ABB allies with Microsoft and rebrands as digital solution provider

ABB, the Zürich-based electrification and automation engineer, is to rebrand this year to emphasise its growing range of digital services and to position itself to take advantage of the industrial internet of things.

The company’s digital services will be offered under a new "ABB Ability" brand and features an alliance with Microsoft to offer a single cloud-computing platform. There will be a new post of chief digital officer.

Dai Richards, country communications manager for ABB in the UK, says the new identity will be launched in March in the UK.

In the past, ABB has been best known as a provider of equipment for national electricity grids, and despite recent efforts by activist investors to spin this division off, it remains a core activity. However, about 55% of its sales now include a software component, and the company reckons that there are something like 70 million ABB devices around the world that could be connected to the internet.

The development of new digital services will involve capturing data from connected devices, analysing it and using it to "close the loop" by improving an industrial process.

"People aren’t doing a lot of analysis, and they’re certainly not taking action as a result of that analysis, so going through those next two steps is where we see the big opportunity," Richards said.

One example is the remote monitoring of an industrial system once it has been installed. The connected devices report back on their condition to a virtual control room, and ABB can use that data to predict when a fault might occur, and to carry out maintenance or replacement before it does.

ABB is also hoping to make its mark on electricity grids, where digital equipment is gradually replacing analogue systems.

The firm says many countries are beginning wholesale transformations from national systems that rely on a few large generators to a confederation of microgrids that have to deal with a multitude of intermittent sources. To make that transition, there will have to be a large-scale replacement of existing equipment.

"The problem of balancing supply and demand and controlling frequency is going to be a massive, massive area," said Richards.

Image: Ulrich Spiesshofer, ABB’s chief executive, announcing the rebranding in October (ABB)

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