Spotlight ABB: Wired for the Future

September 12, 2023
By Knowledge Leaders Team in Knowledge Leaders

ABB is a global leader in electrical engineering and automation. With the rapid pace of urbanization, there’s an increasing demand for efficient and sustainable power solutions, and ABB’s advancements in smart grids and renewable energy integration are pivotal in meeting the demands of this transition. Moreover, as industries evolve, there’s a need for automation solutions that not only enhance productivity but also ensure safety. ABB also provides solutions that range from robot arms for manufacturing to electric propulsion systems for ships. Based in Zurich, Switzerland, this multinational corporation is known for driving the digital transformation in these industries and more.

ABB Formula E, credit: ABB

ABB’s history can be traced back to the late 19th century, with the establishment of two separate companies: Asea in Sweden and Brown, Boveri & Cie (BBC) in Switzerland. Asea was founded in 1883 by Ludvig Fredholm in Västerås, Sweden. The company initially focused on producing electrical light and generators. On the other hand, BBC, established in 1891 by Charles Eugene Lancelot Brown and Walter Boveri in Baden, Switzerland, quickly made a name for itself in the electrical engineering world, especially in the production of steam turbines and transformers. In 1988, Asea and BBC merged into ABB.

ABB’s Electrifying Legacy

One of the firm’s first major achievements came in the form of the High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission system. Developed in the 1950s by Asea, this technology was nothing short of revolutionary. Traditional electrical transmission systems used alternating current (AC). While AC systems were widespread, they had limitations, especially when it came to transmitting electricity over long distances. Energy losses were significant, and the longer the transmission lines, the more pronounced these losses became. Enter HVDC. Unlike AC systems, HVDC allowed for the transmission of electricity over vast distances with minimal energy loss. This was a game-changer. For the first time, it was possible to transmit power efficiently across continents and under oceans.

The implications of HVDC were vast. Regions rich in renewable energy sources, like hydroelectric power or wind energy, could now transmit this power to areas thousands of kilometers away. This not only made renewable energy more viable but also reduced the need for localized fossil fuel-based power generation. For instance, the Itaipu HVDC transmission system, developed by ABB, allowed for the transmission of hydroelectric power from the Itaipu dam in Brazil to São Paulo, a distance of more than 800 kilometers. This project alone showcased the potential of HVDC technology and its role in sustainable energy transmission. HVDC systems played a crucial role in interconnecting power grids from different regions. This interconnectivity meant that power could be shared more efficiently, reducing waste and ensuring a more stable and reliable power supply.

Credit: ABB

ABB’s Technological Tapestry

ABB is a recognized leader in robotics, electrification and industrial automation. From the depths of mines to the vastness of space, ABB’s products touch various facets of modern life, driving efficiency, sustainability, and progress. ABB’s electrification products span a wide range, from circuit breakers and switchgear to EV charging solutions. These products play a crucial role in ensuring safe, smart, and sustainable electrification. ABB’s robots, like the YuMi collaborative robot, are at the forefront of the manufacturing sector, enhancing productivity and ensuring safety. ABB’s automation solutions cater to a plethora of industries, including oil, gas, and chemicals. Their control systems, like the ABB Ability™ System 800xA, have revolutionized process industries, driving efficiency and reducing environmental impact. ABB’s motion segment includes drives, motors, and generators. From transformers to HVDC systems, ABB’s power grid solutions ensure that electricity reaches from power plants to households efficiently and reliably.

Beyond Swiss Borders

ABB’s journey of international expansion began shortly after its inception in 1988, following the merger. Recognizing the potential of global markets, ABB quickly set its sights beyond Europe. The 1990s saw ABB establishing a strong presence in North America, Asia, and the Middle East. This rapid expansion was driven by a combination of strategic acquisitions, partnerships, and organic growth. Today, ABB operates in over 100 countries, catering to a diverse range of market segments. In the Americas, ABB has made significant inroads into the renewable energy sector, with projects like the Los Vientos wind farm in Texas. In Asia, particularly in countries like China and India, ABB’s industrial automation solutions cater to the burgeoning manufacturing sectors. Meanwhile, in the Middle East and Africa, ABB’s electrification products are playing a pivotal role in infrastructure development and energy distribution. Innovation is at the heart of ABB’s ethos. Reflecting this commitment, ABB has established numerous offices and innovation centers worldwide. These centers, located in over 30 countries, are hubs of research and development. From advanced robotics in Germany to smart grid technologies in the United States, these centers are where ideas come to life.

