It starts with digital then moving toward autonomous processes. I’ve written about the strategy ABB has followed for the past four years since Ulrich Spiesshofer assumed the CEO post. We can summarize much of the strategy and also technology roadmap from those two words.
Spiesshofer brought in Guido Jouret in 2017 from Cisco for the role of Chief Digital Officer with the task of bringing digital to all business units. He has made a lot of progress in this short period of time.
Jouret elaborated, “We aren’t trying to be a software company, but hardware requires software.”
Kevin Kosisko, business unit managing director power generation & water, industrial automation and my interview about all things digital at the ABB Customer World conference. We talked about what autonomous meant. “Things we can do without sending people,” he told me. “For example, consider an oil platform taking the first step toward autonomous. Say they must take down a well for routine inspections and then bring it back up. It’s a difficult task, not to mention danger of flying crew to platform and being in the environment. So a combination of digital + autonomous to remove as much human intervention as possible. They took 2 days out of the entire process. That’s 2 additional days of production.”
Two things he told me that highlighted themes I would hear later. The first as “autonomous” being toward the end of a continuum going beyond preventive and predictive. Second, to use the digital twin model to help operators and engineers remove manual steps from a process.
Later I found a spot at the back of a full house for a panel on autonomous—The Journey Towards Autonomy in Industrial Operations Panelists were:
- Matthias Roese, Chief Technologist Manufacturing & Automotive, HPE
- Hakon Berg, Technology Development Manager, ABB
- Dr. Zied Ouertani, Global Digital Lead, Chemicals, ABB
- David Funderberg, Technology Manager, Chemical and Refining, ABB
Businesses in the industrial space have undergone a paradigm shift to move from isolated operations to collaborative and ultimately more autonomous operations. By 2025 we will witness humans working with systems in a collaborative way, leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) seamlessly. Disruptive technologies like AI, machine learning and augmented reality (AR) have all changed the way we do everyday tasks and in some cases made them autonomous. Hands-free collaboration can help repair remote issues or predict plant incidents.
The goal does not include taking humans out of the loop. I’m afraid I instigated a post-panel discussion where an editor argued that very definition of autonomous is “without humans”. So, he was asking the usual question you get from newspaper reporters and politicians—are they doing away with humans in production and manufacturing. Rebuttal came from one of the panelists who suggested he look at autonomous as part of a continuum, e.g., preventive->predictive->prescriptive->self-healing->operates with minimal supervision. This is applicable probably not to an entire plant, but to certain processes.
Guido Jouret spoke later on the status of digital at ABB following two years into his digital transformation leadership. He said the digital emphasis has led to more interactions with customers. And there are 185%
18.5% more customers year over year. ABB gets invited at earlier stages of the project process allowing it more input and influence. The company also has better C-level conversations with customers. ABB Ability should be considered a new technology platform.