The future of energy, automation and e-mobility with ABB (Tomasz Wolanowski, Country Manager România)

Tomasz Wolanowski arrived to Romania in October 2013, so there are five years and a half, now, since he has been part of our country’s development in the industrial area. There are a lot of changes, he says, and even more is still to happen, especially in the logistics, automotive and new office buildings segments. Strictly for the energy industry, Tomasz Wolanowski joins the voices of the numerous local experts warning about the risk of a potential blackout, if the level of investments in power generation, transmission and distribution did not increase significantly in the near future.

Dear Mr. Tomasz Wolanowski, how did Romania change during these years?

I think that this is something which, sitting here inside the country, we don’t see every day. But, observing the country development still not being a “fully local”, I can see a lot of changes not only in Bucharest, but also in other cities.

Can you give me some examples?

My favorite example, visible for everyone not only for the people in the energy segment, is having these LED lights on the streets. I remember when I came to Romania, Calea Victoriei still had old lamps and it was not that easy to walk in the evening on the Calea Victoriei because the lights were not very good. Now, after 5 years, we have a lot of LED lights on the main streets, which are of a completely different quality. We also see LED lights in other cities, in small cities or in the villages. For me, this represents one of the most noticeable changes in the country.

In terms of business relations, how did things change, if they did?

The energy sector is still quite conservative regarding the level of investments and the rhythm of introducing new technologies, while the market is quite stable. On the other hand, on the industrial side, we see a lot of dynamics: new companies coming to Romania, lots of mergers and acquisitions, consolidation of some segments, such as the banking system and the food & beverage segment. There are also a lot of new investments and developments in the automotive segment. Suppliers of main global players and local companies grow in size, and they grow in quality.

Did the ABB group also change in the recent years?

Yes, quite a lot! In 2015 we changed our approach towards the market, which means that now we serve our customers from a market-segment perspective, and not from a product-clients perspective. Maybe this is not so visible from the market , but internally it is all different, in respect to how we are organized, how our internal processes are, how our targets and focus are defined and how we approach our customers. I think that after four years we see visible positive results.

A second change is that we focus much more on digitalization. We launch new products, we focus on digital solutions and I think that the perception of ABB, not only in Romania, is changing. For many years, ABB has been perceived as a supplier of components for the energy segment: large transformers, breakers, substations etc. Today, it is more about robots, software and motors.

I invite you to talk a little about each of ABB’s divisions, with focus on elements that are more relevant for Romania.

In Power Grids, we are talking about the cooperation with utilities: power generation segment, transmission and distribution companies. Here we have a quite attractive and stable offering covering all of these areas, and we are quite stable. Talking about specifics for Romania, I would say that in this area we are missing two things. The first one is a clear investment plan, and close related to this, it is the level of investment. Fortunately we have at least the draft of the Romanian energy strategy published. We are happy to see that draft, but we would like to see more details and a defined time schedule for upcoming projects.

Talking about Electrification Products, here we have a quite wide range of products, starting from low voltage products like wiring accessories, switches, low voltage breakers, medium voltage breakers, medium voltage switches and products like KNX intelligent building. What is developing quite fast and what we like very much is that we see an increased number of projects in the office buildings and logistics areas.

Do you believe that this is going to continue this year?

2018 was one of the best years, if not the best ever, in respect to the number of office projects and square meters delivered to the market. I think that this will continue in 2019, as the number of available spaces for warehouses in Romania is still relatively low. I think that the main drivers for developing logistic parks are the level of GDP, the level of consumption and the volume of goods and products to be delivered to and from Romania.

What about industrial automation?

I would say that on the industry side, we have 2-3 main market drivers in Romania. One is the automotive sector, with two main big multinational players, followed by tier 1 suppliers, and also a lot of local Romanian companies becoming partners for the big global players present in Romania. My perception is that step-by-step, Romania is becoming a manufacturing hub for components for the automotive industry. We have examples when small companies grow and manufacture in a traditional way, but there are also examples when local companies invest in the automation and robotization of their manufacturing processes.

