Innovation at ABB:
the cornerstone of our competitiveness
ABB is one of the world’s leading engineering companies, helping customers to use electrical power effectively and to increase industrial productivity in a sustainable way. Maintaining our position requires a global presence, application knowledge, strong local expertise and, above all, technological leadership.
Many of the benefits of the modern world, from electricity at the touch of a switch to the consistent high quality of industrial goods, are made possible by technology that was pioneered, improved and adapted by ABB over more than a century of innovation.
Technological innovation remains a cornerstone of ABB’s competitiveness and a key driver of profitable organic growth. Each year we dedicate around $1.5 billion, or close to 4 percent of revenues, to research and development by our 8,200 technologists.
In this way, we create and support a comprehensive range of products, systems and services that increase energy efficiency, reliability and productivity for our industrial, utility, and transport and infrastructure customers.
Research and development
Historically, the core of ABB’s innovation success has been the close proximity to customers that has allowed us to understand their needs, as well as the collaboration between the Corporate Research unit that serves the entire company and the R&D teams in the businesses. These partnerships have provided the foundation for many of our pioneering technologies and is driving the transformation of power and automation (see The big shifts in power and automation, The digital grid, A new industrial era and Making machines more intelligent).
We use our strategic framework of penetration, innovation and expansion (PIE) to maintain a sharp focus on the needs of the market in our R&D activity.
Corporate Research anchors and grows the core competencies of R&D in power and automation, including communication, control, electromagnetics, materials, mechanics, power electronics, sensors, software and switching.
With research centers in China, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and the US, we are ideally positioned to access local talent, evaluate ideas emerging from academia all over the world, test the commercial viability of new products and solutions and, most critically, share technology to make it accessible throughout the entire group.
One core area of research is the Internet of Things, Services and People (IoTSP) that enables Web-based automation and control solutions to improve productivity and quality. For more than a decade we have been working to develop and enhance process control systems, communications solutions, sensors and software for the IoTSP.
Start-ups and partnerships
The pace of innovation required today is increasing, due to societal changes and environmental concerns, as well as to the rapid development of technologies such as those related to the IoTSP. For these reasons, we are also pursuing new ways of driving innovation.
ABB Technology Ventures (ATV) was set up as the strategic venture capital investment arm of ABB five years ago to invest in high-potential industrial technology and energy companies aligned with our mission.
The unit’s most recent investments are in businesses with disruptive technology in areas such as artificial intelligence and 3-D printing. ATV has acquired a stake in Vicarious, for example, which is building a unified algorithmic architecture, which will take us closer to achieve human-level intelligence in vision, language and motor control.
As part of our Next Level strategy, we are also establishing partnerships with strong global or local players who can help us penetrate new markets and develop new offerings. A recent example is the electric vehicle fast-charging services platform launched with Microsoft, which combines our charging stations with Microsoft’s cloud-based services. The collaboration will take advantage of machine learning and predictive analytic capabilities to drive future innovations.
Shaping the future
With roots in power and automation that go back to the 19th century, ABB innovations have helped build the world we know today and are helping to fashion the world we will live in tomorrow.