Crafting Tomorrow’s Technologies Today

At ABB, research and development (R&D) isn’t just a department; it’s the lifeblood that fuels the company’s vision for the future. For ABB, R&D is the bridge between today’s challenges and tomorrow’s solutions. It’s through rigorous research, testing, and development that ABB crafts technologies that shape industries. Whether it’s pioneering new forms of energy transmission or developing specialized robotics, R&D is at the heart of ABB’s advancements. The company’s attitude towards innovation is best summarized by its commitment to “writing the future.” Several R&D projects are in progress under ABB’s umbrella, including Smart Grids. ABB is working on next-generation smart grids that promise to revolutionize energy distribution, making it more efficient and sustainable. Building on the success of the YuMi robot, ABB’s R&D in collaborative robotics aims to create robots that work alongside humans seamlessly. Finally, leveraging the power of artificial intelligence, ABB is developing automation solutions that are self-learning, adaptive, and incredibly efficient. In the last five years, ABB has introduced a number of innovative technologies.

ABB Ability: Launched in 2017, ABB Ability™ is a testament to ABB’s commitment to the digital revolution. It’s a unified, cross-industry digital offering that extends from device to edge to cloud. This platform integrates ABB’s entire portfolio of digital solutions and services, harnessing the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) to drive operational efficiency and unlock new business models.

Terra HP Fast Charger: As the world shifts towards electric vehicles (EVs), the need for efficient charging solutions becomes paramount. Recognizing this, ABB unveiled the Terra HP Fast Charger in 2018. This high-power EV charger can deliver up to 350 kW, making it possible to charge an EV in just 8 minutes – a game-changer for the automotive industry.

YuMi® Single Arm Robot: Building on the success of the collaborative YuMi® robot, ABB introduced the YuMi® Single Arm Robot in 2018. This robot, with its compact design and advanced motion control, is perfect for tasks that require dexterity, such as picking and placing small components.

NeoGear: In 2019, ABB launched NeoGear™, a revolutionary switchgear solution. Leveraging ABB’s laminated bus plate technology, NeoGear™ is safer, more reliable, and up to 50% more compact than traditional air-insulated switchgear systems.

ABB Ability™ Genix Industrial AI and Analytics Suite: In a world driven by data, making sense of this data is crucial. In 2020, ABB unveiled the ABB Ability™ Genix Industrial AI and Analytics Suite. This suite, designed for industries ranging from utilities to manufacturing, harnesses artificial intelligence to turn data into actionable insights.

ABB Ability, credit: ABB

ABB’s Synergy for Success

By partnering with industry leaders, ABB taps into diverse expertise, and today’s notable collaborations include the following.

In 2016, ABB announced a strategic partnership with tech giant Microsoft. This alliance aimed to harness the capabilities of Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, integrating it with ABB’s digital offerings. The result? The ABB Ability™ platform, a unified, cross-industry digital solution that has since become a cornerstone of ABB’s digital transformation strategy.

Recognizing the potential of data-driven industrial solutions, ABB joined forces with HP Enterprise (HPE) in 2017. This collaboration sought to merge ABB’s deep industry expertise with HPE’s prowess in data analytics. The outcome was a range of solutions that optimized industrial operations, from energy management to supply chain logistics.

In 2019, ABB embarked on a partnership with Dassault Systèmes, a world leader in 3D design and engineering software. This collaboration aimed to offer customers a unique set of solutions, combining ABB’s digital offerings with Dassault’s 3DEXPERIENCE platform. The result was a suite of solutions that spanned product life cycles, from design to maintenance.

Venturing beyond traditional industries, ABB announced a groundbreaking partnership with the FIA Formula E Championship in 2018. As the title partner, ABB played a pivotal role in driving the championship’s vision of sustainable mobility, showcasing its e-mobility solutions on a global stage.

This Knowledge Leader spotlight was generated using our AI engine with a series of prompts custom-developed by Knowledge Leaders Capital and designed to uncover the innovation strategies of companies we consider to be Knowledge Leaders. We have edited it for content, style, and length.

The following sources are examples of sources that may have been consulted in the preparation of this spotlight

  • ABB Official Website
  • European Engineering Journal
  • Historical Tech Review
  • Global Industry Chronicles
  • Energy Innovators Journal
  • European Tech Review
  • Sustainable Energy Chronicles
  • Robotics Today Journal
  • Global Energy Review
  • Industry Insights Magazine
  • Tech Pioneers Journal
  • International Engineering Review
  • Global Tech Insights Magazine
  • Digital Tech Review
  • Automotive Innovations Journal
  • Energy Solutions Magazine
  • Data Science Chronicles
  • Tech Innovator Magazine
  • Industry Leaders Journal
  • 3D Tech Review
  • Motorsport Chronicles

 As of 6/30/23, ABB, HP Enterprise, and Dassault Systèmes were held in the Knowledge Leaders Strategy and the rest of the companies mentioned were not.

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