ABB snaps up automation “gem”

Global power and automation company, ABB has announced the acquisition of B&R, one of the world’s largest privately-owned industrial automation businesses for an undisclosed sum.

ABB Robotics’ YuMi is designed to be used in close proximity to regular personnel (image courtesy of ABB).
ABB’s YuMi robot is designed for a new era of automation, for example in small parts assembly, where people and robots work side-by-side on the same tasks – image courtesy of ABB.

Founded in 1979 by Erwin Bernecker and Josef Rainer, and headquartered in Eggelsberg, Austria, B&R employs upwards of 3,000 people, including about 1,000 R&D and application engineers.

Described by ABB CEO, Ulrich Spiesshofer, as a “gem in the world of machine and factory automation”, B&R operates across 70 countries, with the most recent figures (2015/16) showing annual sales in the region of $600m. Overall, the global machine and factory automation market is thought be worth some $20bn.

According to ABB, the acquisition will result in a “comprehensive” offering for industrial automation customers, combining B&R’s product innovation with ABB’s expertise in robotics, process automation, digitalisation and electrification.

As well as hardware, ABB also hopes the pairing will enable it seize digital growth opportunities resulting from the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The move represents a “major step” for the company in expanding its digital offering by merging its portfolio of digital solutions, ABB Ability, with B&R’s strong application and software platforms, its large installed base, customer access and tailored automation solutions.

Spiesshofer commented: “This transaction marks a true milestone for ABB, as B&R will close the historic gap within ABB’s automation offering. This is a perfect fit and will make us the only industrial automation provider offering customers the entire spectrum of technology and software solutions around measurement, control, actuation, robotics, digitalisation and electrification.”

Erwin Bernecker, co-founder of B&R, said: “This is a strong signal for our employees as our operations in Eggelsberg will become ABB’s global center for machine and factory automation The most important thing to me is that the companies and their people fit so well together, and that our founding location will play such a key role.”

Innovation investment

Innovation is at the heart of both companies. B&R reportedly invests more than 10% of its sales in R&D and employs more than 1,000 people in R&D and application engineering. ABB spends $1.5bn annually on R&D and employs some 30,000 technologists and engineering specialists. Going forward, ABB and B&R will continue to invest considerably in R&D.