Long term regular readers of Insider may recall that, back in early 2005, ABB claimed, at the launch of its System 800xA HI integrated Safety Instrumented System (SIS), that it had already sold some 600 instances of, to give it its full name, the IndustrialIT Extended Automation System 800xA DCS in the 12 months since its launch in January 2004).
That claim gave rise to a certain amount of debate, both among competitors and, at the launch, between Mark Taft, then senior VP, marketing, for IndustrialIT control and enterprise products, and senior VP, process automation, Nick Laming, as to what actually constituted a System 800xA sale. At issue, and never resolved at the time, was whether it was necessary to sell an AC800M controller into an existing ABB site for the upgrade of an existing legacy system from ABB or one of its many predecessors to count as a System 800xA sale. At the time Taft thought it was, but Laming thought it wasn't―or was it the other way round? Eventually we concluded that we had established that "ABB had indeed sold 600 of something, but not precisely what the something might or might not be."
Well, now we have a definitive answer. Last month, ABB announced that System 800xA had been "sold to more than 5,000 new and existing ABB customers in a diverse range of industries," since its introduction five years ago. Given that they added that the figure "includes new system installations, as well as existing ABB system evolutions to 800xA," we naturally went back and asked, through the good offices of U.K. PR consultant Martin Briant of Armitage Communications, what was the minimum that had to be done to a legacy system for it to be called System 800xA and included in the magic 5,000 and, for good measure, whether they actually meant 5,000 customers or 5,000 systems, since the heading of the press release had said one and the text the other.
Just so there's no misunderstanding, here, in full and verbatim, is the official reply from ABB: "The recently announced sales milestone for System 800xA, more than 5,000 sold since it was introduced in 2004, includes new system installations, as well as existing ABB system evolutions to 800xA (installed base upgrades). For existing system evolutions, the minimum is upgrading the ‘top level' of the system (above the controllers) to System 800xA software; normally this is tied to upgrading the operator consoles. This would provide a foundation for them to evolve their existing controllers over time. This minimum is consistent with that of other suppliers in the industry."
Whether the minimum is, indeed, "consistent with that of other suppliers in the industry," we haven't as yet been able to verify, although we suspect that someone will be quick to tell us if it isn't. Others, however, from the wider community beyond the individual DCS suppliers, may be a little surprised to hear that it seems possible to transform a legacy ugly duckling into System 800xA swan without any change to the hardware whatsoever.
That said, 5,000 systems in five years and 4,400 in four years―that's 1,100 a year or a smidgen under 92 a month if you haven't yet done the arithmetic―is a significant achievement by any standards and one which Process Automation division boss Veli-Matti Reinikkala attributes to the way in which the system's "innovative approach to automation has filled a real productivity need across virtually all industry sectors."
ABB claims installations across a diversity of sectors from oil and gas, petrochemicals, pulp and paper, cement, mining and traditional electric and water utilities to alternative energy production including solar, waste-to-energy and bioethanol technologies. However, the major emphasis is now on the integration of process and power systems on a single platform which, says Reinikkala, "provides our customers with key competitive advantages such as improved energy efficiency, process reliability as well as overall productivity."
Those advantages, claims the company, can result in a 20% reduction in both CAPEX and OPEX and they're now starting to quote chapter and verse. Recent integrated automation and electrical power projects based on System 800xA include PTT Chemical's Electrical Power and Steam combined cycle power plant near Bangkok, Thailand, and E.ON Benelux NV's new high-efficiency power plant in the Netherlands.
Other recent System 800xA successes include power plant control for eSolar's Sierra commercial demonstration facility in California, Boliden's Aitik copper mine in northern Sweden, Vale's new coal mine in Mozambique and a $223-million contract from Algerian oil and gas company Sonatrach that includes integrated control systems for three gas plants.