ABB Comes to Lunch

Dec. 5, 2008

Truth in Blogging Notice: Walt's taking a break from SoundOff!

Truth in Blogging Notice: Walt's taking a break from SoundOff! for a bit, but the rest of us editors are still contributing. So when something that makes you crazy--or pleases you--appears in this space, please check out the author (Our names will appear at the top of the page) before you fire off your outraged emails to Walt. As he will be the first to tell you, managing a bunch of editors is a good deal like herding cats--cranky cats. It's not fair to hold him responsible for our outrageousness.Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.

The good folks from ABB dropped by the other day to visit and share current company news. The visit was long and full of good information, but the PowerPoint presentation was mercifully short--thanks, folks.

The first news that Group VP for Process Industries, Mark Taft, shared with us was ABBs stellar 3Q financial results, already reported here. But, hey, these days any ray of good economic news is welcome--even if we've heard it before. If my net income were up 26% in the third quarter, I'd be talking about it too. (Note to IRS: It's not.)

Orders were up 33% in the Americas and 20% in Asia, said Taft, which would seem to confirm the general feeling in the air that the process industries will come out of the current recession (I'm thinking positively here with my terminology) better than other sectors of the economy. 

Taft also pointed out the fat hoard of cash that ABB is sitting on. With some justification, he was a bit smug about it, recalling that last year this time ABB was catching a lot of flak from we talking heads and prognosticators about not spending that money acquiring another company, preferrably a vulnerable competitor (pick your favorite candidate). "The decision to not buy at last year's prices now looks pretty smart," he said. Ya think?

But it's important to parse that sentence carefully. Taft didn't say that ABB was out of acquisition mode. He only said not doing it last year turned out to be a really good idea. "Given our cash holdings, we're still looking at acquisitions," he said. Maybe ABB is just like the rest of us--waiting to see how far the objects of our desire are going to be marked down before we take the plunge.

Taft did have some tempering comments in the light of current events. Looking to 4Q results and beyond, he was considerably more cautious. "While ABB's sales and marketing efforts will continue in the same way, as of now everyone is watching the landscape carefully. We're being cautious. Orders in process automations systems [particularly in the oil & gas and metals sectors] are essentially flat," he said, although even then he added the note that last year's Q3 numbers were higher than normal.Taft wisely concluded this part of the presentation by saying that if he knew for sure what direction the economy was going in the short term, he would probably not be in Itasca talking to us, but down on the south side of Chicago speaking to it's current Most Famous Resident

While the economy is top-of-mind one way or another for most of us these days, the rest of ABB's presentation will be of great interest to the process-industry geek side of our brains. What with upgrades and new introductions, ABB has put together a pretty powerful portfolio of products.

We saw presentations on everything from upgrades to the flagship 800xA to the tiny-footprint Freelance 800F controller. (I mean really, really tiny--small enough to be stashed in Media Relations Manager Laura Patrick's purse!)

New functions for the 800xA include:  

  •  Integrated Electrical
  •  More Powerful AC800M
  •  SIL3-Certified SM Module
  • Engineering Tool Performance
  • Centralized Operations Support
  • Enhanced Process Graphics 
  • OCS Evolution Libraries for AC800M Applications
  • Industrial IT for PAT 
  • State-Based Control

 Among the other features and initiatives the ABBers reviewed were the 800xA capibilities in integrating process and electrical operations, enhanced safety and Industrial IT for PAT. ABB is also making moves in state-based control and what they are calling collaborative production management, which is essentially the business of getting information from enterprise and plant systems to the people who need it without having integration nightmares.

And Laura Patrick just emailed me this link to a video on connecting SAP to 800xA.

What all this adds up to is a really powerful set of functions and applications that position ABB as one of the very few automation vendors that can offer this degree of process manufacturing automation capability under one logo.