The 10th Annual Prof. Yohanan Arazi Industry-Academia Conference: Challenges & Insights in Times of Crisis

The current crisis, ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic, has fundamentally changed the rules of the game. As a truly international crisis, occurring simultaneously all over the globe, it has also reinforced the crucial interdependence of industry and academia. The 10th Annual Industry-Academia Conference presented industry challenges and insights from an international, Israeli, and Galilean perspective, emphasizing the importance of engineering leadership when creating a mutually supportive ecosystem. In attendance were several prominent speakers from Israel and overseas, who laid out their own experience, stance, and forecasts in the wake of today’s crisis.

The conference was opened by Prof. Arie Maharshak, ORT Braude president, who noted that we live at a time when every industry is experiencing rapid change and evolution. As a result, academia has a responsibility to train engineers who can cope with crises of all kinds – and may even leverage such crises into opportunities for growth.

The first speaker was Prof. Raimund Neugebauer, president of the Fraunhofer Society, which runs dozens of research institutes throughout Germany. He revealed how Fraunhofer has been working to improve responsiveness and increase resilience in times of crisis. Prof. Neugebauer said that crises can be medical in nature, like COVID-19, but that cyber attacks, natural disasters, closures, and political crises also have the potential to adversely affect short-term liquidity, profitability, and revenue. As supply and export chains have been disrupted, the world has been forced to invest billions in development and innovation in order to overcome this unprecedented challenge.

He was followed by Dr. Ami Appelbaum, chief scientist at the Ministry of Economy and chairman of the Israel Innovation Authority. Opening with the words of Winston Churchill – “Never waste a good crisis” – Dr. Appelbaum presented a strategy for emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic and explained how this global turning point can be leveraged to generate economic growth. He pointed out that the world had already entered a period of accelerated change even before the current crisis due to advanced digital transformation, computing, green energy, and innovation processes. However, COVID-19 has changed many working methods and drawn on Israel’s vast knowledge in order to quickly develop drugs, vaccines, medical equipment, and protective gear. In general, Israel has responded rapidly to the situation. “Integration and cooperation have been established between government ministries and local industry, and tens of millions have been given in grants to support the companies that can contribute to resolving this crisis,” Dr. Appelbaum said. “In addition, large sums have been invested in training and retraining the workforce in areas like digitization, Big Data, IT, bioconvergence, and AI, which can drive development in a post-COVID world.”

As part of a session that focused on a strategic engineering-based vision for crisis management, Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel, chairman of the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Science, illustrated academia’s role. He highlighted the potential of AI (artificial intelligence) to play a key role in choosing an optimal strategy that will minimize damage on many levels. However, he also noted that “success” in this instance must be measured by a range of diverse criteria. Ami Harel, CEO of E2ES (End-to-End Systems) and a board member of the Israeli Society for Systems Engineering, highlighted the fact that the durability of any structure is defined by its weakest link. In his view, this challenge can be overcome by a modern management approach, which aims to adapt to changing circumstances with flexibility and agility.

Arie “Richie” Richtman, chairman of the Manufacturers’ Association’s Made in Israel Committee, explained why it is crucial for every organization to create a crisis management plan that will prepare it for any future crisis, whether that crisis is of a business, medical, or military nature. “On judgment day, when everything is whipped up in a frenzy of confusion and uncertainty, when the private mixes with the public and chaos reigns, we’ll simply take out out our plan, ask the right questions, and calmly work with our experts to decide on the best course of action to serve everyone’s needs when dealing with the crisis,” Richtman said.

Specific examples of crises and recoveries were given by several speakers at the conference, including Benny Amoyal, CEO of the Advanced Manufacturing Institute, Eran Mandelbaum, director of automation & technology at Keter, and Carmel Israeli, an ORT Braude graduate who is currently a project manager at Gevasol. Israeli described the company’s efforts to supply a large number of medical ventilators in a short space of time, which involved quickly harnessing all of Gevasol’s facilities and technological capabilities related to engines, electronics, logistics, and engineering. It was also necessary to convert production lines in order to accommodate the huge demand for these machines.

Eran Mandelbaum spoke in turn about how Keter rose to the occasion by quickly developing and producing protective masks for healthcare staff in hospitals nationwide. This process included designing the masks, creating suitable molds, and setting up the necessary production line. Benny Amoyal added that, prior to the pandemic, the Advanced Manufacturing Institute had intended to help improve the productivity of around 20 factories through the implementation of advanced technologies and management methods. However, with the outbreak of COVID-19, their work plan was changed to accommodate the evolving situation, and in fact the Institute supported some 100 factories – a dramatic increase.

During the conference, many other issues were discussed that have only grown in importance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the issues discussed at length were: using emergence from the COVID-19 crisis as a lever for economic growth; how businesses cope with crises; strategies for handling global crises and challenges; the role of academia in times of crisis; seeing the full picture in terms of both projects and organizations during crises; industry – a war story; industry in the post-COVID era – challenges and opportunities; crises as an engineering and entrepreneurial accelerator in Israeli industry; leveraging knowledge and making decisions in uncertain times; creative thinking in a crisis situation; and more.

The rest of the day included roundtable discussions as well as several other fascinating lectures by, among others, Dr. Ron Tomer, president of the Manufacturers’ Association; Eran Nir, VP operations at KAMADA; and Dr. Gavin Suss, dean of the School of Design & Innovation, College of Management Academic Studies.

Finally, it should be noted that the conference was held virtually via Zoom and led very successfully by its chair, Dr. Marcela Viviana Karpuj, from ORT Braude’s Biotechnology Engineering Department. Dr. Karpuj also skillfully moderated the event alongside Benny Amoyal, making it a very pleasant experience for all attendees.