Asset Management

Embrace the fourth industrial revolution

ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer describes the unbeatable combination of technology with people

By Paul Studebaker

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When ABB was founded more than 100 years ago, people would have said it’s impossible for an airplane to fly around the world without using a single drop of fuel. Last year, it was done by Solar Impulse 2, an inspiration for efforts to run the world without consuming the planet.

In 2005, who could imagine there would be 7 billion devices in industry connected to the industrial internet? And more than 25 billion by 2020. Today, a sensor on a motor can monitor its health and performance, preventing downtime and lost production, enabling better uptime, higher speed and better output; increasing motor life by 40% and reducing energy consumption by 10%. Do that across 300 million motors, and the energy savings equal the total output of 100 of the world’s largest power plants.

In 2016, Google artificial intelligence (AI) beat South Korean champion Lee Se-dol in four out of five matches for the world’s championship in Go. The same AI is expanding the roles of robots by giving them the ability to learn.

“These are technologies ABB stands for and applies in utilities, industry, transportation and infrastructure,” said ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer in his keynote speech at ABB Customer World, this week in Houston. ABB is transforming, and is now globally number one or number two in its four areas: number one in process control, motion control, power transmission and distribution, and number two in electrification and robotics, Spiesshofer said. “We want to be your partner of choice, and we will not rest our efforts to bring you new technology to serve you, when you need it, wherever you are.”

Over the past seven years, ABB has invested $10 billion in R&D, organic growth and acquisitions in the U.S. “We now employ 20,000 people and operate 60 manufacturing sites in the U.S.,” Spiesshofer added. “Here, ABB is number one for power grids and motion, and we’re the first global company to produce robots in the U.S.”

Energy revolution touches everyone

The fourth Industrial Revolution affects everyone, inside and outside industry. So does the revolution in energy. “Renewables are kicking into the grid, hand-in-hand with oil and gas,” Spiesshofer said. On the supply side, utilities must cope with more feed-in points, longer distances, volatility and unpredictability. On the demand side, electric vehicle charging is growing, and data center power consumption is rising, he said. “Electrons must arrive safely, reliably and predictably at the point of consumption.”

The grid used to be simple, flowing predictably in one direction. Now a house might be an energy producer in the morning, a consumer in the evening, and overnight with an electric vehicle, a storage device, all depending on the time of day.

Power must travel long distances. The 40-year-old, 800-mile-long Pacific Intertie is being upgraded to 4 GW capacity, and is one of 220 such systems around the world. ABB is involved in half of them, using its high-voltage direct current (HVDC) technology for efficiency.

On the local level, after a Con Ed substation in Lower Manhattan was damaged by Hurricane Sandy, ABB upgraded it and eliminated 80% of its cabling by replacing copper networks with fiberoptics. Its footprint is now 30% smaller, and it has remote monitoring capabilities to streamline maintenance and improve reliability.

This industrial revolution is special

The first three industrial revolutions—steam, the assembly line, and automation—replaced muscle power with machines. “The fourth replaces brain power with AI and computer processing capability,” Spiesshofer said. “It extends outside the factory floor to every enterprise, so it has a much larger size and scope.”

Factories are familiar with automation, “offices not so much,” Spiesshofer said. Job changes used to occur between generations—a parent might be a farmer, their child a factory worker. “Now workers often must change careers within a generation,” he said. “We must seize this opportunity, but we must also take people with us despite the unprecedented speed of change.

“We need to avoid creating anxiety about work. Historically, jobs may change, but the amount of work goes up. New jobs appear for solution developers, application engineers, software specialists, etc. We must invest in education, to be sure people prosper.”

ABB supports this transition with knowledge centers such as its Collaborative Control Center for Oil & Gas in Houston, and its System 800xA, which combines distributed process control, electrical control and safety systems with collaboration.

In discrete industries, robotization is an opportunity to drive prosperity. “Combining robots and people safeguards competitiveness by increasing productivity,” Spiesshofer said. ABB has started up the first global robot manufacturing plant in the U.S., in Auburn Hills, Mich. “Engineers are working with U.S. customers to do they want,” he said. “Demand is so high, we have already announced an expansion of the plant.”

The future is up to you

Digitalization is providing opportunities for all kinds of industries. Telecom, media and finance are well along, but factories, plants and utilities lag. “Industry still has great potential for improvement, which is an opportunity for you and for us,” Spiesshofer said. Plants need to seize this opportunity to drive maintenance, operations and control to new levels.

“ABB has been a ‘hidden’ digital champion, connecting 70 million smart devices in 70,000 control systems, but not known for it,” Spiesshofer said. “Now we’re adding an overarching digital architecture to combine them with human expertise: ABB Ability.”

Under this banner, AI, control and connectivity will drive digital differentiation, Spiesshofer said. “ABB Ability combines the ‘digital Lego box’—the cloud, networks and devices—with domain expertise and process know-how to enable you to serve your customers better.”

“ABB Ability helps us assess, to know more about processes and situations, to predict what will happen, to make manufacturers able to produce more by avoiding downtime, improving processes, and running them in a smarter way to achieve OEE better than anyone in the world,” Spiesshofer said. “ABB Ability is ABB offering to work with you and bring it together. We are listening to you, so we can create the value that you want.

“Digitization can bring you a quantum leap in utilization, where a few percent can make you a hero. If you stand still and say, ‘This is not for me,’ your competitiveness will be significantly deteriorated.”

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for prosperity, wealth and employment. Let’s write the future together, ABB and you.”

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