ABB hosts ‘Technology Day’ in Sweden

Västerås, Sweden—ABB suggested that Western companies will only remain competitive in the world through research and inventive use of automation.

By Control Engineering Staff November 19, 2004

Västerås, Sweden —ABB suggested that Western companies will only remain competitive in the world through research and inventive use of automation. Some of it’s own examples include the world’s most-powerful dc transmission line, selling ABB robotics to more than 80% of automotive manufacturers; and more than 20% ABB market share in distributed control systems, high-power ac drives—as well as in power, pulp and paper, metals and mining, and oil and gas industry segments. The industrial giant dispelled any notion of understatement at a media day here on Nov. 3, 2004, covering its expertise in process and automation technologies.

Heads of various ABB Business Units and division managers led off the event, summarizing technology developments and statistics about their respective areas. Demonstrations and displays of underlying products or solutions followed. The full-day event finished with a tour of ABB’s large industrial robot manufacturing facility and test laboratory.

ABB’s ”Technology Day 2004” hosted about 50 editors and journalists from Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Control Engineering was the sole representative from the U.S.

Highlights of the presenters follow; coverage of technology demonstrations and the industrial robot facility will appear in a later news item.

Made in ABB

”Today, ABB robots are at work for more than 80% of all car manufacturers”—Fred Kindle, CEO designate, ABB Group

Fred Kindle, recently appointed CEO designate of the ABB Group, spoke on the topic of ”Made in ABB,” exploring the company’s long history of innovation and R&D—with core competencies in power technology and automation. Kindle mentioned some 16,000 patents as part of the company’s technology heritage. ABB employs 6,000 engineers and 700 researchers worldwide.

Among numerous ABB milestones, Kindle cited recent installation of a 3,300-MW high-voltage, direct-current (HVDC) transmission line in China, called ”the most powerful DC transmission line,” running from the Three Gorges hydropower plant on the Yangtze River to near Shanghai. Earlier technology milestones include the 1st industrial robots (1974) on the ”automation side” and the 1st HVDC transmission system (1954) on the ”power side” of the business.

Relative to the strong base of patents mentioned, Kindle regards research as ”an obligation of Western companies…[as] only automation makes it possible to stay ahead” of the rest of the world in long-term competitiveness. This is not to be confused with ABB’s worldwide presence and local alliances as shown by its manufacturing sites, R&D centers, and employees, he explained. Delivering customer value

”ABB’s 5% R&D reinvestment is a means for the company to strengthen itself”—Dinesh Paliwal, head of ABB Automation Technologies division.

Dinesh Paliwal—member of the ABB Group Executive Committee and head of ABB Automation Technologies division—presented ”Delivering Customer Value,” which focused on what differentiates his division from others. Automation Technologies division has over 50,000 employees in more than 100 countries. Paliwal offered other key division facts, such as 2003 revenues of $9.9 billion, over $100 billion worth of automation technologies in use by customers worldwide, and an R&D budget 5% of revenues.

Paliwal cited outside research studies that give ABB automation world leadership in various market segments: Distributed control systems, 21.6% market share (based on 2002 revenues); high-power ac drives (20.1%); low-power ac drives (11.7%). As for controls industry segments, ARC Advisory Group placed ABB first in the following—also as expressed in 2002 revenues:

  • Power (27%);

  • Pulp and paper (38%);

  • Metals and mining (25%); and

  • Oil & gas (37%).

Of the $100 million worth of products shipped by ABB daily, $20 million go to process control markets. The new system integration tool, Industrial IT Automation System 800xA, introduced early in 2004 (see below), plays a large role here in ”uniting multiple existing paths” through a common platform for automation software and user interfaces, explained Paliwal

He added that ABB is a ”supplier for the whole value chain, not a parts supplier.” This value-add function includes product/system services, plant maintenance, equipment management, and performance services.

Paliwal, and other speakers, stressed concerns for the state of global energy usage. ”Using energy wisely is more than saving money. Proper use of energy saves natural resources and the environment as well. Also drive energy savings are now getting more attention,” he stated.

ABB’s large investment in R&D (5% of revenue) has remained relatively constant over the years, but is considered more significant and effective today because it has more project- and customer-focus than in the past. ”In spite of a near-death experience [of the economy] a couple of years ago, we did not let R&D spending go down,” concluded Paliwal. R&D at ABB

”ABB derives 30-80% of sales (depending on the business unit) from products made in the last five years, as one result of R&D”—Markus Bayegan, chief technology officer ABB.

Markus Bayegan, ABB’s chief technology officer, discussed ”R&D at ABB,” which is directed at optimizing power infrastructures and distribution grids, along with optimizing manufacturing processes of customers. A good part of this effort includes building partnership with universities and customers. ”Successful R&D needs a global network,” he said; ”Universities are incubators of future technology.”

