Motion leader describes upcoming challenges in motors and drives.

At ABB Customer World earlier this month, Pumps & Systems had the chance to speak with Morten Wierod, ABB’s president of Motion Business effective April 1. Wierod, based in Zurich, Switzerland, has been with the company for 21 years. He was appointed to his current role as BU Managing Director Drives in January 2015. Wierod has served in a number of leadership roles in several business units (BU), including Breakers & Switches and Control Products. He has worked and lived in Norway, China and Switzerland.

Morten WierodMorten Wierod

What are your plans for this new role?
“Motion is the second-largest unit in the new ABB, where we are focusing on digital industries. Motion includes electric motors and variable speed drives. You can use that for energy efficiency. It is in everything that moves – from an elevator to a ski lift, but also the big, heavy stuff like in mining equipment, a metal mill, paper machine or a train or electrical propulsion system on a large cruise ship. My task is to lead this business and continue to build our strong leadership in the field of industrial motion.”

Tell me how you and your company embraced the industrial internet of things (IIoT)?
“We are in the midst of a digital transformation. In 2016, we launched and released our ABB Ability smart sensor for motors, and that was the first example of anybody doing that. This is a sensor that tells you how the motor feels by measuring the temperature and vibrations of the motor. You can use it to see when the problems are happening early on instead of finding out when the motor fails. This is the early indication for repair and maintenance. Our customers expect us to be the first with new equipment. In the last few years, ABB has set up our ABB Ability platform and that is how we can get all of our products, systems and devices on one platform. It means that we can run our ABB-specific devices on one platform to improve operations and safety as well.”

What are the challenges facing motors and drives in 2019?
The fight for talent is fierce today. We are in a good position at ABB where we are an attractive employer, but when you talk about the whole industry that is one of the challenges. I really think it’s an exciting industry that we are in. We’re moving from the carbon age to the electric age, so we need talent in this industry. The other challenge is that that talent pool of expertise we have relied on in the past is getting smaller. If you are running a cement plant, you have a whole generation of experts that are going into retirement in the next five to 10 years. That is what we hear from our customers. It is difficult to find young engineers to go into these roles. It’s a challenge for our customers but also an opportunity for us.” What we do is to help make solutions much easier by applying the plug-and-play concept. That even goes to our product. As the level of expertise is lowered out in the field,. We have taken it down from expert level and making it much more of a plug-and-play, self-service setup and easier to use our equipment.”

What ways are you seeing and what are steps are you taking to take to make installation, operation or maintenance of drives simpler?
“It’s about what we call making drives “all-compatible” when you have the same user interface on the different generations and all the different variances. We have a lot of product lines. It’s one common user interface, so if you receive training on the 380 [drive], you’re also able to understand that it’s the same tools and same menus on the interface when you do programming on all the different lines. This lowers the entry level, so if you’ve done one set of training, you’re an expert, or able and capable to do the whole range of variable speed drives. That also translates into our field of motors. For every part you use, it should be self-explanatory. Or else you give access with the digital tools where you’re able to get all of the information on your phone or iPad, like the QR code on the product. We are investing In all of these areas to make it easier for our customers to feel like an expert without going through tedious expert training that could take years.”

What is the next thing to watch for in motors and drives?
“I think it’s two-fold. We are always proud about being the pioneering technology leader in our industry. By that, I mean great products and great software, but more and more great service. To talk first about the hardware, we deliver better products with better uptime that have safer operations. More and more, you see development in the services, especially around the ABB Ability system where we are connecting our motors and drives to the web and getting access to big data in a completely different way than ever before. Data that can tell you what is happening inside with more sensors built in our product. You’re also able to use AI [artificial intelligence] to come up with recommendations and advice on how you should run your operation, what you should do differently and the trend of data. Do you need to do maintenance in the next three weeks or potentially shut down your plant? A lot of the maintenance is repair and fix, or time-based, where you change components every three or five years. What we see more of is that this kind of time-based maintenance is not optimal as it’s really based on, ‘What’s the temperature, what’s the humidity, what’s the altitude of where this equipment sits?’ The cost of unplanned shutdown is so high that being able to know when and what maintenance is really needed is what the customer expects from us and what they appreciate.”

When it comes to automation, how do you expect it to affect the process industries workforce in the next five years?
“Today, a lot of what we call the ‘domain expertise’ in all the different industries, is sitting with the end user out in the plants. These plants are not always at the optimal location around the world, making it difficult to access the right expertise when needed. The experts and the know-how still exist but they may not be at the right place. Now, through digital services like augmented reality, and where more people use search engines and video, you are able to connect sitting in a control room far away. We have ABB Ability centers around the world and that is how we support our customers — with experts in a few places that we are able to connect to. For instance, one of the first remote condition monitoring contracts for drives is a gold mine in Ghana. They bought expensive equipment and are using it in the mine and it’s running, but they struggle to find the right know-how locally. They signed a contract to connect to our experts in Europe where our people are connected and can see what is going on in that site and collect all of the data. Then they are able to use service personnel at that site, using video and augmented reality to operate. So you see through the eyes of the operator, open the door and are able to remotely control the in-service people. This is a development you’ll see more of in the industry.”