Research and development

Each year, we invest significantly in research and development. Our research and development focuses on developing and commercializing the technologies of our businesses that are of strategic importance to our future growth. In 2015, 2014 and 2013, we invested $1,406 million, $1,499 million and $1,470 million, respectively, or approximately 4.0 percent, 3.8 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively, of our annual consolidated revenues on research and development activities. We also had expenditures of $271 million, $310 million and $274 million, respectively, or approximately 0.8 percent, 0.8 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively, of our annual consolidated revenues in 2015, 2014 and 2013, on order-related development activities. These are customer- and project-specific development efforts that we undertake to develop or adapt equipment and systems to the unique needs of our customers in connection with specific orders or projects. Order-related development amounts are initially recorded in inventories as part of the work in process of a contract and then are reflected in cost of sales at the time revenue is recognized in accordance with our accounting policies.

In addition to continuous product development, and order-related engineering work, we develop platforms for technology applications in our automation and power businesses in our research and development laboratories, which operate on a global basis. Through active management of our investment in research and development, we seek to maintain a balance between short-term and long-term research and development programs and optimize our return on investment.

Our research and development strategy focuses on three objectives: (i) to monitor and develop emerging technologies and create an innovative, sustainable technology base for ABB, (ii) to develop technology platforms that enable efficient product design for our power and automation customers, and (iii) to create the next generation of power and automation products and systems that we believe will be the drivers of profitable growth.

Universities are incubators of future technology, and a central task of our research and development team is to transform university research into industry-ready technology platforms. We collaborate with a number of universities and research institutions to build research networks and foster new technologies. We believe these collaborations shorten the amount of time required to turn basic ideas into viable products, and they additionally help us recruit and train new personnel. We have built numerous university collaborations in the United States, Europe and Asia, including long-term, strategic relationships with the Carnegie Mellon University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University, ETH Zurich, EPFL Lausanne, University of Zurich, Chalmers Technical University Gothenburg, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) Stockholm, Cambridge University, Imperial College London and Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST). Our collaborative projects include research on materials, sensors, micro-engineered mechanical systems, robotics, controls, manufacturing, distributed power and communication. Common platforms for power and automation technologies are developed around advanced materials, efficient manufacturing, information technology and data communication, as well as sensor and actuator technology.

Common applications of basic power and automation technologies can also be found in power electronics, electrical insulation, and control and optimization. Our power technologies, including our insulation technologies, current interruption and limitation devices, power electronics, flow control and power protection processes, apply as much to large, reliable, blackout-free transmission systems as they do to everyday household needs. Our automation technologies, including our control and optimization processes, power electronics, sensors and microelectronics, mechatronics and wireless communication processes, are designed to improve efficiency in plants and factories around the world, including our own.