Engineering is what counts, even in society

“For any product, knowing what you want it to do – and understanding how it is going to be used – is the key,” Dr. Amir Ziv-Av, of Ziv-Av Engineering. Ensuring security among big crowds, the ones that frequent stadiums, …

“For any product, knowing what you want it to do – and understanding how it is going to be used – is the key,” Dr. Amir Ziv-Av, of Ziv-Av Engineering. Ensuring security among big crowds, the ones that frequent stadiums, subway stations, and airports, is a big job. So it’s appropriate that a man with big ideas – Dr. Amir Ziv-Av, one of Israel’s top engineers – is helping to make security checks at such sites more efficient and easier to manage.

Ziv-Av’s company, Ziv-Av Engineering, located at Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzchak, is working with US based Qylur to develop systems that will allow security personnel to check large crowds of people while maintaining the natural flow of traffic.

With the Qylur system, people entering a stadium or train depot pass through a light structure, such as a tent, where indicators do the inspection usually conducted by personnel. Using a variety of technologies – metal and radiation detectors, laser readers, and even “sniffer” technology that detects explosives – the scanners check individuals and their belongings as they quickly file through the security apparatus, saving time, energy, and frustration for everyone involved.

“With this system, security checks can proceed five times faster than they do now, saving time and money for everyone,” says Lisa Dolev, CEO of Qylur, who worked with Ziv-Av on development of the system.

Ziv-Av’s ideas don’t stop there. Over the past three decades, this modest but accomplished engineer has been instrumental in building some of the largest – and smallest – inventions and developments coming out of Israel.

From innovative lifts to armored cars

Whether it’s innovative lifts and transport equipment for semi-trailers and train cars, a complete automated airport baggage handling system, improvements to armored Hummer vehicles, plotters, scanners, medical equipment, or even a better car door hinge that makes it easier to open and close the door, Ziv-Av has been involved.

He’s also worked on a whole raft of security systems that he’s not at liberty to reveal.

Ziv-Av’s company has certainly earned its nickname, in government and army circles, as “the brain trust of Israel.” Among the organizations who have turned to his company for advice, help, and designs have been HP, Kodak, Motorola, Israel Aircraft Industries, Tadiran, Indigo, and Israel Military Industries. Ziv-Av also helped his friend, industrial giant Stef Wertheimer of Iscar fame, start his plastics business back in the 1990s.

At first glance it would seem that the skills required to design an emergency elevator exit system for high-rise buildings and those needed to build a better plastic chair (both recent projects for Ziv-Av) are radically different, but Ziv-Av believes the projects are actually very much alike, in terms of planning, conception and execution.

“It comes down to the philosophy behind a product, which is to make it as user friendly as possible, both for the customer and the manufacturer,” Ziv-Av explains to ISRAEL21c. For any product, knowing what you want it to do – and understanding how it is going to be used – is the key; figure that out, and the rest follows, whether it’s cars or plastic chairs.

A pen, a plane, a spaceship – it’s all the same

“There are about 10 or 11 things you want in a car – it needs to start, to get where it has to go without falling apart, have good gas mileage, be relatively comfortable, have safety features for the passengers, etc. The same goes for a plastic chair – it needs to be comfortable, easy to use or store, not fall apart, be a compatible height for tables, etc.,” says Ziv-Av. A pen, a plane, or a spaceship – they all have the same design philosophy, he adds.

There are many ideas that look good on paper, but are too expensive or difficult to make or use. “It’s easy to get bogged down on one feature, making sure that the feature works very well, while ignoring the overall purpose of the product,” says Ziv-Av. “The secret to a successful product is to understand how and why it is being used, and to design with that in mind.”

It sounds easy, he says, but the world is full of products that just weren’t thought through properly. “The concept of what a product is supposed to do, and how it impacts on the systems it is going to interact with – existing manufacturing and distribution systems, and the ways customers use products – is the most important factor in how a product ends up functioning,” he explains.

That philosophy holds true for systems as well, and Qylur’s innovative approach is a good example of the firm’s ideas in action, says Ziv-Av Engineering’s CEO and marketing manager Yitzchak Taff.

“In order not to slow people down too much, security checks at sites with large masses of people are done quickly and inefficiently, and inspectors often don’t do a thorough job,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “Until now, there was no way around this, but the Qylur system employs new techniques and technology to improve efficiency and effectiveness, redesigning the approach to mass venue security from the ground up.”

What works for products, works for society too

And what works for products and systems works for society, as well. “In an ideal world, things would run smoothly, because everyone understands the principle of top-down product planning, whether it’s for a pen or a school,” says Ziv-Av, who is a member of the board of governors and the executive committee of the Afeka Engineering College.

Yet while most pens work more or less as one would expect, many schools don’t seem to be able to “deliver” the education we expect them to. “Unfortunately, many things get in the way of proper planning, whether it’s politics, ego, and other factors. Money usually isn’t an issue, because there is plenty for pet projects that don’t necessarily improve the final product,” he says.

If the public sector had to answer to the “bottom line” like the private sector, he says, things would certainly look different (although, he stresses, he does not necessarily consider himself a libertarian, and he sees a role for government in public services like education). With that, he adds, “there’s no reason a school can’t run as efficiently as a chair factory.”

Ziv-Av is also very concerned with Israel’s future as a leader in high-tech, and says that in order for the economy to continue doing well, more attention must be paid to design. “While technology engineering education remains strong, the universities in Israel are not doing enough to promote design and theoretical engineering, which gives engineers a much wider view of how their product will interact with people and systems,” he explains. “As a result, engineers work on their specific range of products, and you get a lot of visions bumping up against each other.”

This, in part, is also a problem in government, he believes, where politicians lacking real-world experience end up wasting the public’s money. “Design and theoretical engineers concentrate on areas like math and physics, which can be applied to a wide range of problems, not just a specific area,” he says.

Ziv-Av’s practical approach to social issues is well known in government circles, and more than one Knesset member, government minister, and IDF Chief of Staff has consulted with him on the best way to implement projects.

Which leads to a natural question: has Ziv-Av ever considered running for public office? Maybe one day, he says. “But now I find that I can much more effective in an advisory role,” he says. “The politicians may be getting the glory, but I’m having all the fun.”