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.

1891 Stepping up the voltage

Newly established Brown Boveri & Cie (BBC) in Switzerland transforms the availability of electricity by being the first to transmit high-voltage power over long distances.

1893Pioneering technology

ASEA builds Sweden’s first three-phase power transmission system, still used around the world today as the most common method to power large motors and heavy loads.

1899European first

Europe’s first electric standard-gauge locomotive with two motors ushers in a new era in railway electrification, improving acceleration and passenger comfort.

1944Railway efficiency

BBC develops the first high-speed locomotive with a direct-drive system, improving efficiency and reliability.

1954ABB ‘pioneers’ HVDC

First project delivered in Sweden using high-voltage direct current (HVDC), today’s technology of choice for transmitting power efficiently and reliably over long distances.

1969Pioneering automation technology for industry

BBC creates the world’s first gearless mill drive, transforming the crushing process for the mining and cement industries globally.

1974Robots enter the workforce

First industrial robots controlled by microprocessors introduced to the market. Since then ABB has sold more than 250,000 robots.

1975Energy efficient motor control

Launch of groundbreaking device to control electric motors, enabling reductions in power consumption of around 50 percent in many applications.

1990Ruling the waves

ABB transforms ship maneuverability and energy efficiency with a new propulsion system fixed outside the hull.

1998Robots get picky

Launch of revolutionary parallel arm robot for high-speed picking and packing in food and pharma, optimizing their value chain.

2004Improving industrial automation

Introduction of the first industrial automation system that integrates automation and information systems within a single entity, enabling more cost-efficient and safer operations.

2008Connecting power grids

ABB commissions the world’s longest submarine high-voltage cable, strengthening the reliability of the power supply in Norway and the Netherlands.

2012Shaping the grid of the future

Development of world’s first HVDC circuit breaker, solving a 100-year-old electrical engineering puzzle and paving the way for a more efficient and reliable electricity supply system.

2013Smart energy savings

Launch of first low-voltage circuit breaker with integrated energy management functions to protect electrical circuits and reduce electrical consumption.

2014High-voltage breakthrough

Introduction of world’s most powerful cable system, making renewable energy installations more efficient and cost effective.