ABB robotics director: During COVID-19, Israel must invest in robots

Israel currently has 55 robots per 10,000 workers, South Korea, a world leader in the field, has 1,630 robots per 10,000 workers.

An ABB Yumi robot, with sensors meant to ensure superior safety standards (photo credit: Courtesy)
An ABB Yumi robot, with sensors meant to ensure superior safety standards
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“Did you know every fourth robot in the world is bought in China?” ABB Israel CEO Ronen Aharon asked.
“The reason is they understood that their current advantage, cheap labor, is not going to be relevant in a few decades so they are planning ahead,” he told The Jerusalem Post. Sadly, he pointed out, Israel hasn’t traditionally taken to robots.
Israel currently has 55 robots per 10,000 workers, South Korea, a world leader in the field, has 1,630 robots per 10,000 workers. There are exceptions to the Israeli rule, and Iscar Metalworking, Aharon explained, is one.
 “Twenty years ago, they decided to use robots in their Tefen factory in the Galilee,” he said, “and thanks to that vision, they were able to increase productivity so much they were eventually purchased by Warren Buffet in 2006.”
ABB Israel CEO Ronen Aharon, with 20 years under his belt, he is confident that not only will robots not replace human workers, we need robots during COVID-19 (Courtesy)ABB Israel CEO Ronen Aharon, with 20 years under his belt, he is confident that not only will robots not replace human workers, we need robots during COVID-19 (Courtesy)
Aharon offers Rav Bariach as another example of an Israeli company able to incorporate robots into its operations. He suggested further government interest, and state funding, should be offered to ensure Israel’s industry could thrive in the decades to come.
Why do people fear robots? Usually they fear being replaced by a machine, or that the rise of robots will end with “out of control” machines. The first is ill-founded. Thanks to its forward thinking, Iscar employs 5,000 workers, as efficient factories have a better chance at staying in business and offering jobs. The second is unrealistic, a machine is unable to do something it was not pre-programmed to do.
A robot that removes sealed pudding cups from a conveyor belt and arranges them in a box, for example, works at such high speeds it can pack hundreds of cups per minute. The speed robots have, plus the fact that they don’t stop, led to early models having a fence around them to prevent humans from coming near them during work hours and risk injury. The advanced robots of today, such as the ABB Yumi, have built-in sensors that inform the machine a human is too close, making it stop what it’s doing.
If coal and steam were the first industrial revolution, with electricity being the second and electronics being the third, robots are part of the ongoing fourth revolution. Thanks to many diverse breakthroughs such as in new materials, the Internet of things and AI, it is possible the world will see in the near future self-driving cars and robo-doctors, employed for some procedures.
Aharon has been leading ABB Israel for nearly two decades and was able to contribute to a variety of meaningful products, from providing the electrical grid needed to power the new train route to Jerusalem to work on the new Israel national water carrier, which delivers desalinated water from five coastal plants.
He describes such complex challenges as ensuring that no matter how many trains use the tracks, there won’t be a drop of power in the rest of the country, or how a complex engineering project should also include calculating how much weight the factory floors can take to ensure they won’t collapse under the machinery.
He then returns to the issue of ensuring the country is ready to the challenges it must face during COVID-19.
“In our factories in Italy and France,” he says, “production did not halt during the pandemic because we use robots. Because of that, our human workers could protect themselves well and continue working.”
Robots, after all, can’t cough, making a national plan to incorporate them into some aspects of industry seem like a good idea as the nation faces extreme uncertainty.
With increasing reports that the country might be placed under lockdown, food production plants began to manufacture increasing amounts of food to ensure the public will not lack for anything, News 13 reported on Wednesday. The more robots such factories use, Aharon says, the better.