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ABB targets new OEM markets with `component` drives

01 September, 2003

ABB targets volume OEM markets with `component` drives

ABB has launched two major ranges of drives and re-organised its drives portfolio as part of a campaign to make drives easier to choose and use.

One of the new ranges is a family of tiny, few-frills "component" drives (shown above) aimed at simple applications in the 180-750W range, such as fan and pump speed controls. ABB hopes that these microdrives will also be used to replace existing devices such as contactors and soft-starters, as well as opening up high-volume markets for applications such as washing machines.

The second new range is a family of easy-to-use standard drives, designed to be sold off-the-shelf for users to install immediately. There are few optional extras and the drives — spanning ratings from 0.75--355kW, at 200V and 400V — have a new control panel designed to look and feel like a mobile phone, and to be as easy to use.

"We firmly believe that this is the world`s first intelligent, interactive control panel," says ABB vice-president, Jukka Poutnanen. "It`s like your best friend — it never lets you down."

As well as launching these new ranges, ABB has adopted a simplified naming philosophy which splits its drives portfolio into five, application-based categories:

standard drives, aimed at users wanting an easy-to-use, all-in-one package;

industrial drives, covering a wider range of power and voltage ratings, and customisable to meet specific user requirements;

general machinery drives, aimed mainly at OEMs;

component drives, for simple, low-power OEM applications; and

decentralised drives, designed to be mounted on, or near, the motor they control, and offering high levels of ingress protection and fieldbus connections for remote monitoring and control.

These descriptive names will replace the traditional three-letter and three-digit codes, which will now be used only to identify products as part of an extended type code.

ABB expects the component drive to appeal to small to medium sized OEMs manufacturing products as diverse as automatic gates, medical scanners and pizza ovens. It expects that these customers — who usually want simple, low-cost, non-technical speed controllers that are quiet and have low EMC emissions — will account for 90% of component drive sales.

The IP20 drives have no control panel and are configured using three potentiometers (for setting acceleration and deceleration times, maximum frequencies and motor thermal protection), and eight DIP switches (for choosing parameters such as noise levels and auto reset). ABB says that the drives will take less than five minutes to install and commission.

The component drives will come in two sizes (45mm or 65mm wide). Both are 144mm high and 124mm deep, and are designed for DIN-rail or wall mounting. They are available for either 100-120V AC or 200-240V AC single-phase operation with motors from 0.12-0.75kW. They are fitted with EMC Class B filters, with optional additional filters available for motor leads up to 75m long. ABB asserts that the 375W version is the smallest of its type on the market.

As well as the standard component drives, aimed at off-the-shelf sales, ABB hopes to open up new markets for tailored versions of the drives for use by high-volume OEMs in applications such as domestic appliances. ABB will deal directly with these OEMs, while standard versions of the drives will be sold both though ABB`s existing distributors and through new channels such as catalogues. In large volumes, the component drives are expected to cost around $50 each. Later versions will probably include logic functions.

When used instead of existing products such as contactors and soft-starts, the component drives` advantages are said to include energy saving, reduced maintenance, better control, improved protection, increased productivity, and the ability to offer application-specific intelligence, such as detecting imbalances in washing machine loads.

The new standard drives (shown above), are intended to be "the easiest to install commission and use," according to Pekka Rantanen, product manager for the new family. "Our aim is to save money, time and nerves." A start-up assistant guides the user through the essential settings without them needing to access complex parameter lists, while a "help" button suggests ways to fix faults.

Patent-pending swinging DC chokes are used to reduce total harmonic distortion by up to 25% at partial loads. The drives can monitor their running hours or motor rotation, and users can set limits for these parameters which trigger an alarm when they are exceeded, making preventive maintenance easier.

Various techniques have been employed to minimise noise levels. For example, a noise optimisation function increases the switching frequency of the drive when the motor load is reduced. The drives` cooling fan operates only when needed, reducing both noise levels and energy consumption.

ABB is confident that the new ranges will help it maintain and reinforce its position as the world`s largest drives-maker. The company reckons that it has about 16% of the $5bn-plus global market -- more than twice the share of its nearest rival - and expects to grow twice as fast as the market this year. It predicts that the pace of growth will accelerate towards the end of the year as the global economy starts to revive.

Despite drives sales contracting in both North America and Europe last year, ABB sold more drives during 2002 than in 2001. "We`re not complaining about the market conditions," says Roelof Timmer, marketing manager for ABB`s low-voltage AC drives business. But he adds that the company`s continuing growth could be hindered by imbalances in the US economy, and by structural problems within Europe. These make the economy vulnerable to shocks, Timmer warns, and it could easily dip into recession once more, making companies cautious about their investment plans.

Pekka Tiitinen (above), head of ABB`s drives operation, believes that the company`s new ranges fit in well with changes in the marketplace. "In the past," he says, "the focus was on reliability; now, the technology is accepted." Since the 1980s, the mean time between failure of drives has increased five-fold. "Today, the MTBF is better than one in 50 years," Tiitinen reports. "That`s some achievement."

One consequence of this trend is that drives are no longer sold by one electrical engineer to another. Specifiers and users are often not drives specialists. In these changed circumstances, "you have to make drives easier to install and use," says Tiitinen, "and you have to talk to the customer in their language". He feels that ABB`s new drives ranges will meet these requirements.

• In a similar realignment to the drives business, ABB`s motors operation is splitting its standard low-voltage AC range into two main groups - general-purpose and process performance motors. The general-purpose machines, designed for standard OEM applications, include aluminium frame (0.06-95kW), steel frame (75-630kW), cast-iron (0.25-250kW), open drip-proof (75-800kW), brake (0.055-22kW), single-phase (0.065-2.2kW) and integral motors (0.37-2.2kW). They are designed to meet the Eff2 energy efficiency classification, with Eff1 available as an option.

ABB process performance motors are aimed at more demanding applications in industries such as petrochemicals, pulp and paper, water treatment and food and beverage. They include machines with cast-iron and aluminium frames in ratings from 0.25-710kW, and all are Eff 1 rated. They are designed for possible operating lives of more than 30 years and have adaptable designs, allowing them to be engineered to meet customers` specifications.

"Dividing our motor range into two main segments, based on the intended usage, will make more sense for the end-user," says Sven Sjoberg, ABB`s vice-president marketing for motors. "This will give a starting point, from which he can move on and refine his specifications."

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