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Interview with Benjamin Wilms
Task: Shaping the future. Benjamin Wilms is the Division Manager for Product Management and Development at Busch-Jaeger Elektro GmbH and also the Global Research & Development Manager for the Building and Home Automation Solutions division of the ABB Group.
He deals with the question everyday of how technology and product design can influence and help shape a sustainable future. We asked him what the challenges and trends are and what solutions Busch-Jaeger is contributing to them.
Benjamin, do you get into a role conflict when you look at the future from the different perspectives of the entrepreneur and the private person?
Not at all. As a father of three children, I naturally wish for a sustainable and peaceful future that we shape together. I also wish this from an entrepreneurial point of view. I see us as an innovation team at Busch-Jaeger and as a strong team player in the global innovation network of ABB as having a special responsibility to contribute to this. This responsibility is both part of our Busch-Jaeger DNA and a clear mandate in our "ABB Purpose": to continuously drive the transformation to a more productive and sustainable future through technological progress.
What does sustainability mean at Busch-Jaeger and how is it reflected in concrete action priorities and innovation projects?
Sustainability forms the foundation of corporate policy at Busch-Jaeger. The view is holistic: a clear focus is on sustainable product and process design. In addition, economic and also social action in the sense of all interest groups, including our customers, society and of course the employees, is important for the company. A central aspect of the sustainability orientation is, among other things, the question of how we realise a product with the lowest possible CO2 footprint. We use many possibilities here at Busch-Jaeger: Use of recycled materials in the plastics sector, low-power technology and efficient embedded software architectures. We also optimise the technical recyclability of our products. Our switch series future linear®, Busch-axcent® and Busch-balance® are already cradle-to-cradle certified, successive extensions are planned. We also have innovation projects in the pipeline that will take us significantly further and are expanding intensive partnerships in material development. One product example for low-power electronics and efficient embedded software is our Smart Home system Busch-flexTronics® wireless with the new Busch-flexTronics® inserts, in which we were able to reduce power consumption many times over compared to the previous generation. In production technology, we can demonstrate great success with our "Mission to Zero", which arose from the vision of energy-autonomous and CO2-neutral industrial production. Our first almost climate-neutral production site in Lüdenscheid should be mentioned here. On sunny days, the photovoltaic system covers up to 100 percent of the electricity demand. Every year, around 1100 MWh of climate-neutral solar power is produced there - roughly the annual demand of 340 private households.
Busch-Jaeger is helping to drive the digital transformation. What does digitalisation have to do with sustainability - and how can Busch-Jaeger make a significant contribution via the smart home?
With smartification and digitalisation, we are setting a very clear booster in the area of sustainability orientation. It's not just about minimising the footprint, it's also about maximising the handprint, i.e. what we can achieve for our customers by using our solutions. This starts with simple, smart applications such as motion detectors or room temperature controllers, which reduce energy consumption by around 6 percent with every degree saved. It becomes even more interesting when we go into comprehensive networking and bring together the power control in the building across all trades. Here, for example, we enable demand-dependent energy control via KNX or our open ecosystem Busch-free@home®. This creates energy efficiency potential with savings of up to 30 percent in building automation. Digitalisation is the next level, which builds on smartification. As Busch-Jaeger, we address many millions of installation points every year together with our specialist partners. With the smartification of the installed base, we have a joint opportunity to expand this with digital solutions. With the help of relevant data, better decisions can be made to optimise building use. This leverage becomes greater the more we collaborate in open, digital ecosystems. In concrete terms, the continuous further development of Busch-free@home® not only allows us to exploit the opportunities we have in ABB's smart network for energy management and EV charging, but also to work together with strong partners. For example, we use the wibutler alliance to network a heterogeneous variety of devices into a homogeneous overall system including heating, air conditioning and ventilation technology. Our partnerships, for example with Samsung, are about combining strengths for a sustainable future and offering our customers even greater benefits.
What role does artificial intelligence (AI) play in Busch-Jaeger's solution offerings for a sustainable future?
When we talk about technology, AI is an essential factor in achieving our sustainability goals. Effective use of AI consistently builds on the smartification and digitalisation described. In our ABB Building and Home Automation Solutions team, a lot has happened in this area in the last two years. For example, following the acquisition of Cylon Controls, we made a technology investment towards Brainbox AI, a Montreal-based startup and innovation award winner at COP26 in 2021. We also work with many other startups and host startup challenges. For example, the collaboration with Mavenoid has emerged from previous Startup Challenges. Here we use AI in technical product support. Prominent examples of AI are of course the usual assistants around Amazon Alexa and Google Home, which we have also integrated into Busch-free@home® for our range of services.
How big is actually the influence of buildings and especially of private households with regard to the general CO2 balance?
The influence should not be underestimated. Buildings account for almost one third of global energy consumption and almost 40 percent of global CO2 emissions. Reducing this impact is one of the greatest climate challenges of our time and one of the greatest opportunities for the future. Sustainable building and CO2-neutral homes are in vogue. The international market research company "The Business Research Company" has found that last year investments in green single-family and multi-family homes were each more than 100 billion US dollars, with a clear upward trend.
Has the Smarter Home arrived as a standard?
When I look at the developments of the last few years and the forecasts for the near future, I can personally answer the question clearly with "yes". It is important to make the entry threshold for professionally installed systems as low and as simple as possible. With Busch-flexTronics® wireless is a system is available as a standard choice that allows entry into the Smarter Home from the first device and at the same time offers investment security and sustainable scaling options.
What challenges need to be overcome in the area of the Smarter Home with regard to acceptance and sustainability?
Here, the complexity and compatibility of different applications are important issues. Here, too, open ecosystems help to integrate different communication standards and applications into a uniform user experience. It will be interesting to see what role e.g. KNX, IoT or Matter will play in the future. For a positive user experience, both a convincing product design and the smooth interaction between people and buildings are important. This applies to the complete life cycle in all stages of smartification and digitalisation up to artificial intelligence. Often, the dominant narrative is that technology is completely relegated to the background. On the other hand, we see that technology can be experienced and can be fun. So in addition to safe, smart and sustainable electrification, in my view the experience at the interface between people and building technology plays a decisive role. This is exactly what we want to offer our professional partners and their customers with the Smarter Gallery.