ABB is known worldwide as the pioneering technology leader, defining its history by the innovations it has introduced. Tell us more about ABB’s R&D activities, globally and in India.
ABB is more than a 135 year old company, continuously innovating and bringing technologies to the market and users, in the areas of power, electrification, robotics and automation. Globally, it has 8500 scientists and technologists, continuously innovating a comprehensive range of products, systems and services that increase energy efficiency, reliability and productivity for our industrial, utility and infrastructure customers. ABB’s largest single global facility for automation and software R&D is housed in Bangalore. In addition, it works closely on digitalisation solutions with global engineering and local businesses. The integrated entity, called the ABB Ability Innovation Centre, coinnovates and co-creates digitalisation with customers and market stakeholders.
How much percentage does ABB invest in R&D? Which are the areas under focus in your corporate research centres? Any expansions planned in the future?
ABB spends close to 5% of its revenue on R&D globally. To generate new ideas and advance existing technologies, our corporate research centres globally are working in eight key research areas–switching, materials, electromagnetics, power electronics, sensors, mechanics, software, and control. These are supplemented by R&D done by divisions and businesses related to power grids, industrial automation, robotics & motion and electrification products. We are seeing growth in R&D application areas, such as, renewables, digital grid, Industry 4.0, collaborative manufacturing, real-time optimisation, Smart Cities and e-mobility.
Would you like to provide some perspective on IIoT and ABB's role in the fourth industrial revolution?
Having a strong base in industrial, utility and machine robotics automation for several decades, IIoT is a
natural extension for ABB to be an active player in the fourth industrial revolution. In addition to our core technologies, we apply digital technologies, such as, Virtual/Augmented Reality, software-defined machines, AI-Machine Learning, time-sensitive networking, Big Data analytics, cloud computing, cyber security, communication/connectivity (for example, 5G), blockchain, etc. to achieve end-to-end digitalisation.
We have several customer use cases of digitalisation in industries like, cement, oil and gas, metals and utilities. We drive them with a result-oriented approach to improve customers’ production Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), such as, productivity, quality, energy, reliability, asset, safety, environment and cyber security. The technology solutions, here, address the breadth of requirements and values from CXOs to technician level providing holistic, end-toend values in the business operation.
What do you think about the penetration and adoptability of IIoT in the Indian manufacturing industry, and especially in SMEs?
With IIoT topics addressed at different entities, events and the government’s digital initiatives, awareness is increasing among SMEs. In some cases, where benefits are clearly seen, SMEs are adopting IIoT technologies. For instance, we have motor smart sensor, which can be fitted on top of motor and its operating parameters and condition data can be monitored through cloud to reduce its downtime by 70%, extend life by 30% and increase energy efficiency by 10%. Industries and SMEs are finding it extremely useful for their operational improvement. Moreover, we, at ABB, have an MoU with NITI Aayog to provide awareness and training to SMEs on the use of IIoT and Artificial Intelligence.
As per the WEF report, the three trends of electrification, digitalisation and decentralisation will define technology innovations. Can you elaborate on it from India’s perspective?
The trends are very relevant from India’s perspective. With renewable energy generation, especially solar energy growing rapidly with the government’s supporting initiatives, electrification is seeing unprecedented changes in terms of distributed energy sources, storage, solar roof-tops, and electric vehicles and charging infrastructure getting integrated in the electric network. The electricity consumers will also act like producers of energy during off-peak load period. Distributed energy sources, together with microgrid and nanogrid concepts, will make the grid more decentralised. An industry parallel to this would be MSMEs, together with large enterprises, to make industrial manufacturing decentralised with an ecosystem of collaborative, flexible manufacturing.
With the dynamics of electrification and decentralisation, digitalisation is playing a key role in providing real-time information and data about production, weather forecast, market and consumer demand-response, usage behaviours to optimise the operation of energy and industrial production in real-time. This is realised with smart sensors, faster communication, remote monitoring, and cloud computing and Big Data analytics. ABB has been working closely with WEF on India-specific themes, such as, future of production, energy transformation and off-late, centre for fourth industrial revolution (C4IR).
What are some areas of priority for you at the moment, particularly things you are exploring in R&D?
We are intensifying our engagements with customers and endusers with PoC (Proof-of-Concept) to real implementation achieving PoV (Proof-of-Value) in the areas of digitalisation in grid, industry and infrastructure, EV charging, solar, future of automation, AI-ML and blockchain. This is done with an eye for concrete improvement in customers’ KPIs in a sustainable way. In this process, we involve different stakeholders, from policy makers and universities to partners, start-ups and society, in terms of CSR activities.
Connected automation systems are introducing new challenges to organisations in terms of cyber security. Can you highlight the trends in this area?
With connectivity among sensors, actuators, controllers and IIoT systems increasing rapidly, cyber security needs to be continuously addressed in terms of threats and mitigation measures. It calls for lifecycle approach. For example, we, at ABB, follow security development lifecycle and test Ethernet/IIoT enabled devices and equipment for security communication robustness. We follow procedures to implement security measures, not only during installation and commissioning, but also during operation of plants and systems. Big Data analytics, together with advanced communication, is helping monitor security threats in real time and analyse possible incidents in advance, in order to protect the system. Cyber security is a responsibility of all stakeholders, from the technology providers, system integrators and owner-operators to service providers, state agencies and researchers. We take part in standardisation and regulatory activities of cyber security activities to make the systems more secure and sustainable.