ABB: Everything you need to know about the world's leading engineering company

ABB is a Swedish-Swiss company that dates back to 1883 and has since become a world leader in innovation. But how did ABB get to where it is today?

The story of the ABB we know today didn't come about until 1988, but the company's history dates back to 1883. It was in that year that Ludvig Fredholm founded Elektriska Aktiebolaget in Stockholm, a company that specialized in electric lighting and generators. Over the next decade, engineer Jonas Wenstrom invented a three-phase system for generators, transformers and motors, after which Elektriska Aktiebolaget merged with Wenstroms & Granstroms Elektriska Kraftbolag in 1890. The new company became known as Allmanna Svenska Elektriska Aktiebolaget, or ASEA for short. In time, it became a crucial part of ABB, but that would not happen until a hundred years later.

ASEA - more than a century of innovation

After Jonas Wenström's invention in 1889, ASEA set out to build it. Sweden's first three-phase transmission system was built by the newly merged company in 1893. The innovation didn't end there; ASEA continued to create revolutionary designs throughout the 20th century. Their work included supplying locomotives and power converters for Stockholm's new rail system extending to Gothenburg, and designing and installing the first 400 kV AC cable to connect an underground power plant to the Swedish grid.

ASEA's other global achievements included the world's first production of synthetic diamonds in 1953 and the first installation of an HVDC transmission line in 1954, as well as the construction of Sweden's first nuclear power plant in 1972 and the launch of one of the first industrial robots in 1978. By 1986, ASEA's growth was enormous. Nearly 100 years after the merger in 1890 and the creation of ASEA, the company employed more than 71 000 people and had revenues of more than $6.8 billion. This put it in a prime position to merge with Brown, Boveri & Cie - a merger that eventually made history.

The BBC is rushing forward at full throttle

Before we get into the details of this merger, let's mentally go back to the late 19th century. While ASEA was beginning to develop as a company, in Baden, Switzerland, Charles E. L. Brown and Walter Boveri founded Brown, Boveri & Cie in 1891. BBC was the first company in Switzerland to transmit high-voltage electricity and subsequently delivered Europe's first large-scale combined heat and power plant in 1983. With a focus on power generation, BBC went through the 20th century with innovative new products. In 1901 they built Europe's first steam turbine and in 1939 they built the first gas turbine to generate electricity. The BBC produced the first high-speed locomotive, and in 1953 the company made the first carrier frequency transmission. In 1965, BBC built the world's first 110 kV gas-insulated switchgear, and in 1969, the world's first gearless cement drive, and in 1971, the world's most powerful transformer (1300 MVA). By 1986, BBC employed more than 97 000 people and had revenues in excess of $8.5 billion.

What ABB produces

The beginning of ABB's reign

In 1988, Swedish company ASEA and Swiss company BBC merged to form ASEA Brown Boveri, known as ABB.  With the two corporations' innovation and combined experience of more than 200 years, ABB set out to revolutionize the industry with its new group, based in its Zurich headquarters, with more than 160 000 employees and $17 billion in revenue. The company quickly became known as the market leader in programmable logic controllers (then still relatively new) as well as other assets such as variable speed drives. As ABB wrapped up the 20th century and entered the 21st, the company continued to make groundbreaking achievements, including the following:

  • In 1998, ABB created a delta robot for picking and packing called the FlexPicker.
  •  The world's first commercial high-voltage shore-to-ship power grid was delivered by ABB in 2000.
  • In 2002, ABB connected the AC grids of South Australia and Victoria with the world's longest underground transmission line.
  • In 2005, ABB supplied electricity via a 70-kilometer DC line to a gas platform in the North Sea.
  • In 2008, the power grids of Norway and the Netherlands were connected by the world's longest HVDC submarine cable (580 kilometers).
  • In 2012, ABB designed and built a hybrid DC switch suitable for large inter-regional DC networks.
  • In 2013, US solar photovoltaic equipment manufacturer Power-One joined the company.
  • In 2017, General Electric bought out the GE Industrial Solutions (GE Power) division, expanding its business and increasing its industrial electrical engineering capabilities.
  • In 2018, the automation division of the electric grid business was sold to Hitachi as part of their strategy to restructure and focus on key areas.
  • On July 21, 2022, the corporation decided to withdraw from the Russian market, due to the changing conditions and risks associated with the political and economic environment in Russia.

ABB delivered a strong performance in 2023, achieving record results on the back of positive market conditions and strong demand for products and services. The company's Chairman of the Board of Directors, Peter Voser, emphasized ABB's focus on combining technological leadership with a decentralized operating model to create holistic value for stakeholders, ensuring sustainable development and resource efficiency. CEO Björn Rosengren highlighted ABB's key role in accelerating the transition to zero-energy power. The company's solutions enable the optimization, electrification and decarbonization of various sectors, making a significant contribution to global efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

ABB has also made significant progress towards its 2023 sustainability goals, including significant reductions in scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions, increased use of renewable energy, and the launch of initiatives to promote circularity and social progress. By aligning its emission reduction targets with the Science Based Targets initiative and implementing measures to improve resource efficiency and social impact, ABB is reaffirming its commitment to positive environmental and social change, delivering value to its stakeholders.

Today, ABB has an unrivaled reputation as one of the most prolific and respected manufacturers on the planet.


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