How ABB is driving growth with robotics and Industrial IoT
At the ‘Make in India’ event held in Mumbai this February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent a few minutes at a stall that displayed a dual-arm robot.
What seems to have caught his attention was its name—YuMi, the short for You and Me. It is said to be the world’s truly collaborative robot, made by Switzerland-based power and automation group ABB.
A typical industrial robot comes with a fence around it to keep away humans from getting too close and getting hurt, but YuMi doesn’t need one. Its grippers are dexterous too—it can handle anything from a watch to a tablet PC.
It also has a sensitive force-control feedback, flexible software and built-in safety features that collectively allow for programming through teaching rather than coding.
The two arms make it possible to install YuMi on workstations that are currently used only by humans.
The research and development (R&D) centre in India had a “major role to play in the software development of YuMi”, according to Akilur Rahman, head-India, corporate research centre, ABB, at Whitefield in Bengaluru. This is one of the biggest R&D centres for ABB globally, with the chief technology officer (CTO) based out of India. Of the about 9,000 employees that ABB has in India, around 3,000 sit in its R&D and engineering units.
“A strong R&D and engineering capability in India leads to faster turnaround of innovations for local and global markets,” Sanjeev Sharma, chief executive and managing director of ABB India Ltd, said. YuMi executives emphasise that it is digitalization—software-based services, the Internet of Things (IoT), algorithms, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics—that is driving growth.
In 2009, for instance, ABB implemented the first Smart Grid project in India. The network management system—which integrates supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) technology with energy management (EMS) and distribution management systems (DMS)—monitors and controls 867 main transmission and distribution substations spread across the state of Karnataka, including the city of Bengaluru.
ABB has executed six city SCADA installations across India. The network management solution provides accurate and real-time information on power supply and revenues besides enabling operators to identify and correct faults quickly.
ABB also has a solar pump drive that starts automatically, and the motor connected to it begins to run the pump to draw water when there is enough sunlight. At sunset, the drive turns off the motor and the water flow ceases.
The drive has many solar-specific and pump control functions, such as built-in maximum power point tracking and dry run detection, as well as sensor-less flow calculation.
“The India team helped bring down costs for this project by 92%,” Rahman said.
ABB has also signed an agreement with the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M) to jointly work to design, build and supply equipment microgrids in rural areas. Along with ABB equipment, the microgrid will enable homes to be fitted with devices like LED bulbs, televisions, cellphone chargers and brushless DC (direct current) motor-based fans, specially designed by IIT-M. The project shall be managed by IIT-M till the transfer of the installations to the local distribution utility (DISCOM).
Going forward, it is industrial IoT that ABB is looking at to drive growth. ABB prefers to call it IoTSP, which stands for the Internet of Things, Services and People. “It implies connecting things, services and people via the Internet. It is the future of manufacturing,” Rahman said.
ABB’s IoTSP concept connects the Internet of Things (IoT) with advanced services to enhance collaboration of machines, people, and ultimately of factories and companies, driving competitive advantage for customers.
This, according to Rahman, improves data analysis, boosts productivity, enhances reliability, saves energy and costs, and generates new revenue opportunities through innovative business models.
For instance, ABB engineers who sit in the Centre of Competence of the Bengaluru R&D unit continuously monitor the health and performance of 5,000 working robots in factories all over the world using advanced sensors and cloud-based technologies. As soon as they detect a potential problem with a working robot, they dispatch instructions to an ABB service center nearby, enabling a technician to intervene before there is an interruption of service.
ABB also has a remote motor state-monitoring system for intelligent industrial motors on the cloud; a microgrid solution for integrated design of power generation; a fast-charging system for electric car connected on the cloud; and the ‘i-jia’ wireless smart home system with one-touch control, from which visitors can personally experience how their life would be with IoTSP.
Consider another example—that of low-voltage induction motors. Traditionally, the monitoring and predictive maintenance of these motors has been expensive. Besides, poor matching between motors and their loads causes increased energy consumption, and faults that can lead to costly downtime. To address the issue, ABB developed a compact sensor that is attached to the frame of low-voltage induction motors. It has no wires. Instead, with the help of algorithms, the smart sensor relays information about the motor’s health through a smartphone and over the Internet, to a secure server where the data is, then, analysed and time-stamped for trend analysis. If the system detects a problem, it will send a warning to the operator to signal the need for maintenance.
ABB is now pursuing newer ways of driving innovation. These include partnerships with companies that can help it penetrate new markets and develop new products and services. Further, ABB has a venture capital investment unit, called ABB Technology Ventures (ATV), which has invested more than $150 million in 15 start-ups till date. The unit’s most recent investments are in businesses with disruptive technology such as AI and 3-D printing.
ABB’s competitors in the industrial automation and industrial IoT segment include Siemens, Rockwell Automation, General Electric (GE), Honeywell, and Schneider Electric.
The industrial automation control market in the Asia-Pacific region (APAC) is forecast to grow steadily at an annual average pace of 8%, according to a 23 December note by Technavio, part of Infiniti Research Ltd. The adoption of cloud-based SCADA is expected to boost the market growth during the forecast period.
“Cloud-based SCADA enables end-users to control and monitor sensors and transmitters by using the Internet. It eliminates the need for on-premise software installation as it is accessible through the cloud, leading to a reduction in initial investment. Moreover, it’s highly accurate, reliable, and aids scalability and faster deployments,” the note concluded.