandated white plastic slippers, he waits for the conveyor belt to deliver a partly assembled rectangular hard drive to his station. He places two plastic chips inside the drive’s casing, inserts a device that redirects light in the drive and then fastens four screws with an electric screwdriver before sending the drive down the line. He has exactly one minute to complete the multistep task.


Professor Luo says that the pressure can be intense and that workers are treated like machines at some factories. This is the marvel of China’s low-cost manufacturing boom. Factories are known to replace workers with machines that automate a process, but here in China factories often reverse the trend and replace costly machines with workers like Mr. Yuan — slower but sometimes preferable because there is no large upfront capital investment.


Mr. Yuan earns about 75 cents an hour. With overtime premiums, he takes home $235 a month. His rent is about $44 a month, plus $7 for water and electricity, and there are quite a few other expenses, but he said he manages to save about 40 percent.

Comment: Next time you think complain about your job think of Mr Yuan!


  1. Part of me really wants to make sure I don't buy hard drives from Foxconn, as getting drives right takes a lot of quality control that tends to slip when you're driving things through that hard. Does the full article tell whose drives they're making? I'm guessing Hitachi if it's any of the big names.


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