The demand for higher productivity, ever shorter product life cycles, the trend towards mass customization and increasingly exacting environmental protection and compliance standards paired with constant performance gains in digital functionality designed to enhance communication, data analysis and presentation are causing upheavals in global value chains along with profound structural changes in industries. To remain competitive in an environment as disruptive as this and be able to offer even highly customized products in the smallest lot sizes in a cost-effective and sustainable manner, industries need an ecosystem powered by highly connected, data-intensive digital solutions and services: Industries need a digital transformation.
Digital technology brings industrial processes to a new level. Digital technology improves connectivity, compatibility and collaboration, making the manufacturing and process industry more flexible, productive and efficient than ever. Industry’s digital transformation – along with all of its many forms, including the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Industrial Internet of Things, Industry 4.0, China 2025 and so on – will not only optimize individual manufacturing or process steps, it will also revolutionize global value chains and ecosystems. ABB is a leading provider of solutions in these areas, many of them offered under the brand ABB Ability™.
A prerequisite for the digital transformation is the connectivity of assets such as tools, machines, materials and employees along the value chain. This creates a link between the real, physical world and the connected, digital world. But none of this would be possible without standardized communication protocols and data formats as well as hardware interfaces. ABB is represented in leading standards development organizations worldwide.
When assets understand the meaning of information because they use the same terminology, they also understand messages they exchange between themselves and can respond accordingly. This creates the conditions needed for them to interact autonomously and perform the required tasks. Using advanced methods such as industrial artificial intelligence is one of the research and development areas ABB focuses on as part of its efforts to autonomize industries.
The digital twin, a digital copy of a physical asset, is one element of the digital transformation. It enables industries to dramatically shorten the time required for development, production and testing and cut prototype and production ramp-up costs. Having consistent data along the entire asset lifecycle is a prerequisite for the successful use of digital twin technology. The asset itself can be a product, system or factory. A digital twin can be used to improve the details of a product or optimize specific areas along the value chain.
Data integrity and cyber security measures ensure that data processed along the value chain remains complete and unaltered. This is the only way to glean the desired process optimization information from the data.
The idea is to make work easier for people in today’s operations, not to make them redundant. On the contrary, autonomous systems perform dull, dangerous or exhausting tasks and make decisions in areas where human intervention is not required. Decisions are only truly autonomous when these systems are able to make the right decisions in situations they have not been taught (programmed) to handle.
Automation can create high-quality jobs for people. However, in order to be better prepared for the jobs of tomorrow, even well-equipped countries must rethink their education and training concepts according to a study ABB commissioned. ABB is already preparing for the future by creating “digital workplace environments” and providing employees with intensive training courses in digital automation tools. ABB is also active in university education. For example, the company established the “Jürgen Dormann Foundation for Engineering Education” in 2007. The foundation awards scholarships to electrical engineering students around the world who demonstrate excellent academic performance and require financial resources to continue their studies. The ABB Research Award in Honor of Hubertus von Grünberg was established in 2016. It offers recipients a $300,000 research grant and is presented every three years.
Beyond interoperability between the various elements and rising autonomy, the digital transformation also seeks to achieve a higher degree of sustainability. Digital technologies can help reduce the climate burden. ABB created its “Mission to Zero” slogan to promote climate protection and has already achieved significant results. ABB currently generates over half of its revenues with eco-friendly products and systems; and the trend is rising. Building automation products in the private and commercial sectors facilitate energy optimization and convenient control of electrical equipment. Energy savings of up to 30% can be achieved thanks to the digital transformation.
ABB has consolidated many digital transformation solutions for industries under the brand ABB Ability™ and is constantly expanding its range of products and services that build on a state-of-the-art platform. The portfolio currently comprises around 200 solutions that can be specifically tailored to customer needs in the company’s Customer Experience Centers.
The digital transformation of industries comes in many different forms. The term itself is the lowest common denominator for the wide range of transformations currently taking place. The digital transformation encompasses initiatives and concepts such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Industrial Internet of Things, Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet Consortium, China 2025 and many others. Communication on the individual initiatives and concepts should always be paired with information on how they are embedded in the digital transformation.