Research that pays off

ABB is big on research. That is why the company operates seven of its own Group research centers. One of them is the Dättwil Research Center, and we paid a visit.

ABB invests around a fifth of its total research and development expenditure in Switzerland. One of its Group Research Centers is in Baden-Dättwil. A team consisting today of 220 employees from 40 different countries has been shaping the future in fields such as power electronics, industrial automation, and materials science since 1967. Over 120 students and degree candidates also work at the institution each year.

This power electronics competence center is located in Switzerland. A high-purity room at Dättwil
This power electronics competence center is located in Switzerland. A high-purity room at Dättwil

A product in just six months

Their mission is to make tomorrow’s world even more efficient with inventions and intelligent applications. One example is a new series of switching concepts for even more powerful photovoltaic systems. These systems convert sunlight into electricity and are part of today’s energy revolution, but they also supply consumers autonomously. The power of such a system increases with increased system voltage, which has risen from over 110 V to 1,000 V and is on its way to 1,500 V. This allows more power to be transmitted at the same strenght of current. An ABB inverter can transform DC into AC voltage from 15 instead of just 10 solar modules.

Dättwil research center: 220 staff from 40 countries lay the foundations here for tomorrow's products
Dättwil research center: 220 staff from 40 countries lay the foundations here for tomorrow's products

But at these higher voltage levels there is a critical range of medium current strength which is difficult or expensive to switch, for physical reasons. That may sound like just a technical detail, but it has immediate effects on the cost and overall efficiency of systems. At Dättwil, a project team was appointed to solve this demanding configuration of technical and economic challenges. Researchers there had already worked on power electronics solutions before, which gave them something of a head start in developing a concept using standard components. Experts at ABB SACE in Italy used this concept and converted it into a marketable product in just six months: the world’s first low-voltage circuit breaker incorporating hybrid technology. It was yet another piece of research that paid off directly for both ABB and its customers.

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