Among ongoing dynamic developments within power device technologies, Bayegan mentioned the areas of electrical insulation and current interruption methods. He also cited power electronics as a large research area—for example, in further development of insulated-gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs).

On the automation side, Bayegan discussed important developments underway for the structure of robots, such as easier ways to program them and use of ”knowledge-based” application programs. Coming later is an innovative development ABB calls ”augmented reality” for robot programming (ArtVis). To simplify robot programming, ArtVis will let robotic system engineers see the program input overlaid on an actual object under development, via a user-wearable vision device, according to ABB.

Another futuristic development mentioned was the monitoring of nanotechnology materials, where a transparent nano-layer of conductive material inside a liquid crystal display (LCD) could detect changing values of an electric field without using sensors. Other research areas mentioned were:

  • Network safety, security, and reliability; and

  • Wireless robots and wireless communication (for sensors/actuators and mobile asset management).

Driving the productivity road Peter Terwiesch, CTO of ABB Automation Technologies, presented ”Driving the Road to Greater Productivity through Automation,” mentioning scalable platforms and functional integration to reduce components, as two specific developments that make scalable products one of the ”main R&D drivers in automation.” A product example is ACS800 low-voltage ac drive that delivers dramatic size reduction (among other benefits)—as much as 8:1 volume reduction for some models versus competing drives.

Also discussed by Terwiesch were advanced solutions that contribute to customer productivity and profit in various industries. Here are two examples. An online optimizer for a 620,000-ton/year pulp and paper processing plant yielded savings in the cost of chemicals and markedly increased production. A model-based control and optimization system for cold-rolled steel mills reportedly increased throughput by more than 40% and cut sheet thickness variation by 50%. New automation products Juergen Fuchs, technology manager ABB Automation Products, focused a substantial part of his ”Best-in-Class Building Blocks” presentation on industry’s workhorse product—electric motors. A related issue, of course, is that motors and drives account for about 65% of the electric energy used by worldwide industry. One bright note is that motor manufacturers are increasingly meeting voluntary and regulated efficiency standards for motors.

ABB offers various motor startup and control methods as further ”efficiency enablers.” Other motor controller types allow closer monitoring on non-variable-speed motors during startup and operation.

Fuchs also emphasized variable-speed drives (VSDs), which he says comprise a $6 billion global market. VSDs offer major energy savings for applications that require variable-speed motor control. While the VSD market continues to grow faster than 5% annually, Fuchs claims that only 5% of all motors are under VSD control. ( Control Engineering puts the number of speed-controlled motors somewhat higher, but whatever the actual figure, it remains very low.) ”[Even] in higher power motors, the figure is less than 20%,” said Fuchs. So there is plenty of opportunity left for VSD applications. Factory-floor success ”Applied Expertise to Meet Customer Needs,” the topic of Niklas Stake, technology manager ABB Manufacturing Automation, discussed growth of the industrial robot market, which shows Asia currently booming. With 115,000 robot-based applications in place—mainly in automotive applications (spot welding and arc welding)—ABB is set to translate its manufacturing process expertise to wider robotic applications.

Several ABB techniques and tools promise to bring robotic expertise to bear on specific customer needs, the company suggests. Here are a few examples:

  • VirtualArc advanced software—simulates and tunes arc welding parameters offline to help speed process implementation;

  • MultiMove methods—allow coordinated action of several robots with one controller for faster production cycles; and

  • Offline programming—helps test and perfect actual robot solutions transparently for later downloading to production.

Cutting edge in process automation Harmut Wuttig, R&D manager ABB Process Automation, concluded the technology presentations with ”Optimizing Plant Asset Availability and Performance.” His presentation stressed that traditional maintenance methods are inefficient and costly. ”A comprehensive asset-management system is needed to streamline and automate equipment maintenance,” he said.

ABB offers incremental solutions in this arena via its Asset Monitor and new Industrial IT Automation System 800xA, to which it refers as the ”path to the future.” System 800xA offers a composite of several enabling technologies, such as a DCS core, operator workplace, engineering workplace, asset monitoring, and CMMS (continuous maintenance management system) integration that lets management take action based on real-time process information. 800xA includes three device integration methods: HART, FOUNDATION fieldbus, and Profibus.

System 800xA architecture allows other advanced software to plug into the base platform, as well. ”Legacy systems plug into a common user environment,” said Wuttig.

For more detail on the introduction of System 800xA, go to Control Engineering Daily News for Jan. 8, 2004 .

—Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Frank J. Bartos, executive editor,