ABB: A Technology Company Converging Power and Automation

Gary Mintchell, Editor in Chief, is covering the ABB Automation and Power World Conference, running from April 18-21, Orlando, Fla. Below is his report on the opening day's news and announcements.

Mark Taft, Sr VP and GM, Power Generation North America, ABB Inc.
Mark Taft, Sr VP and GM, Power Generation North America, ABB Inc.
Mark Taft, fulfilling his usual role of master of ceremonies for ABB's Automation and Power World user conference in Orlando, started with his quote of the week. This one from Thomas Edison, "I shall make the electric light so cheap that only the rich can afford to burn candles," to challenge the 4,000 plus attendees to focus on technological and economic changes we are all facing. He also announced his new position within ABB. He has left the automation group and is now regional manager, North America, for Power Generation business. He also announced that attendees have assembled from 45 countries with 45 customers sharing stories of their successes during the week.

Enrique Santacana, CEO and president of ABB Inc. and regional manager North America for ABB, talked about how the environment overall has improved from 2010 to 2011, but that the massive U.S. federal deficits are still a concern. He reported ABB has invested over $5 billion over the past year in growth in North America. The three basic themes for investment need to be productivity, reliability and efficiency--particularly energy.

Then he introduced the User Advisory Board for the conference.

ABB Group CEO, Joe Hogan, addressing his third user conference as CEO focused on technologies, investments and products--just what the audience wants to know. And he had his usual passion for the business. The company's revenues are about $35 billion and it is composed of five divisions--power products (about $10 billion), power systems (6.8 billion), discrete automation and motion ($5.6 billion), low voltage products ($4.5 billion) and process automation ($7.4 billion). He noted how global the company is with the executive team holding 10 passports among them.

He touted the growing world economy, but that inflation could be a challenge with growing demand for commodities. Aluminum and copper are the two fastest growing commodity areas that affect manufacturing. "Efficiency and utilization of the world's resources is an important driver," he stated. Long term manufacturing trends include productivity, energy efficiency, less labor arbitrage among global companies, rising commodity prices, renewable energy needs and grid technologies to address the flexibility required by the new energy sources.

Even though economic growth in Asia is great, North American market growth is still significant. He touted the strength of Baldor and what it brings to ABB. Discussing energy savings from motors and drives, he said, "For all we know about energy and dollar savings for motors and drives, only about 20 percent of projects go through. This is because we just don't follow up enough."

Significant new product is a synchronous reluctance technology motor. It must be used with a drive. It yields up to 40 percent lower energy losses with a compact design that is up to two frame sizes smaller than a conventional motor. Perhaps the most intriguing feature is that it behaves much like a permanent magnet motor without magnets. Since permanent magnets are made from rare earth metals which are now controlled in China, this technological innovation potentially eliminates that problem.

Hogan stated that the integration of Elsag Bailey and its Symphony products was not handled well. Management has decided that it is time to reinvigorate it. First that group has been moved to the power group from process automation. Then ABB will invest in further development of the platform.

The next technology getting attention is direct current (dc). The predominant transmission technology is alternating current (ac). It turns out that there are many advantages for lossless power transmission over long distances using dc.

Finally, Hogan outlined ABB's venture investment business. The company has made many investments over the past year including Industrial Defender in cyber security, Trilliant with smart grid radio mesh communications, PowerAssure for datacenter energy efficiency, Pendulum for wind turbine efficiency, aquamarine power with wave electricity generation, China Venture Fund for cleantech investing in China, Ecotality, fast charging for electric vehicles, and Novatec in the solar business.

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