At the 2009 ABB Automation & Power World event, which
took place during one of the lowest points of the most recent recession, ABB
executives assured attendees that despite the global economic uncertainties,
the "future has not been cancelled." Underscoring its belief in that statement,
ABB spent the last year investing more than $1 billion in R&D across the
company's eight worldwide R&D centers. Results of the investment, showcased
at ABB's 2010 event in Houston, TX, can be seen in the company's heightened focus
on integration of power and automation.
Integration of these historically separate functions is an
increasingly important concern for industrial systems designers because of the
predicted surge in energy demand worldwide. During his keynote presentation,
ABB CEO Joe Hogan cited International Energy
Agency (IEA) research which indicates that energy demand will increase by
40% by 2030, with Asia seeing the biggest increase. As a result, IEA predicts
that, by 2030, 57% of the solution to reducing CO2 production in the
wake of this increasing energy demand will come through energy reduction, 20%
through renewable energy, 10% via nuclear and 3% via biofuels.
Referencing another area experiencing a significant upsurge,
Hogan pointed to the recent increases in commodity prices, which now stand at
nearly pre-recession level. Hogan says this illustrates how strained materials
markets are in response to growing global market demands. "This increase in
prices means companies have to think more strategically about how they design
products," he adds.
increases will affect electrical design most," says Peter Terwiesch, ABB's
chief technology officer, "because of the impact on copper and aluminum
pricing." He also noted that the ongoing tradeoff of materials cost in relation
to maximizing energy efficiency will remain a driver to determining overall
lifecycle costs amid the upswing in commodity prices. One particular result of
this trend that Terwiesch sees is an increasing shift toward greater use of
thermoplastics because of lower pricing for that material and lighter end products.
"Recyclability is also a big factor with thermoplastics," he says.
Energy Saving and Harvesting
As device and systems designers go about developing new
energy-saving capabilities to meet increasing energy demands and CO2
reduction requirements, the low-hanging fruit of installing drives to control electric
motors still exists in abundance. According to Terwiesch, only 10% of installed
motors have drives. The basic step of "installing drives for better control of
processes and energy savings can save 30-50 percent of energy used in
applications," he says.
A related area of focus for ABB at the conference was on
energy harvesting. "There are 30 million HART
products installed using 4-20mA supply lines," Terwiesch says. "We've been
looking at designing low power electronics to run on power directly from these
ABB's autonomous temperature transmitter prototype was on display at the company's 2010 Automation & Power World Event.
When designing new products to do this, "it can expensive to
harvest power from existing lines and it could also be potentially disruptive,
so you have to design hardware and software components together to run using the
lowest power possible," Terwiesch explains. "Only then do you look at where to
get the power to run the device. In process plants you can get a lot of it from
process temperature, flow and vibration. This ambient power can be gathered and
converted by means of electric materials and piezo motors. But you also have to
figure on swings in such power availability -- so you need a storage element
for the power you capture. That's why our current wireless HART device runs on 4-20
mA loop power."
Powering devices with harvested energy is not a new venture
for ABB. In 2003, the company introduced a wireless proximity sensor that gets
its power and communicates wirelessly.
Despite recognition from a variety of sources, including the Wall Street Journal
, commercial interest
in the product has been slow to materialize.
When asked about the lack of high industry interest in
energy harvesting devices, Terwiesch says he does not see cost or power robustness
as reasons. "We've been using the wireless proximity sensor in our own
factories without a problem for seven years now," he says. "But I think, for industry
as a whole, these products are just too new."
ABB currently uses the wireless proximity sensors in its
plants for robotics control, but not safety applications, due to the small
focus of the sensor's reading area.
Demonstrating its confidence in energy harvesting devices,
ABB displayed a prototype of an autonomous temperature transmitter. Terwiesch
says that ABB will be taking time with this prototype to "interact with
customers and gauge their use and interest in these types of products and get
them thinking about how to use such products. " He adds that this prototype"
uses wireless mesh networking, which also typically requires some explanation
as well."Connecting Separate
Processes and Systems
With such a high proportion of responsibility for current
and future CO2
reduction dependent on energy management, the onus to
meet this goal will require concerted effort in the near-term from both product
and systems designers to develop the most efficient devices in terms of
stand-alone capability and when integrated into larger systems.
This goal is behind ABB's focus on the integration of power
and automation. "Using separate processes for these systems makes little sense
when the process is ultimately all about energy," says Terwiesch.
At their annual meeting, ABB announced that, to date, it has
been awarded 20 projects related to the combination of power and process
The company approaches this integration issue
by noting that monitoring and control of power and automation systems are
worlds apart in operation, most often separated by a lack of common
communication and architectural standards as well as organizational differences
between departments. The systems that serve process automation and
power automation within the same plant are separate, with extensive cabling and
protocols separating the two. These multiple systems also require multiple
databases, additional engineering tools, different operator stations, and, as a
result, more system administration and maintenance.
to ABB, electrical integration eliminates these barriers by integrating process
automation and power automation into the same plant control system to create a
single automation environment that reportedly unifies the control of
process-related equipment as well as protection, control and monitoring of
substation equipment and power transmission and distribution. Integrating the
process automation system with the power automation system, according to ABB,
permits a single design strategy for the areas of engineering, operations and
maintenance. ABB's 800xA control system
is promoted by the company as the central component of this integration
strategy based on its IEC 61850 interface, which is said to
integrate switchgear and protection for intelligent electrical devices for the
power distribution side of an industrial plant.
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