Spotlight On: ABB’s Slavko Planinic

Slavko Planinic

Slavko Planinic has recently been named ABB’s country managing director, Australia and head of industrial automation. Energy Source & Distribution speaks with the industry stalwart about recent successes and what’s in the pipeline.

By Nichola Davies

Slavko Planinic says he has enjoyed more than 30 years at ABB in various roles and for various regions.

Starting at ABB as a finance graduate, Slavko worked his way up to roles including chief financial officer, regional chief financial officer – South Asia and later chief financial officer Australia and New Zealand. In managing the different regions, he describes the differences in the roles as mostly centred on managing different cultures and behaviours.

“In most South Asian countries, it will generally take the team a while to warm up to volunteer information or ask questions,” he says.

“Often, one-on-one interaction is required to develop an understanding of the business situation on the ground. Australians and New Zealanders are much more direct and informal.

“The different cultures do make life interesting and it forces you to adapt to achieve the desired outcomes.”

Now, as ABB’s managing country director, Australia and head of industrial automation, Slavko says his focus will be on growing ABB’s digital solutions portfolio for industry and divesting its Power Grids business to Hitachi.

“The agreement to divest Power Grids business signed with Hitachi on December 17, 2018, positions ABB to focus on capturing exciting opportunities in industrial digitalisation and to create value for all stakeholders, while strengthening Power Grids under new ownership,” Slavko says.

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“Meanwhile, ABB’s remaining businesses in Electrification, Industrial Automation, Robotics and Motion have been experiencing major increases in demand for digital solutions and services that add value to more traditional products and services. Their industrial customer bases are increasingly diverse and expanding rapidly.

“The company is also currently implementing a new operating structure to ensure we are best placed to compete in today’s fast-changing world. These changes and the cultural change underway at ABB will help us better respond to customer demands and drive growth.

“We are now focused more than ever before on aligning to the way our customers operate. Through our digital platform, ABB Ability, and building on emerging technologies in artificial intelligence and machine learning, we are pioneering technology to meet the increasing demands of our customers for digital solutions in this rapidly changing industrial world.”

With his wealth of experience, Slavko is well positioned to comment that increased complexity and flexibility and new business models are the new hallmarks of the power sector. He says complexity is increasing due to many factors, including in the areas of generation mix, ageing infrastructure, new regulations and security.

“As a technology leader in enabling digital grids, [a big change] is also the growth of the digital power plant – where data meets the physical world and where new opportunities are unlocked for the customer,” Slavko says.

“The volume of products or components offered from the lower-cost countries has also been a considerable change.”

As for ABB’s contribution to change in the energy sector, ABB is providing technologies that enable renewables to become a more reliable power source. This is where ABB’s microgrid technology comes into play.

Developed in Darwin, ABB’s microgrid technology is helping cities and communities meet and sustain their own energy needs by incorporating renewable and clean technologies into the power grids.

ABB used this technology to deliver a world-first microgrid solution for Woodside’s offshore Goodwyn A Platform, which is helping the company reduce carbon emissions and lower the costs of its operations. Using the ABB Ability Microgrid Plus and ABB Ability PowerStore Battery, the system reduces the need for using the emergency diesel generator and provides short-term energy backup through a ‘spinning reserve’. The system is also capable of the remote management of operations and service.

In South Australia, ABB’s technology was used to modernise the propulsion systems on the Adelaide Metro diesel electric railcar fleet, delivering far-reaching benefits for both the customer and wider South Australian community such as enhanced reliability, improved fuel economy and reduced carbon emissions. ABB Australia’s team won the Project Management Institute’s 2019 State/Local Government Project of the Year Award for their successful project delivery.

Another field ABB is a leader in is the concept of ‘digital twin’ technologies. Slavko explains, “a digital twin is a complete and operational virtual representation of an asset, subsystem or system, combining digital aspects of how the equipment is built (PLM data, design models, manufacturing data) with real-time aspects of how it is operated and maintained”.

This means that ABB can help manufacturers build and run a factory virtually before they build it physically, and for mining the digital twin technology can create a digital model of an underground environment in connection with mine planning and control systems, to optimise energy consumption and mine automation.

For utilities, ABB recently introduced a small submersible robot, TXplore, equipped with high-definition video cameras to perform inspections of power transformers.

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“Instead of draining the insulating oil and sending a person into the transformer tank – a time-consuming and dangerous process – the technician pilots the robot using virtual-reality goggles to see what the robot sees,” Slavko says.

“The whole process takes a few hours, compared to multiple days using the traditional approach. More importantly, it eliminates the need to send human workers into a dangerous, potentially deadly environment.”

ABB is also a leader in the sustainable transport sector, with the first ABB 350kW Terra HP charging stations being installed in Victoria as part of the Chargfox network, capable of providing 200km of range in eight minutes.

“[The chargers] are the first of their kind in Australia with liquid cooled cables and are assisting in deploying the first of the new generation of high-power charging stations in Asia Pacific,” Slavko says.

These are just a few examples of ABB’s innovative technology advancements, with the company’s overall ambition being to support its customers by providing innovative solutions that drive their productivity and competitiveness, while helping them digitise their business.

“It is fair to say that asset-intensive industries are still slow adopters of digital technologies and we are yet to realise the full potential that digitalisation offers,” Slavko says.

“In the years ahead, essential infrastructure, such as the power grid and the water supply, as well as industry and our transport networks, will increasingly be controlled and operated in part, or possibly in some cases entirely, by autonomous systems.

“How we better manage water, resources extraction and energy supply, manufacturing of goods, or moving people – all these areas are being reinvented using digital technology.”