Ambitious ABB  

ECN spoke with Dr Thorsten Müller, Head of Global Product Group Building and Home Automation Solutions at ABB, to discover what the company’s plans are in the smart building/smart home sector.  

We began by looking at the home, a sector that has obviously had its relationship to the commercial world changed by COVID-19 and the rise of working from home.   

Thorsten argues that, “Working from home will vary a lot around the world, but it is obvious that many more companies will be supporting their workers at home. Perhaps the ‘office’ will become a place for meetings and creativity and people’s homes the space to work on other tasks that don’t require interaction.” 

Regardless of the degree that this change happens to, ABB believes that workers will spend more time at home. This could trigger increased spend from users themselves and from companies looking to provide the equipment their workers need. 

 This is not the only consequence of people being at home more, Thorsten explains. “Being at home has definitely increased people’s interest in the smart home. People want to make their homes more efficient and pleasant to be in. It is a definite growing trend. With a KNX backbone and our Free@Home as well as Free@Home Flex, we can offer a broad range of options. Our current focus is delivering control of blinds, lights, heating, air conditioning, door communication and security.  

Other improvements in the company’s offering include compatibility with DALI lighting and the launch of ABB-secure@home. This alarm system protects against burglary and theft as well as damage from other sources of danger such as fire or water.  

Free@Home Flex is a simplified system designed to deliver smart home control of a single room. However, users will be able to build upon this, room-by-room, to encompass their full whole house when the system is updated in the near future.  

Thorsten also underlined the company’s improvements to the ABB-free@home Next app, which gives homeowners control of their smart home solutions from a mobile device. The latest version provides greater speed and a more intuitive interface. The app also enables users to configure the system with options such as daily routines, timers, scenes and filters for each room, all with just one click.  

The company has also launched a weather station solution for MDU projects and a home appliance connection that interfaces with products from Bosch, Gaggenau, Neff and Miele, as well as ‘Hey Google’.  

The commercial world  

ABB supplies many different products into the commercial build environment. Estimates suggest that up to 60% of CO2 emissions come from buildings, so ABB is keen to make buildings more efficient. Thorsten explains that ABB’s approach here is to offer a holistic approach to intelligent workspaces. The company is doing so by releasing products such as intelligent and automatic lighting, security systems, air-conditioning, heating and movement detection.  

ABB is leveraging the HVAC control expertise brought in last year with the purchase of Ireland-based global operator Cylon. The company also seeks to offer increasing amounts of remote control and system assessment to off-site managers to make it simple to manage multiple buildings. Dovetailed into ABB’s existing control options, the company now offers new build and retrofit solutions to deal with every aspect of a building’s control and efficiency.  

By integrating the company’s systems HVAC, lighting, room and shading control, a building can intelligently adjust to factors such as weather conditions and occupancy levels. Relatively small updates to HVAC in particular can offer big improvements in efficiency, particularly in larger buildings.   

As Thorsten sees it, beside energy efficiency there are three areas the company wants to deliver in for the commercial built environment: safety and security, health and well-being, and process efficiency. 

One recent development in these areas is the company’s increased focus on the humble emergency lighting fitting. “Because of their location, emergency exit fittings are perfectly placed to increase what they offer. For example, one potential use is to count people, not just for safety reasons, but also for efficiency reasons. Our current portfolio of smart exit fittings also have abilities such as self-testing and reporting, cutting the number of people required to keep everything working.”    

As for health and well-being, particularly after the global experience with COVID-19, better, more efficient air filtering and circulation are a priority for many businesses.  

And for process efficiency, Thorsten underlines that the people inside a building are always the most valuable and expensive factor that any company must deal with. Making them more efficient can deliver some real low hanging fruit in terms of cutting costs and driving efficiency.  


Thorsten has some thoughts on what areas might offer some opportunities in the next phase of the market. “We see EV charging at home and at work as a big opportunity. Legislation to make rental properties more efficient and hit given targets will also have an impact. And the home office has big potential to expand opportunity out to the whole home as well.”  

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