ABB’s many pioneering innovations have helped shape Switzerland’s technology heritage and will continue to drive advancements in the future
In Switzerland, it’s easy to be mesmerized by the beauty of the Alps, the crystal blue of the lakes and rich taste of the chocolate and miss the fact that its history, fueled by engineering powerhouses like ABB, is a catalog of world-firsts, breakthroughs and boundary-pushing discoveries.
Building the Gotthard Tunnel and innovating the rail system in the 1800s were landmark innovations made by Swiss engineers that connected the northern and southern regions and brought a mountainous and largely rural country into the modern age. Shortly afterwards, in 1891, Charles E. L. Brown and Walter Boveri established Brown, Boveri & Cie in Baden, Switzerland and became the first company to transmit high-voltage power.
Throughout its history, ABB has continued to innovate through problem-solving, and in so doing, has changed the way the world works, or at least how it generates, distributes and transmits power. Recent innovations on ABB’s home turf of Switzerland have continued to increase the efficiency of power transmission and distribution, reduce carbon footprint and make the most of “smart” digital technology.
This year marks an important milestone in one of ABB’s most legendary innovations. Fifty years ago, ABB (erstwhile BBC) installed the first Gas-Insulated Switchgear (GIS) in an underground substation in the heart of Zurich, Switzerland. This revolutionary technology conserved space and was a key enabler for urbanization. Occupying as little as 10 percent of the space of an air-insulated switchgear AIS substation, it allows substations with a compact footprint to be built within cities to supply safe and reliable power. With GIS, a substation the size of a football field can be shrunk to a tennis court, allowing cities to preserve valuable space and maintain urban aesthetics.
More recently, ABB has commissioned the world’s first high-voltage and medium-voltage GIS installation with a new eco-efficient gas mixture as an alternative to sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) gas for ewz, a power utility in Switzerland. The 170/24 kV substation, located 15 meters underground in the heart of Zurich, now deploys the first substation in the world GIS with an eco-efficient gas mixture that has a global warming potential (GWP) of less than 1.
Another of ABB’s environmentally-friendly breakthroughs is TOSA, an innovative flash-charging technology for urban bus systems that is now operational in Geneva and will soon be deployed in Nantes, France. With TOSA technology, it takes less than 1 second to connect the bus to the charging point and less than 20 seconds to charge, the time it takes for passengers to get on and off. In Geneva, the system can save as much as 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
Energy storage is another avant-garde technology where ABB is leading the way. In Dietikon, ABB, together with power utility EKZ, installed a 1 MW power battery storage solution at the power plant to improve power quality and grid stabilization. The solution, the largest of its kind to be installed in the Swiss distribution network, helps preserve 250 kWh of energy, the equivalent consumed by a family of four over 40 days.
ABB has also been at the forefront of manufacturing expertise, setting standards and winning awards at several of its Swiss facilities. Its state-of-the-art GCB factory in Zurich has won multiple awards, such as the Best Factory in Europe in Award and the MX Award, an acclaimed platform for benchmarking excellence and best practices in the manufacturing sector. The approach at this manufacturing unit is based on the ‘lean enterprise’ concept where processes are continuously optimized to reduce key input requirements like time, space and capital.
ABB’s GIS factory, which is also in Zurich also deploys efficient practices. The factory is spread over 10,000 square meters and has been designed on “Lean Production” principles to manufacture high-voltage GIS for ranges from 220 kV to 550kV. GIS is a compact metal encapsulated switchgear consisting of high-voltage components such as circuit-breakers and disconnectors, which can be safely operated in confined spaces, like within city buildings, on rooftops, offshore platforms, industrial plants and hydro power plants.
ABB’s semiconductor factory in Lenzburg has also received accolades for its high level of productivity and efficiency. Power semiconductors are switching devices that control the flow of electrical power and convert electricity into the wave form and frequency needed. They lie at the heart of switching devices and are deployed in key applications like HVDC and trains.
Continuing its heritage of future-oriented innovation, ABB and Formula E have teamed up in a ground-breaking partnership to champion e-mobility for a sustainable future.
With its unrivalled expertise in electrification and leadership in electric vehicle charging solutions, and the largest installed base of fast-charging stations for electric vehicles worldwide, ABB is the ideal industry partner for Formula E. Formula E serves as a competitive platform to develop and test e-mobility-relevant electrification and digitalization technologies, helping refine the design and functionality of electric vehicles and infrastructure as well as the associated digital platforms. By joining forces, ABB and Formula E are ideally positioned to push the boundaries of e-mobility.
Just another example of ABB’s pioneering commitment to run the world without consuming the earth.