Foxconn explosion  (Source:
Polishing workshops will remain closed until inspections have been completed

Explosions at Foxconn Electronics Inc.'s Chengdu plant last Friday have caused the original design manufacturer (ODM) to close all of its workshops until they are inspected. 

Foxconn, which is a subsidiary of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., is based in Taiwan and has several electronics factories across China. In fact, Foxconn is China's largest electronics exporter for companies like Microsoft Corp., Nintendo Co., Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Company, Sony Corp. and Apple Inc.

On Friday, a Foxconn factory in Chengdu, which is known for assembling Apple's iPad as well as iPad components, suffered fiery explosions that killed three employees and injured another 15. Six of the injured employees have been released while the other nine remain hospitalized for the time being. Reports say the explosion was caused by a buildup of flammable dust over the plant's polishing workshop. 

Combustible dust is a known problem for electronics manufacturers, which normally utilize pulverized plastics or aluminum for everyday operations. This dust, being in fine particle form, presents a higher risk for explosions because "more burnable surface area is exposed."

According to reports, a labor rights group called Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (Sacom) had warned the Foxconn plant about the excess dust during an investigation back in March and April. The group noted that at least part of the plant contained too much aluminum dust. In addition, Sacom published its findings in a report on May 6 saying that employees even complained about inhaling the dust. But as of right now, it is unclear if Sacom's report specifically mentioned the scene of the explosion.

Now, Hon Hai has announced that all of its workshops that are responsible for polishing electronic products and parts are closed until further notice. Further inspections will determine when the workshops will resume, but a spokesman for Hon Hai estimates that inspections could take about two days. 

"The workshops could be back online as soon as they pass the test," said the Hon Hai spokesman.

Temporarily closing these workshops is absolutely necessary for safety-related reasons, but Foxconn recognizes that these closings could also negatively affect the world's electronics supply. Since Foxconn is one of the leading electronics assemblers, an extended suspension could cause an inventory buildup as well as an inability to finish products, causing disruptions throughout certain processes like packaging. In addition, Foxconn may have to hire expensive labor in Shenzhen, and could even potentially lose major contracts to competitors like Taiwan's Quanta Computer Inc. or Singapore's Flextronics Inc. 

While last week's tragic event presents new problems for Foxconn, it isn't the first setback the ODM has experienced in recent years.  

Foxconn's Apple plants seem to be a problem in particular due to the tech giant's popularity and pressure to produce quality products at low prices and higher quantities. With Apple being Foxconn's biggest client, Foxconn didn't hesitate to do whatever it took to meet Apple's demands. 

Last year, the Chengdu plant was opened just to increase manufacturing of Apple's ever-popular iPad and iPad 2. The plant was placed in Chengdu because labor is cheaper there, and it would decrease overall costs. 

During that time, employees who worked in Foxconn's Apple plants started to complain about the terrible working conditions. Many employees even committed suicide to escape Foxconn's increasing pressure and horrible working conditions. 

Foxconn handled the situation by issuing contracts that forbid employees from committing suicide, as well as offering pay raises and installing anti-suicide nets. Apple has only praised Foxconn for working so diligently on its products, and feels it is not to blame for the suicides. Apple has not commented on Friday's explosions. 

While there's no telling exactly how long inspections will take on the polishing workshops, Hon Hai insists its only concern is in regards to the employees who were hurt or killed by the explosions.

"Our focus now is on providing support to the families of the deceased employees and ensuring that the injured employees have all the medical care and other support that they require," said Hon Hai's spokesman.

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