As Solar Impulse continues its pioneering flight around the world powered only by the sun – and some smart technology – the ABB / Solar Impulse innovation and technology alliance demonstrates how to combine historic international roots with 21st century initiative.
As a world leader in power, automation and microgrid technologies, ABB is a key stakeholder in diverse arenas shaping our world today and for the future. This year ABB is celebrating 125 years of innovation in Switzerland and has been doing business in the United States for close to a century.
At the company's seven worldwide corporate research centers, technological breakthroughs have become almost routine - in the US alone, there's the world’s largest drive in NASA’s wind tunnel at the Langley Research Center in Virginia, plus the world’s largest battery energy storage system in Alaska. ABB technologies even grace the cinema screens - its robots have had starring roles in both the Terminator and Iron Man films!
ABB employs 135,000 people in around 100 countries – including 27,000 in its US operations.
Yet the company's roots lie in 19th century Switzerland, where its international flavor was established from the outset by two enterprising engineers –Charles Brown, son of an English engineer, and German-born Walter Boveri.
Both made their mark in the 1880s at Zurich's Oerlikon engineering works before entrepreneurial zeal saw them unite to found a company based on a clear vision: sending electricity over long distances to transform the world. Brown had already played a part in the 19th century 'War of the Currents' with a transformer and generator that demonstrated that direct current was better than alternating current for long-distance power transmission.
What became ABB began as a company called BBC, founded in Baden on October 2, 1891. Its vision of what electricity could do expanded quickly. In 1895, it helped electrify trams in the Swiss city of Lugano, then in 1899 produced one of the world's first electrically-driven locomotives to work the Burgdorf-Thun railway, Europe‘s first electrified normal-gauge track.
Further innovations followed throughout the 20th century: advances in steam and gas turbines; power transformers; electronic controls for industrial automation. And ABB reached across the globe too. Though it retains its global headquarters in Zurich, ABB employs 135,000 people in around 100 countries – including 27,000 in its US operations.
The company's American story is one of growth which has seen household names like Westinghouse join the ABB family. The last few years have seen dramatic expansion with the acquisitions of leading US companies such as Baldor (motors, mechanical power transmission), Thomas & Betts (low-voltage products) and Ventyx (enterprise software)– as it furthers a corporate vision of “Power and productivity for a better world.”
At its world-leading transformer plant in Missouri, for example, ABB is creating a new generation of transformers to drive the global shift in power generation from fossil fuels to renewables. “Solar and wind [power] is here now, and will be for a long future,” says Mike Wheeler, the plant's Commercial Operations Manager.
Today, ABB's ambitions continue to take flight – literally - with Solar Impulse. As this magical craft crosses the globe, it embodies ABB's powerful vision for the power of the future.
Running the World Without Consuming the Earth
ABB is a leading global technology company in power and automation that enables utility, industry, and transport & infrastructure customers improve performance while lowering environmental impact. It operates in around 100 countries and employs about 135,000 people.