ABB Manufactures in the U.S., Goes All in on Industrial Digitalization with ABB Ability Launch

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1Q 2017 | IN-4505

The launch of ABB Ability is yet another demonstration that the transition from a period of simple, programmable automation to the era of intelligent, integrated automation—most commonly referred to as Industry 4.0—is truly underway.

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ABB Robotics' First U.S.-Manufactured Robot


On March 14, 2017, ABB Robotics sold its first industrial robot manufactured in the United States. The company sold the IRB 2600 robot, produced at the company’s new Auburn Hills, Michigan facility, to Hitachi Powdered Metals USA. The new IRB 2600 is the 180th ABB robot installed at the Hitachi site, but the first to be manufactured in North America.

According to ABB representatives, the Auburn Hills plant will produce multiple robot platforms beginning this year, and by 2018, 75% of all ABB robot models sold into the North American market will be manufactured in Michigan. Previously, ABB robots sold in North America were produced in Sweden or China. To date, the company has installed more than 300,000 robots worldwide.

A Promise Kept


In May 2015, ABB Group, the US$33 billion power and automation technology firm and parent company to ABB Robotics opened a new 61,000-square-foot production plant in Auburn Hills, Michigan. The state-of-the-art manufacturing facility was the direct result of a five-year strategic business initiative formally launched in September 2014—the Next Level Strategy for 2015–2020. Stages 1 and 2 of ABB’s Next Level Strategy emphasized organizational simplification and streamlining operational regions (eight to three global regions). It also stressed the location of business units closer to key customers and markets, largely to improve customer support. Auburn Hills, Michigan lies just north of Detroit, the headquarters of the Big Three U.S. automakers. ABB officials say that the new plant will reduce robot delivery times for North American customers significantly, from approximately 15 weeks to six weeks.

At the time of the Auburn Hills opening, ABB announced that the new facility would produce robots, robot controllers, and other equipment in the U.S. for the North American marketplace. With the sale of the first U.S.-manufactured robot to Hitachi Powdered Metals, ABB made good on that promise. Auburn Hills now joins Shanghai, China and Västerås, Sweden as one of three ABB robotics manufacturing sites. According to ABB representatives, the company is the first global industrial robotics supplier to manufacture robots in the U.S.

Stage 3 and Industrial Digitalization


In October 2016, ABB launched Stage 3 of its Next Level Strategy. One of the objectives of Stage 3 is the formation of four entrepreneurial business units tied to high-growth sectors and where ABB is a leading provider. To that end, ABB formed the Robotics and Motor Division based largely on the product portfolio of the company’s former Discrete Automation and Motion group (Electrification Products, Industrial Automation, and Power Grids are the other ABB divisions). ABB officials indicated that the company ranks first in the industrial motors and drives sector, and second in the industrial robotics market.

Stage 3 of ABB's Next Level Strategy also resulted in the development of ABB Ability, an IoT and industrial collaboration software platform that supports the technologies and services offered by the company’s four divisions. ABB Ability consists of a portfolio of cross-industry digital solutions (more than 180) for interconnecting industrial devices and control systems, as well as planning, monitoring, and optimizing real-time operations. The ABB Ability solution stack, which was only commercially launched in March 15, 2017, is cloud based. ABB formed a strategic partnership with Microsoft and uses Microsoft Azure as the cloud infrastructure on which the ABB Ability applications are developed and execute.

The launch of ABB Ability is yet another demonstration that the transition from a period of simple programmable automation to the era of intelligent, integrated automation—most commonly referred to as Industry 4.0—is truly underway. ABB, like all its competitors and customers, understands that motors, robots, controllers, and other physical devices, along with the processes and services they support, can be optimized using digital capabilities (largely data at scale), such as advanced data analytics and machine learning to increase their value. Still, the current state-of-the-art for industrial digitalization is post facto analysis and process improvement. Eventually, this too will give way, allowing for process optimization in real time. "Value" further increases when the delta between the time of an occurrence in an industrial process and the time of appropriate response is reduced.


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