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The interview: Intelligent cable protection

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Thanks to the digital cable protection solutions from ABB, businesses will be able to significantly increase the security of their systems in the future. Joining us for an interview to provide a glimpse of a few innovative applications set to hit the market in 2020 are Peter Schuster, Global R&D/Technology Manager at the ABB site in Uster in Switzerland and Pierre Elser, Senior Scientist from the Baden-Dättwil research center in Switzerland.

Why is ABB developing digital cable protection systems?
Peter Schuster: The digitalization megatrend has become a key strategic element at ABB. So this got us thinking about our cable protection systems as well and about how we could make these products more intelligent and create added value for our customers. Together with Pierre Elser from the research center in Baden-Dättwil, we are now developing new digital technologies in this area.

What benefits exactly does digital cable protection give?
Pierre Elser: One of the key issues in many industrial applications is the penetration of water into electric systems, caused by damaged components or condensation. Thanks to integrated sensors, our cable protection products can detect this kind of water penetration early on. Other application scenarios that we’re working on involve the increased use of temperature monitoring to protect against the overheating of cables.

Which sectors would be especially interested in your innovation?
Peter Schuster: Water penetration and condensation are a big deal for the food & beverage sector above all, since their key concern are germs that can get into their systems. But even other industrial branches, such as robotics or transport, can draw many benefits from our solution. After all, disruptions in electric systems can have an impact on safety and lead to system breakdowns.

How does your solution work?
Pierre Elser: Sensors measure temperature and air humidity inside electric systems. If the air humidity should quickly change in a certain area, this would indicate the penetration of water. By applying dew point calculations, we can tell the difference between water penetration and humidity condensation without having to look inside.

Are there any solutions already available for this on the market?
Peter Schuster: We are currently not aware of any developments in intelligent cable protection systems being made by our competitors. Our greatest advantage is the existing technical foundation of ABB, especially ABB Ability solutions. Our project couldn't have taken off without that base or without the close cooperation of different ABB technical divisions.

How are the digital cable protection systems tied into the ABB Ability portfolio?
Peter Schuster: The integration of our solution into a proper hardware and software environment seemed challenging at first, since the sensors need to be supplied with power and the measured data needs to be transmitted, stored and visualized. Luckily, the ABB portfolio already offers the ABB Ability Smart Sensor Solution for motors and pumps. Our prototypes equipped with humidity and temperature sensors transfer the measured data via BLE (note from the editor: Bluetooth Low Energy, an energy-efficient wireless technology) to a gateway and from there to the ABB Ability Smart Sensor platform and the different apps. This is where the data is collected and visualized.

What were the technical requirements for the solution?
Pierre Elser: The first thing we had to do was select appropriate sensors and integrate them in the cable protection systems. In addition, we had to find a proper hardware and software environment which would guarantee power supply, data transmission and visualization. To be as independent as we possibly could from local infrastructure, we equipped our gateways with 4G interfaces. This makes our digital cable protection system much more mobile, which is a great advantage for the transport sector in particular.

What added value does the innovation bring to customers?
Peter Schuster: Using the ABB ability platform and the supplied apps, our customers can remotely monitor the status of electric systems, receive warning messages if pre-defined thresholds are exceeded and be able to better plan their maintenance. That way, the reliability and operational security of their systems improve considerably.

What stage is development currently at?
Pierre Elser: After a series of intense tests in the lab, we launched a small prototype system in June with six sensors at our research center in Dättwil. What we need to do now is get some customers on board for a pilot installation. Our goal here is to understand their requirements better and gain experience for further development.

What have your experiences been so far?
Pierre Elser: The autonomous sensors supplied with photovoltaic energy are now reliably measuring temperature and humidity levels and are sending data to the gateway in real time. Since the smallest of the sensors do not have any energy stores, they supply data as long as there is enough light available. This would need to be custom-adapted for specific applications. One of the ideas we have is to use small energy stores which would charge throughout the day to be able to supply enough energy needed at night to collect and transmit data.

What are the next steps?
Pierre Elser: Our priority right now is to prepare a list of requirements together with our customers to make sure we can quickly prepare our system for this new market. From a technical viewpoint, we will continue to develop solutions which would not only register defects in electric systems, but also be able to actively remedy them. We will probably see the first applications available in the market by 2020.