In a pioneering effort to overcome pandemic challenges that have hampered its interaction with customers, partners, and other stakeholders, Hitachi ABB Power Grids on Feb. 9 inaugurated a “customer experience” center at the company’s North American headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The North America Customer Experience Center, which is located in a state-of-the-art facility on the Centennial Campus of North Carolina State University, comprises an in-person and virtual facility that offers a 3D, interactive immersion in Hitachi ABB Power Grids’ portfolio of technologies and solutions. It serves as a comprehensive showroom that caters to power utilities, renewables, data centers, transportation, and other asset-intensive industries. The company said the center will also “support both virtual and in-person guided tours and collaboration sessions for customers, partners, and select guests.”
The facility and its multimedia-studded virtual tour was designed by Durham, North Carolina creative marketing firm Neu Concepts. It was built using an advanced digital platform, Hitachi ABB Power Grids said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we operate and engage with customers. This new Customer Experience Center provides us with a perfect opportunity to better demonstrate the value of our products and solutions to our customers in a whole new digital way,” said Anthony Allard, head of Hitachi ABB Power Grids’ North America region. “I encourage everyone to tour the center virtually and register for future visits or face-to-face collaboration when it’s safe to do so,” he said.
Rethinking Customer Engagement
“Customer experience” centers aren’t a new offering within the power industry. A diverse range of equipment manufacturers and technology solutions firms have set up dedicated facilities, and they can be readily found on conference exhibition floors to allow customers to interact with and understand complex or niche products and services.
GE, for example, in 2013 opened its GE Grid IQ center in Markham, Ontario, a 200,000 square foot center to showcase its grid technology offerings. In 2019, ABB launched a center to introduce customers to its electrical distribution and energy management solutions at its R&D Competence Center in Bergamo, Northern Italy. Currently, the company also offers “regional” centers in San Jose and Houston. Power management company Eaton, notably has three facilities that offer training on global trends, live demos for energy management and safety, and a solutions showcase.
Centers that encapsulate virtual or 3D experiences that encapsulate a full product portfolio, however, are rarer. But in light of continued pandemic challenges, more companies are considering them. Marketing solutions firm Red Rocket, for example, is reportedly installing a center for Siemens.
Among Hitachi ABB Power Grids’s interactive demonstrations at the North Carolina center are those that explore its power and distribution transformers, high-voltage products and services, power automation and distribution, and grid integration systems and solutions. Some of the featured products and solutions showcased in the center include the Grid-eMotion™ Fleet solution for large-scale EV charging of smart public and commercial transport; the TXpert Ecosystem for digitalization of transformers; PASS M00 – Wind (high-voltage hybrid switchgear for offshore wind applications), and the recently launched Lumada Asset Performance Management (APM), Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) and Field Service Management (FSM) solutions, which the company says are designed to enable asset-intensive industries to turn data into actionable insights.
A Virtual Museum
Notably, Hitachi ABB Power Grids is also deploying the center as a physical and virtual museum that preserves and showcases a rich, now-joint legacy of innovation by Hitachi and ABB—a combined heritage of almost 250 years. Japanese technology conglomerate Hitachi acquired a majority share of ABB’s lucrative Power Grids business in a $10 billion deal in July 2020 to officially launch the Hitachi ABB Power Grids joint venture.
For Hitachi, the acquisition of ABB’s Power Grids business was a natural evolution for Hitachi. Though the company has in recent years embarked on a cautious approach in the power sector, it has increasingly centered efforts on explosive demand in digitalization solutions.
For ABB—the company that pioneered high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission links in 1954, a succession of related technologies, including for grid automation and integration, as well as innovations in transformers—the divestment marked made the significant decision to shift away from power transmission and large-scale infrastructure projects and toward a more simplified business model and operational structure to focus efforts on streamlining core businesses and aligning them with customer operations.
Zurich-headquartered Hitachi ABB Power Grids, which today employs 36,000 people in 90 countries, said the center will also provide virtual tours of some of its factories in North America. “It also highlights customer success stories to help visitors better understand how Hitachi ABB Power Grids is prepared to solve customers’ most complex energy challenges. With the inclusion of an engineering operator workstation, customers will be able to interact with the latest analytics, operations and asset management software applications that simulate real-life operations,” it said.