The robots that will keep domestic industry in Israel

According to data presented by the International Federation of Robotics, recent years have witnessed a significant increase in the number of robots across Asia.

Human - robot collaboration (August 20, 2018). (photo credit: ABB ROBOTICS)
Human - robot collaboration (August 20, 2018).
(photo credit: ABB ROBOTICS)
According to figures recently released by the Manufacturers Association of Israel, the number of Israeli manufacturing plants operating abroad has risen over the past decade from 16% in 2005 to 28% in 2016. These figures come as no surprise in light of media reports during the past year about a crisis in Israel’s industrial sector and about plants that have been or will be closed down due to financial difficulties.
The world is racing ahead to accelerate development and production of robots for industry, with next-generation robotics including robots able to perform new tasks in a complex environment and interact with humans. Research studies show that within two decades the advantage for companies of employing low-cost labor will disappear owing to the introduction and increased use of robots in industry (as, for example, in China, a country considered a source of cheap labor, yet at the same time, a country where every fourth robot in the world is installed).
According to data presented by the International Federation of Robotics, recent years have witnessed a significant increase in the number of robots across Asia, while the acquisition of robots during the years 2010 to 2016 grew in the United States and Europe by 9% and 5%, respectively. As of February this year, the average proportion of robots to workers worldwide is 74 to 10,000.
In Israel, however, the assimilation of robots in industry has grown at a lower rate than the rest of the world for many reasons, among them, concerns over the loss of jobs. The goal of integrating robots in production lines is to have robots work alongside humans and not replace them. Such robots are designed to carry out tasks that are routine, fatiguing and in difficult environments for humans.
The perception that robots will replace humans and lead to the laying off of hundreds of workers in industry is wrong. New jobs have always been created in environments with accelerating assimilation of automation, the reason for this lying with the boundless creativity of humanity to reinvent itself over and over again and to develop new fields of occupation, a thing machines are incapable of doing. Another reason is the insatiability of humanity’s consumerist culture. Furthermore, more than 100 years of experience show that the introduction of mechanization and automation in industry has always created numerous new jobs that never existed previously.
There are several individual plants that are exceptions in the Israeli industrial landscape regarding robotics assimilation, such as ISCAR, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway. However, Israeli industry on the whole has been in steady decline for decades: lack of operational efficiency and flexibility, the high cost of labor, failure to adhere to timetables and long response times have rendered local manufacturing unviable.
The commercial success generated by robot assimilation in industry will increase the feasibility of returning manufacturing from East to West, resulting in the opening of many new positions. Plants that integrate robots alongside workers will exploit production line improvements to modify the worker’s role rather than to dismiss him. The human worker still performs complex tasks for which there is as yet no robotic “solution” such as, supervision, management, work requiring human contact or sensitivity, collaboration, execution of complex operations, etc.
In order to strengthen local industry, prevent the flight of industrial plants abroad and be an investment target for international companies, the Israeli government must encourage industrial plant owners to assimilate robotics and advanced technological automation in industry through the provision of training, guidance and subsidies that will lead to the bolstering of local industry and opening of new plants. If we fail to do so, we will be seeing a considerable proportion of local manufacturing plants closing down due to inefficiency and high production costs.
The writer is CEO of ABB Israel. ABB is a Swiss multinational in the field of electrical engineering.