2019 CEO Insights: David Sullivan
What key trends do you predict will have an impact on the growth of your industry in 2019?
There is little doubt that digitalisation will continue to drive new economic possibilities at a pace of change that is unprecedented. Being digitally enabled — that is having your machines, robot and systems feeding data to the cloud — is an entry ticket to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Industrial companies that invest in digital technologies are achieving significantly higher uptime, speed and yield, and are laying the groundwork for advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence. And it’s not only industrial companies that will be impacted: essential infrastructure, such as the power grid and the water supply, as well as transport networks, will increasingly be controlled and operated by autonomous systems and will be managed in radically different ways.
The value of the data we collect lies in the intelligence we create from it. If you get advance warning when a robot or a machine is going to break down, you can avert a disruption in your supply chain, saving huge amounts of money and keeping your customers happy. Increasingly, ABB’s business is centred on providing this kind of actionable intelligence to its customers. We have some 70 million connected devices along with 70,000 industrial control systems installed worldwide.
More recently, ABB has been reshaping the service delivery model by connecting people in production facilities, headquarters and ABB to deliver objective data insights that ultimately increase customers’ profitability by improving plant efficiency, increasing safety, reducing risk and lowering costs. The new model bundles industry knowledge, cloud-based solutions and services into a 24/7 service delivery concept.
Not only are we experiencing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but also an energy revolution that is radically changing our energy landscape. Our electricity networks are experiencing unprecedented changes from the integration of renewables, distributed energy sources, changes in customer demand patterns, loss of baseload power generation, grid instability and power price volatility.
The key here is the smart, or intelligent, control systems that maximise the supply of renewable energy over conventional generation, while seamlessly delivering supply of electricity to consumers. And then the Internet of Things, with improved sensing, communications and control software, is enabling more rapid response and greater real-time visibility of the state of electricity network assets.
Finally, we should remember that it’s not only about sustainable sources of energy but also about how we use energy. This bring me to another major trend we will witness: sustainable transport. Globally and locally, ABB is partnering with industry, government, automotive manufacturers and customers to support the road to zero-emission transport.
We have already laid the groundwork for e-mobility. ABB equips trains with drive systems that generate electricity when travelling downhill. We deliver flash-charging solutions for electric buses for public transport that can be recharged at stops in just 20 seconds. We equip ocean-going tankers with electrical systems that reduce fossil fuel consumption by more than 40%. Locally, ABB is proud to be part of the Chargefox project and enabling the launch of Australia’s first liquid cooled electric vehicle charging station.
It is now up to industries, infrastructure providers and policy makers to keep pace with developments in technology and EV manufacturing, and facilitate the transition to e-mobility.
What strategies are being implemented by your industry to improve sustainability?
As we all embark on the complex transition from a fossil-fuelled past to a clean energy future, ABB is providing technologies that enable renewables to become a reliable power source. The challenge of using renewables in the energy mix is to balance supply and demand. The grid can become unstable as the intermittency of the sun and wind may not match consumer loads. This is where new technologies such as microgrids come into play: using a combination of grid stabilisation and energy storage systems, the power supply can be kept constant, even while sourcing energy from the wind and sun every day.
ABB in Australia is the world leader in microgrid technology and solutions. And across Australia, we have been helping remote communities and farmers to meet and sustain their own energy needs by incorporating renewable and clean energy technologies into the power grid.
Globally, ABB is part of the United Nations’ ‘United for Efficiency’ partnership to transform developing countries and emerging economies to use energy-efficient products. The International Energy Agency has estimated that more than 30% of all electrical energy is used by industrial electric motor systems globally. A transition to energy-efficient motor systems could reduce this electricity demand by 20–30% in 2030 depending on the development and implementation of energy efficiency and environmental policies. We provide expertise on energy efficiency in these areas to help governments devise policies that accelerate energy savings to countries reach the goals of the Paris Agreement.
How is your industry preparing for technology developments such as artificial intelligence?
We believe that AI systems will act as a ‘knowledge multiplier’ for technicians in the field, so that one technician on a remote mine site or offshore oil platform can service products that previously would have required ten specialised technicians. This is done with support from augmented-reality (AR) goggles that can overlay specific instructions or guidance from an AI system to help walk the remote technician through the complex task of repairing a complex machine or switchgear.
At the same time, as some jobs are being displaced by AI, new ones will be created. In a recent report, the World Economic Forum predicts that 75% more jobs will be created as a result of AI. Many of these jobs will involve the creation, deployment and maintenance of AI-based systems.
In the robotics space, ABB is building the world’s most advanced robotics factory in Shanghai which will combine connected digital technologies, state-of-the-art collaborative robotics and cutting-edge artificial intelligence research to create the most sophisticated, automated and flexible Factory of the Future.
How close to reality are smart cities and how much is hype?
A popular interpretation of the physical nature of a smart city can be an interconnected society where the building has automation features providing comfort and energy efficiency to the inhabitants. Invariably many people consider the smart city to be the realm of smart data, with high levels of internet connectivity incorporating the Internet of Things.
ABB is involved in the smart city project of Kalasatama, in Helsinki, Finland. The vision for Kalasatama includes intelligent solutions for building technology, energy management and transport. Results so far show that the energy efficiency of Kalasatama residential buildings is improved with remote-controlled home automation systems provided by ABB. These automation systems enable up to 15% reduction in electricity and water consumption. The savings potential is based on the option of monitoring the consumption data online in real time, and also on mobile devices when out and about.
The solutions embedded in the project enable excess power generated from renewable energy sources in the district itself — for instance from solar panels and wind turbines — to be fed into the power grid to enable electric vehicles to draw electricity from the grid or feed it back; to store energy; to create easy-to-use services; and to provide more flexibility and transparency in the distribution grid, helping to lower consumption and emissions.
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