"Tomorrow Is Not Cancelled"

Automation Companies Want to Emerge from This Downturn in a Stronger Position than Before

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This article was printed in CONTROL's May 2009 edition.

Keith LarsonBy Keith Larson, VP Content, Putman Media

Despite prevailing economic headwinds, the mood of the crowd was remarkably upbeat when more than 3,200 engineering professionals from 40 countries gathered in an Orlando resort ballroom in late March. The venue was ABB Automation & Power World 2009, the first ABB event to encompass users of the company's automation and power products and systems—as well as the largest ABB user event to date.

"There's never been a better time to combine our automation and power events," noted Mark Taft, event emcee and group vice president for process automation in ABB's global control systems business. "There's more interest than ever in integrating power and automation systems."

Indeed, integration and intelligence, energy and the environment all emerged as key themes of the three-day conference, as keynoters and session presenters discussed the long-term needs and opportunities poised to reassert themselves once global financial systems have stabilized.

"Tomorrow is not cancelled," Taft said.

In fact, ABB had been on a record-breaking roll through 2008, with revenues of $34.9 billion, earnings of $4.6 billion and $4 billion cash on hand at year's end, ABB Group CEO Joe Hogan reported.

"2008 seems like it was a decade ago," Hogan said, admitting that the company has not been immune from the global recession. "But we started 2009 with a $24 billion orders backlog, which will carry us into 2010," Hogan said, "so we should be able to ride out this cycle. Our intention is to emerge from this downturn in a stronger position than before."

"We present ourselves as problem solvers, and so we try to see our customers' problems through their eyes," Hogan continued.  "As a result, we help users stay competitive by controlling their costs with improved energy efficiency, improvements in productivity, integrated technologies, strong long-term partnerships and expansive service offerings."

Hogan added that ABB is assisting industrial users to control their energy costs and emissions with wider application of its low- and medium-voltage drives and motors, its high-voltage DC equipment and flexible AC transmission systems, as well as its process automation solutions. "These solutions can result in huge cost savings and do something positive for the environment at the same time," said Hogan.

But ABB's deliverables—and opportunities—don't stop at the plant fence line. Indeed, the company is poised to be a key player in the deployment of next-generation grids that will be needed to manage and respond to the highly distributed renewable energy sources and storage devices envisioned for the future.

In recent weeks, ABB has showcased its Smart Grid innovations for U.S. Senate and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission personnel. And, at the Hannover Fair tradeshow in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel and South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo visited the ABB stand, where they reviewed technologies designed to maximize energy output from renewable-energy plants and integrate their production into the grid.

"ABB has built a long-term reputation in the power industry as the primary innovator and manufacturer of power equipment, and this has opened the door for us to become a pioneer in the smart grid of the 21st century," said Dr. Le Tang, ABB vice president and head of the U.S. Corporate Research Center in Raleigh, N.C. "We already have the technology in hand, but we're now striving to align costs and benefits so that utilities have a sound business case for making investments in grid modernization."

Clearly the current economic downturn will ultimately pass. Tomorrow is not cancelled, and when that day dawns, the challenges of climate change, of energy independence, of energy efficiency will return to the fore. And when that tomorrow comes, it's clear that ABB is uniquely positioned to deliver on that tomorrow's power and productivity needs.

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