Apple supplier Foxconn, which has had to combat a fair share of criticism regarding the treatment of its workers, is turning to X-ray inspection units to increase efficiency and possibly battle higher labor costs.

According to CNET, the X-ray systems will be able to spot things that workers could miss:

With inline X-ray machines using software algorithms to inspect solder joints or printed circuit boards at production line speeds, a company is able to spot defects that humans might miss before the pieces get tucked into packages for resale.

But along with improving efficiency, the machines may also be the beginning of an attempt by Foxconn to rely less on its human workforce – which numbers more than 1.2 million people. Foxconn also works for companies like Microsoft, Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

A report last year from the Chinese news agency Xinhua said that Foxconn wants to have more than 1 million robots in its factories in three years.

It is striking that Foxconn wants to turn so quickly to automation to “solve” its labor woes. One of the facts that struck me while watching the ABC Nightline report that aired a few weeks ago was that your iPhone and iPad, while containing an enormous amount of technology, is still essentially handmade.

It takes 141 steps to make an iPhone and five days and 325 hands to make one single, solitary iPad. And for all this, workers as young as 17 and 18, were making up to $2 for a 12-hour shift.

But yet, Foxconn might want to replace those workers looking for a better life with robots who never tire or ask for a raise.

Do officials from Apple and other electronic makers have a duty to protect workers that are manufacturing their devices? Or is automation just a fact of life for companies wanting to protect the bottom line?

(Image via ABC News)