ABB CEO Talks Technology, Investments, Products

When automation vendor ABB held its Automation & Power World 2011 user conference in Orlando in last month, ABB Group CEO Joe Hogan focused on technologies, investments and products—just what 4,200 attendees wanted to know about this $35 billion company composed of five divisions (power products, power system, discrete automation and motion, low voltage products and process automation).

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

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

To get everyone up to speed on the business side, Hogan outlined ABB’s venture investment business. He described the company’s many investments over the past year, including Industrial Defender in cyber security; Trilliant for 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 for fast charging of electric vehicles; and Novatec in the solar business.

Hogan also admitted that the integration of Elsag Bailey and its Symphony products was not handled well. ABB management has decided that it is time to reinvigorate it, he said. First, that group has been moved to the Power group from Process Automation. Then ABB will invest in further development of the platform, he said.

Talking exclusively to Automation World Editor in Chief Gary Mintchell after his speech, Hogan elaborated on a few topics. When asked what is the biggest constraint on ABB’s future growth, Hogan answered, “People. Finding the right talents with deep understanding of the process.” He said he’s looking for people with deep experience in ABB’s various customer’s industries. The talent search is not just technical, but for technical people with managerial knowledge and experience, he added.

Regarding Hogan’s philosophy for managing acquisitions, he said one key attribute is humbleness. The Baldor acquisition, for example, “was large and strategically important.” ABB didn’t come in and tell everyone to change the way they did business, wipe out management and subsume the company’s image, he explained. Instead, they kept every one of the top 80 managers. In fact, Baldor’s management is running the combined motor sales organization, he said. 

May 2011, Related News – ABB Trends in Discrete Automation
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