Lifecycle services lead the way for variable-speed drives future


ABB recently appointed Neil Ritchie to head up its AC drives sales business in the UK. Neil replaces Steve Ruddell, who after 10 years in the role, has moved into a global position within ABB. For a similar duration, Neil has been managing ABB’s service activities for drives and motors. His appointment, therefore, is a timely reminder of the emphasis that manufacturers place on service to retain customer loyalty. Electrical Review caught up with Neil to see how he views the business

Drives today are very reliable. What role does service play?

You are right, today’s drives are clearly ultra-reliable – they have fewer components, use well proven and tested technology and have the best engineering support infrastructure. Yet, just like motor vehicles, there is a need to look after the drive and regularly service it. Like any electronic device there are components within a drive that by their nature will degrade, such as electrolytic capacitors, power semiconductors and fans. When components degrade unchecked then this has a direct impact on the drive’s ability to save energy.

What level of service does ABB suggest for a drives user?


It is for the reason above that drives manufacturers like ABB offer solutions such as a drive care contract. With preventive care ABB maintains its drive in accordance with specific drives maintenance schedules. These schedules contain annual inspections and component replacements which aim to avoid unplanned downtime and energy production loss. Complete care ensures that should a drive fail, the risk is transferred to ABB. As such, ABB not only maintains the drives under contract (preventive care) but repair or replace the drive should it fail. Telephone or email support can be provided round-the-clock. Finally, a response time can be agreed ranging from 4 to 48 hours.

What other service levels are recommended?

Of course, the drive care contract is aimed at those drives already installed. ABB is dedicated to supporting its customers throughout the life cycle of their drives purchase. As such we have devised a series of services covering pre-purchase, order and delivery, installation and commissioning, operation and maintenance, upgrade and retrofit, replacement and recycling.

How will you continue to push the energy saving benefits of drives?

One of our best-selling services, in the pre-purchase phase, is our energy appraisal. Earlier this year we launched a team of over 50 engineers who are skilled to visit all types of commercial and industrial customers to find those motor-driven applications that can benefit from applying variable-speed drives. The service takes about half-a-day during which a team member identifies up to five key pump or fan applications that can lead to instant energy savings. To see some of the many customers that have benefited from energy appraisals I would urge your readers to visit

Where do you see the drives business in five years?

You just need to take a look at what the likes of Apple, Microsoft and Facebook have done to our lives in the past five years. We have devices and technology that we never knew we needed. While the industrial arena may not move at that pace, technology is clearly marching on. Just take a look at the new generation of drives ABB launched last year at the SPS/IPC/Drives show in Germany. In particular, look how the control panel technology has evolved. The drives now use a new high-contrast, high-resolution control panel that heralds a new era in customer interfaces. It uses soft keys and intuitive navigation to help locate parameters or functions rapidly. Information can be viewed in a variety of formats including graphs, histograms and numerical data. Gauges, flashing warning backlights and progress views can help to identify and analyse variations and faults. Built-in energy calculators can show used and saved kWh and MWh, CO2 reductions and money saved.

Software assistants simplify the set-up of essential parameters. Menus and messages can be customised to use terminology that is appropriate to the application, while a text editor allows users to add information and to customise text – such as the contact information shown on fault screens. 

The graphical display eliminates the time-consuming process of browsing through long lists of parameters and allows users to set the drive’s logic quickly and easily.

What are going to be the key drivers for the business going forward?

There are so many key drivers. The traditional drives markets like HVAC, water, food and beverage, chemical, oil & gas will continue to go from strength to strength. The demand for variable-speed drives to reduce energy, lower CO2 emissions and improve productivity appears insatiable at this point in time. We will see a growing implementation of drives in packaging production lines as companies strive to maximise profit margins, while maintaining the competitive pricing of the end product. And we are back to the start of this interview – there are so many opportunities to improve the life cycle services of drives from the initial customer enquiry through to recycling of the drive.

What new products can we expect to see in the world of drives?

Variable-speed drives are a mature product. But there continues to be technology advances that find their way into drives. Most notably is the continuous shrinking in size which opens up new applications from spa baths to running machines. Then there are the opportunities to diversify the drives technology, especially in the renewables arena. ABB’s inverter technology is now used in the exciting solar inverter market. We have a dedicated team here in the UK working towards establishing ABB’s solar inverter technology.

What is your goal for the business?

All industries face a common goal: to maximise their production output at the lowest possible cost, while maintaining the highest quality end products. One of ABB’s key objectives is to maximise the uptime of its customers’ processes by ensuring optimum lifetime of all ABB products in a predictable, safe and low cost manner.