The second driver is the food and beverage sector. Romania is a food exporting country especially for processed food. Maybe the food and beverage segment is a few steps behind the automotive sector, but the trend is positive. It will probably take 2-3 years for these companies to start investing much more in the automation (and robotization of their processes), as the common element in all these sectors is represented by the lack of manpower and automation and robotization seems to be the right answer to this challenge.

The third driver is the logistics, and I think investing in the automation of logistic processes will be the next big thing to happen in three to five years from now.

How does the robotics segment evolve in Romania?

The automation and robotization of the Romanian industry is still one of the lowest in Europe. Like it or not, this is the situation! But this is going to change, having in view the modern technologies, advanced products and the lack of manpower for manufacturing processes. Here it is an example with robots and remote monitoring system.

The remote monitoring system offers the possibility to an industrial robot manufactured by ABB to be connected via the internet to our servers that analyze the data received from a single robot or from the entire fleet installed in a specific factory. In this way our system sends feedback to the factory that the robot needs service (that some components parts should be replaced). Our system can also extend this analysis to the entire fleet and we can send a report to advice the customer on how the manufacturing processes can be optimized by replacing robots, or by adding new robots.

Out of over 2.000 robots that ABB has installed in Romania, in 2015 we had zero robots connected to a remote monitoring system, while in 2018 we had 30 robots connected to the remote monitoring system. In 2019, we already know that we will connect over 200! Our customers are aware now that they can and they should optimize their manufacturing processes by using this kind of features and functions.

We notice a growing awareness on the importance of preventive maintenance, as the way to mitigate a potential risk of losses due to production downtime. Another very important issue is the cyber-security. Some clients do not like that they have the robots connected via internet on servers. This is also changing, and we are able to deliver effective solutions.

Here is another example, with one of our large customers. They were investing continuously in installing a lot of new machines. After 2-3 years, the customer has realized that they started to have a problem with the energy quality inside their factory. During the investment process, they were not ready to discuss with us what happened if they would install an additional 10 motors or robots. It was only afterwards when they realized that they needed to take into consideration the energy quality as well, inside their factory.

The 2018 global ABB Group report considered that the segments having the highest potential in 2019 are renewables, upstream oil & gas, mining, electric vehicles infrastructure and commercial buildings. How many of these areas do you think that will have a strong growth in Romania?

I hope all of them! However, I should mention a few words about macroeconomics. 2018 was a very good year for the global economy, including Romania. But we already know that in 2019 we will have a slowdown of the global economy and also for Romania. For me, this question still remains: what does it mean for us, in Romania? How will the Romanian economy will be impacted in each and every area?

Speaking about Romania, it is a good sign that last Autumn the draft of the Romanian energy strategy was published. I know that there is a lot of criticism to this document, but it is a good thing that we have this draft. The questions are when and if it will be approved so that we all can have a framework for investment in the energy field.

We don’t believe that we have enough investments in energy sector and I don’t know if you noticed this, but some experts in Romania have started to mention that there is a potential risk of a blackout in Romania. So I think it’s the time to ring the bell and say that we need more investments in our energy generation, transmission and distribution network.

Coming back to your question, there is a quote that I really like: “The stone age did not end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil”. In respect with the areas that you mentioned, the truth is that we are in a period when we can say that the fossil fuel era is coming to an end. That is why renewables and e-vehicles are areas of focus. If we talk about electric vehicles in Romania, the sales have significantly increased in a few years, and it is encouraging for us to see that more and more companies and municipalities, when they start executing investment projects, they are thinking about building networks for e-car charging.

In October 2018 we signed a contract for delivering dozens of ABB EV chargers to one of the local power distributors. ABB is one of the suppliers of EV chargers for a large retail network, and this year we will focus on the cooperation and possible contracts with municipalities. We already see the first pilot projects, and first commitments from their side – which are clear signs that they are interested in supporting the infrastructure for e-vehicles. Things don’t happen over night; three years ago, there was almost no partner to discuss about electrical cars and EV chargers. Today we are very involved in this kind of discussions, and even though it might not happen in 2019, we are optimistic that it will eventually happen!

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This interview firstly appeared in the printed edition of energynomics.ro Magazine, issued in March 2019.

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