ABB: Turning innovations into solutions
Energy Digital sat down with Kevin Kosisko, BU Managing Director for ABB’s Power Generation & Water unit, at the opening of its new Collaborative Operations Centre in Italy, where it promises to deliver real-time solutions for its customers using cutting-edge technology.
Few disruptors could boast a record of sustained success to match that of ABB.
Established on the innovation frontline over a storied history stretching back to 1883, the Swiss multinational has helped technologically transform thousands of companies, its impact rippling through all industries.
Now it is introducing more inventive solutions to the utilities sector, recently launching a new Collaborative Operations Centre – a hub for delivering digital services to customers – for its BU Power Generation & Water unit in Genoa, Italy.
The unit, which operates as part of ABB’s Industrial Automation division, works in over 70 countries globally and pulls in close to $1bn in annual revenues. Kevin Kosisko, Managing Director of BU Power Generation & Water, addressed partners and media at the opening of the centre in February.
“This is an exciting time for us,” he explained to Energy Digital. “As we embark on this journey of helping our customers operate, maintain and upgrade their processes, I think that opening this centre in Genoa is a critical piece of that.
“The Collaborative Operations Centre allows us to better work together with our customers in a more collaborative way, to use digital technology, big data, analysis of big data and so forth to drive solutions. The beauty of the centre is that we are actively doing this every day.
“We have over 100 customers that are connected to this centre already and we're able to bring our expertise together with our customers’ expertise and really drive solutions for them, helping them solve some of the more challenging issues that they have.”
The Genoa centre is the third of its kind for ABB’s Power Generation & Water unit, with other locations in Germany and Singapore. Powered by Internet of Things (IoT) innovations, Collaborative Operations is a remote model that monitors a range of applications tailored to drive plant efficiency for customers, such as plant process performance analysis and continuous emissions analysis.
Utilising ABB Ability – the technology service developed with Microsoft that harnesses device, edge and cloud computing – highly-trained professionals stationed at the centre can crunch key performance indicators and action data into real-time solutions, with ABB upholding a commitment to a 15-minute response time to plant operatives on site.
In the power and water industries, this data-driven process not only solves issues but raises plant performance and helps cut costs through predictive maintenance. Utilities can benefit from a 15% reduction in boiler start-up costs through ABB Ability remote services, for example, and power plants and turbines could save up to $1mn per day by using Collaborative Operations to prevent unplanned downtime.
Such advanced asset management leads to a 20% average extension to machine life. Technology makes all of this possible, but Kosisko insists the synergies with customers and ABB’s expert knowledge-base is what makes the service stand out.
“We're familiar with closing the loop with digital technology for our customers, but Ability and the solutions set around Ability allow us to take it to the next level,” he says.
“It gives us that capability to go beyond what our normal process control can do and really look at things in a larger scale. How can we use data that we aggregate in our process control systems? How can we use the data that comes from other sensors within the process to solve some of our customers’ most challenging problems?
“The Ability ecosystem allows us to bring all of that together on a platform that is scalable, secure and fit for purpose in this space. We have an open architecture and customers can connect to that architecture very easily. Data is not owned by us but owned by our customers.”
ABB’s service is just a tiny piece of evidence of the sweeping impact IoT is having on the energy and utility sector. A report published by market research specialist BCC Research in November last year predicted that the global market for IoT in the area could be worth $59.9bn by 2022, compared to $21.4bn in 2017, representing a compound annual growth rate of 22.9%.
BCC Research’s market analysis included a detailed look at the spending of energy and utility companies and end users on various aspects of IoT technology, such as hardware, software, services and connectivity.
Investment is ongoing for ABB. 16 Collaborative Operations Centres have opened across its range of divisions outside of Power Generation & Water, including in Marine, Mining, Oil & Gas and Pulp & Paper. It is the owner of 70mn digitally-enabled industrial devices, the most of any single entity on the globe, while spend has been committed to securing the safety of the data it generates for its customers.
One issue that arises from managing such a wide net of IoT apparatus is helping its partners find a path through the sea of information. Millions of points of data enter into ABB’s process control systems and millions are generated out of its equipment every day – but Kosisko believes results are only found when expertise is married with truly relevant data.
“I'm not sure the ultimate solution is out there, but data exists all around us,” he adds. “That data on its own is not necessarily the solution, but it's about looking at the challenges that you have as a customer – what are the key issues that you're trying to solve? And then how can you use the data that is available, or do you need to find other sets of data to help solve those problems?
“It's a combination of data and expertise, and that expertise exists with our customers who really understand their process and understand how they operate their plants. And then that expertise exists with ABB because we've implemented thousands of process control systems. We have a deep and rich knowledge of how to control these processes.”
As a technology service provider, customer-centricity runs at the very heart of ABB’s business. It has grown its reputation on a desire to develop long-term relationships with its partners and with the industrial sector facing up to its ‘Fourth Revolution’, ABB is viewed as a safe pair of hands for manufacturers to join forces with as they tackle the challenges presented by digitalisation.
Susan Peterson-Sturm, Digital Lead in the BU Power Generation & Water unit, hosted a question and answer session with key customers in Genoa and acknowledges the fruits born from collaboration.
“Our regional businesses are incredibly close to our customers,” she says. “I know it sounds like everybody says that, but we get to develop solutions in the regions with our customers. Other places that I've worked at were very product-focused, so that approach of being able to innovate with your customers has led us to all kinds of really neat pilots that we've got going on now.”
Kosisko goes on: “We have to treat each customer as an individual. We have to understand what their needs are, what their problems are.
“There is commonality though. If, for example, you have combined cycle power plants, there's a lot of common designers, a lot of learning that could take place between customers there. It has to be a unique and somewhat tailored approach to our customer, but I think the beauty of that is that once you solve some of those challenges, they can then take that solution and maybe roll it out over their entire fleet or roll it out in the similar units that they have in the fleet. There's real power in that and real bottom line impact in an immediate way.”
In a world where businesses are having to adapt drastically to keep pace, Kosisko is clear about the qualities that retain ABB as a leader in technological solutions.
“We've been at the forefront of innovation for 125 years,” he concludes. “I think the thing that makes ABB stand out, however, is that we don't innovate just for the sake of innovation. We innovate for the sake of creating solutions.
“Mix that together with our long history of working very closely with our customers and that's what we're all about, innovation to solution.”