ABB Packages Digital Offerings for Project Optimization

March 18, 2017
ABB Ability combines more than 180 digital products and services, including the Select I/O launched this week, with deep domain expertise and network connectivity.

There’s a joke going around that if ABB sold sushi, they would call it “cold, dead fish.” Which is not to say that the sushi wouldn’t taste wonderful, which is kind of the point that ABB executives have been making this week in Houston.

At its biannual users conference, ABB Customer World, the supplier commercially launched ABB Ability, its new branding for a collection of more than 180 digital products and services—some new, some not so new. With an installed base of more than 70 million devices connected to some 70,000 control systems in the field, ABB is certainly not a newcomer to the digital technology world. But ABB executives are humbly conceding that they haven’t been so good at letting the world know.

In the first keynote of the week, ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer referred to his company as a “hidden digital champion,” leading the field with connected devices, and yet not known for it.

Building on more than four decades of industrial digital leadership, ABB says, ABB Ability will help customers innovate and compete in the emerging digital-industrial marketplace. “It’s a unique offering because it brings three things together,” Spiesshofer said. “Cloud and artificial intelligence (our digital Lego box), our industry expertise to run industrial process, and deep-rooted process know-how. They are fantastic digital solutions that will enable you to serve your customers better.”

One of the new digital offerings that ABB showcased this week in Houston was Select I/O, its answer to the universal I/O that has been a key element in the demands from ExxonMobil to take automation off the critical path in project execution.

An addition to ABB’s System 800xA distributed control system (DCS), Select I/O is a redundant, Ethernet-based, single-channel I/O system. It allows users to install standardized cabinets with the bases for field wiring early during a project, then select the type of I/O much later. It digitally marshals signals instead of using space and labor-intensive marshalling panels, and allows loop checks to be done before the rest of the system is delivered. This minimizes the impact of late changes and allows for project tasks to be done in parallel, which reduces project schedules.

“With the release of Select I/O, all of the data points that make up a project, whether hardwired to the control system or part of an integrated electrical substation, are now able to be digitally marshalled into the System 800xA architecture, thus making it possible to execute projects more efficiently by decoupling tasks and becoming more resilient to late changes, delivering projects faster and more cost-effectively,” said Dan Overly, ABB’s head of project management—oil, gas and chemicals.

With Select I/O, customers can undertake major projects on a faster schedule with fewer cost overruns. This is part of the industry push to get project costs and complexity under control. ABB is calling its new project execution model Intelligent Projects. Similar to comparably motivated programs from other process automation suppliers like Honeywell’s Lean Execution of Automation Projects (LEAP) or Emerson’s Project Certainty, Intelligent Projects combines cloud computing, standardized processes, automated data management, smart I/O systems and soft marshalling to decouple the hardware and software engineering activities in greenfield projects. It simplifies and accelerates project execution and helps to further reduce capex costs by streamlining the equipment needed and reducing required footprints.

“The industry has an appetite to keep projects under good control,” noted Peter Terwiesch, president of ABB’s Process Automation Division, during a tour of key products on display at ABB Customer World. “We can bring down the cost of projects, make schedules manageable and reduce risks.”

Intelligent Projects, according to ABB, can cut costs by 20-30 percent and shorten schedule completion by three months.

Another key aspect of ABB Ability, highlighted by Spiesshofer during his keynote, are the smart sensors introduced last year that connect low-voltage electric motors to the Internet of Things (IoT) to be continuously monitored. Easily affixed to motors, the sensors transmit data on vibration, temperature, loads and power consumption to the cloud, and alerts are generated if any of the parameters deviates from the norm, allowing the operator to take preventive action before the motor malfunctions.

Adding connectivity to the 300 million electric motors that ABB has out in industry could provide better uptime, higher speeds and better yield of industrial processes, Spiesshofer noted. “Downtime could be reduced by up to 70 percent. Lifetime expectancy could be increased by up to 40 percent. Energy consumption could be cut by 10 percent,” he said. Though that last number might not sound high, he added, “It’s a lot when you do it by 300 million motors.”

Other products showcased this week as part of ABB Ability include:

  • ABB Ability Asset Health Center: Available since January and one of the first ABB Ability products to be launched on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, Asset Health Center 3.0 is ABB’s next-generation asset performance. It uses predictive and prescriptive analytics and customized models to identify and prioritize emerging maintenance needs based on probability of failure and asset criticality.
  • ABB Ability Collaborative Operations: Being brought to scale across industries, this helps customers collaborate more effectively through a four-pronged approach to cut costs, reduce schedules and minimize risk through properly integrated digitalization (see graphic, above). It allows experts to work together across organization boundaries, using the same data and analytics platforms.
  • ABB Ability Digital Substation: Aimed at the utility sector, the digital substation incorporates fiber-optic current sensors and disconnecting circuit breakers to reduce maintenance requirements and the need for miles of conventional cabling. ABB Ability also combines the latest electrical gear with digital sensors and cloud computing. This enables grid operators to make decisions based on comprehensive, up-to-the-moment information, while predictive algorithms can improve maintenance practices and asset management.

With a huge number of other offerings included in the digital makeup, ABB Ability aims to help customers in utilities, industry, and transport and infrastructure reduce maintenance costs, lengthen asset life, create more efficient operations, reduce environmental impacts and improve worker safety.

Though ABB might be slow to brand its digital capabilities, one upside of that, noted Marc Leroux, an ABB marketing manager, is that it’s not some pie-in-the-sky promise of things to come, but rather a packaging of products and services that are already available today.

For some of the new solutions that have arrived to the market later than competitors’ offerings, ABB has had time to learn from mistakes and improve on earlier competitive launches. Though Select I/O, for example, is admittedly late to the game, commented Alicia Dubay, strategic marketing manager for control technologies at ABB, it has several improvements over other universal I/O options.

The Select I/O network is connected via an Ethernet Fieldbus Communication Interface (FCI) with embedded redundant switches and uses individual signal conditioning modules (SCMs) for process and safety I/O. Each SCM is current-limited and has the ability to disconnect from the field without disconnecting from the system, noted Brad MacDonald, DCS marketing manager for ABB, providing added protection and flexibility. Other improvements include the use of card edge connectors, which makes for more secure and safer connections; and a non-proprietary, truly universal I/O network, he added.

All the tools and services that make up ABB Ability are being built on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, based on a strategic partnership with the software company. “The cloud will give us an agility and the ability to integrate like never before,” said Guido Jouret, ABB chief digital officer, during a morning keynote. “We can integrate not only automation through the cloud but also human insight.”

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