Gal Inbar is an entrepreneur and president of iCobots (Israeli Collaborative Robots), a factory automation company based near Tel Aviv, distributing advanced robotic technology and integrating it into the Israeli industrial sector. Above, Gal demonstrates a Sawyer cobot to Israel’s Minister of Finance, Moshe Kahlon.
RR: Israel is known as an innovation hub. Can you give us a sense of what that means and how it came to be?
GI: Innovation means that when you face a real problem, you understand that solving it is a REAL opportunity to create value, do good and make some money. There are many answers to the source of this mindset. Mine is that being a people that for the past two millennia have been under constant stress, constraints, and lack of resources, and having traditions of both heavily investing in education and being critical of every assumption – this has created a constant hub of innovation. Now it’s tech startups, a century ago it was physics and medicine – you mix it all up and good things happen.
RR: How would you describe the state of manufacturing in Israel and where do you see it heading?
GI: Since the mid 80s, at a very rapid pace, most of the Israeli mass manufacturing migrated to China. This left many businesses focusing solely on R&D and marketing, while relocating manually intensive production to low labor cost countries. There is still wonderful short run and capital equipment intensive production, but most mass production is gone.
Manufacturing in Israel is considered a low class job, and millennials are not willing to work in 4d environments – those that are dull, dangerous, dirty, and difficult.
I believe this state of affairs is about to change. Israeli industrial leaders have started to recognize that a lot of the work subcontracted to China is now done by advanced automation, so if it’s not cheap labor, why do it abroad? A cobot or an automated line costs the same in China and in Israel. Locally, industrialists can get government support, save shipping costs, speak the same business language, so why bother producing it away?
RR: How important is manufacturing to the Israeli economy?
GI: Currently it seems not that important, but there are huge opportunities today: a highly skilled workforce, cheap gas and solar based energy, and a government looking to diversify the economy. Today Israeli GDP relies heavily on the high tech sector. Last month Israeli Mobileye was sold to Intel for $15B. Think how much tax is generated around such deals and around all the multinational corporate R&D centers in Israel. But like in the US, manufacturing is the backbone of middle class blue collar workers, and in order to create competitive productivity, automation must be introduced.
RR: Has the Israeli government worked to jump start this push for innovation, similar to Made in China 2025 or Germany’s Industrie 4.0?
GI: Not yet. Most of the government incentives are focused on tech startups and corporations. We believe that there are two components that are missing: (1) support to the middle market manufacturing, and (2) creating new production environments that would attract millennials to join the industrial workforce.
RR: What is it about automation that inspired you to form a company around technology such as collaborative robots?
GI: We saw Baxter in 2012 and understood that cobots are the concept that would bring production back to the west. We founded iCobots to bring to Israel the most intuitive and cost effective cobot technologies. We believe that the Sawyer robot is a great leap in that direction, especially with the Intera 5 software environment that was just released. We see other industrial verticals where cobots are about to change our industrial landscape – telepresence, logistics, 3D printing and scanning – Industry 4.0 is around the corner, and we are bringing all these technologies to upgrade Israel’s industrial productivity.
And a final observation…industry 4.0 is not revolution, it is evolution, and by treating it so – integrating old metal with new brains – will accelerate its adoption across Israel and across the world.
To learn more about Gal’s company and its mission to bring advanced technology to Israel’s industrial sector, visit iCobots.com. And for more headlines, videos and news about collaborative robots and manufacturing automation, check out the rest of the Rethink Robotics blog or drop by Cobot Central.
About the Author
I'm Jeff Green, senior content and social media strategist at Rethink Robotics. When I'm not socializing Sawyer and Baxter, our smart, collaborative robots, I'm usually caught up in the home tornado, also known as my three kids. Love them, my wife, old-school Chinese food, movies, and of course game-changing technology.