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Synergies drive growth in traction components market

29 Apr 2008

Harry Hondius visits ABB's 'power electronics triangle'

Last year was 'a great year for ABB', according to the company's interim CEO Michel Demaré, who announced the ABB Group annual results in Zürich on February 14. Net income for the global business increased to a record US$3·8bn from US$1·4bn in 2006, which Demaré attributed to strong markets and operational improvements. In particular, he highlighted strong demand for power equipment, especially transformers, which drove a 37% increase in orders for the Power Products division.

Following the divestment of its railway equipment business to Adtranz, ABB has focused primarily on the power equipment, process automation and robotics industries. However, it has kept a toehold in the rail sector, both in fixed equipment for electrification systems and through its Swiss-based electrical components business.

Today's ABB has no ambition to supply complete electric traction packages for rail vehicles. Instead it specialises in supplying train builders across the world with the transformers, converters and motors they need for their own product lines. Along with these components, ABB provides a full range of engineering and commissioning assistance, helping its main customers to develop new locomotives and multiple-units.

ABB's plant at Turgi in northern Switzerland is the company's centre of competence for power electronics. Just a few kilometres away are the power semi-conductor factory at Lenzburg and ABB's global research and development facility in Dättwil. The three sites form a 'power electronics triangle' employing around 1 500 people, of which half are at Turgi.

Industrial synergies

Work for the rail sector is benefiting from synergies with the semiconductors and medium voltage drives which ABB is also developing for the utility, marine, mining and metals industries. The use of industrial semiconductors has proved financially attractive for the train builders.

In recent years a fruitful partnership has been formed with Stadler Rail Group. Stadler and ABB have developed the idea of using medium-voltage industrial IGBTs for traction purposes, based around a 750 V DC intermediate circuit.

With over 400 EMUs ordered from Stadler to date, ABB is supplying the builder with its Bordline compact traction converters for these trainsets. The CC 750 AC design is used for Flirt EMUs equipped to run on 15 kV 16·7 Hz, 15 kV/25 kV or 3 kV DC traction supplies, and the CC 1500 DC converter is for dual-system Flirts running under 3 kV DC and 15 kV 16·7 Hz supplies.

Rated at 775 kVA, the CC 750 AC converters are also fitted on the 95 GTW trains supplied to SBB Thurbo and RM in Switzerland; the CC 750 DC version is fitted on the GTW sets ordered by Veolia and Arriva for use in the Netherlands. Around 80 CC 500 D compact inverters have been supplied for the diesel-electric GTW family, as well as various custom-designed rack railway vehicles. Each liquid-cooled compact inverter supplies one TSA traction motor, using electronic train control software developed by Stadler and supplied by Selectron.

Transformers and traction motors

All of the AC EMUs are also equipped with ABB transformers. Genève-based ABB Sécheron claims to be the market leader in 15 kV and 25 kV traction transformers, supplying Alstom, Ansaldo­Breda, Bombardier, Siemens and Stadler.

One of the most prestigious projects with which ABB is involved is the fleet of 698 Bombardier AGC multiple-units supplied to or on order for SNCF, for use on regional routes in France. The AGC family includes dual-voltage EMUs for 1·5 kV DC and 25 kV 50 Hz operation (ZGC, Class Z25500), diesel-electric (Class X76500), and electro-diesel equipped with 1·5 kV DC (BGC Class B81500). There is also a dual-voltage electro-diesel equipped for 1·5 kV DC and 25 kV 50 Hz operation (BGC Class B82500) (RG 11.07 p693).

Traction motors for the AGCs come from ABB's Västerås plant in Sweden, along with the asynchronous alternators for the electro-diesel sets and roof-mounted and underfloor transformers for the dual-voltage sets. Bombardier provides the Mitrac control system, recti­fiers and traction inverters.

A new market opportunity for ABB was opened up by Stadler's entry into the light rail and tram sector. The Vario­bahn and Tango cars are equip­ped with Bord­line CC 800 DC compact inverters suit­able for 600 or 750 V DC supplies.

The inverter packs are mounted on the roof of the low-floor Variobahn cars, but the high-floor Tangos have them located under the floor. ABB also supplies the traction converter controls, whilst other components for the Vario­bahn cars come from Selectron and Lütze.

All Bordline compact inverters are supplied in cabinets incorporating the main switch, line filter, propulsion inverters, auxiliary inverters and battery charger as well as the brake chopper. Brake resistors are sourced separately. The inverters are tested at Turgi before being supplied to the customers.

Bordline M auxiliary inverters have been supplied for Alstom's Citadis 202 and 302 trams for Melbourne, Montpellier, Nice, Jerusalem and Tenerife, as well as the automated metro trainsets for use in Lausanne. They are also used on Bombardier-built trams, and metro trainsets from CAF and Siemens.

Traction inverters

Looking to the future, ABB has once again become an important player in the traction and control market.

As a legacy from ABB's former share in Adtranz, Bombardier has been undertaking develop­ment work on locomotive traction inverters at Turgi, with around 110 staff on site. However, ABB ended Bombardier's lease on the premises at the beginning of 2008 in order to use the extra space to expand its traction converter business. Bombardier has decided to leave Turgi and move its locomotive inverter business to Oerlikon during the course of this year; its work on EMU and tram inverters is already based at Mannheim.

A long pedigree

ABB Transportation was created in 1987 through the merger of the rail traction activities of Sweden's ASEA and Switzerland's Brown Boveri & Cie. In 1996 ABB Transportation and Daimler-Benz subsidiary AEG-Westinghouse then merged to create Adtranz, which restructured the traction activities from both groups. In 1999 ABB sold its share of Adtranz to DaimlerChrysler, which in turn sold the whole business on to Bombardier Transportation in 2001. The Adtranz traction motor factory in Wiener Neudorf had already been sold to a management buy-out team in 2001, and is now trading as TSA.

After selling its stake in Adtranz, ABB continued to produce components for the rail industry. Transformers are made in Genève, traction motors (often to Bombardier designs) at plants in Västerås in Sweden and Vittuone near Milano, and auxiliary converters at Turgi, along with low-voltage products, turbochargers and electrification infrastructure. ABB also remains an important supplier of industrial GTO and IGBT drives to many companies including GE and Bombardier.

Since 2000 ABB has focused on producing complete component packages, becoming a competitive supplier of converters and inverters for both traction and auxiliary systems.

Table I. ABB's range of liquid-cooled traction converters

 CC 800 DC CC 500 DE CC 750 AC CC 750 DC CC 750 DC CC 1500 MS
Supply voltage 600/750 V DC diesel 15/25kV AC 1·5 kV DC 3 kV DC 3 kV DC 15/25 kV AC
Applications Tram and light rail GTW, Rack trainsets GTW/Flirt GTW Flirt Flirt
Input Voltage 600/750 V DC 480 V AC three-phase* 380 V AC single-phase 1·5 kV DC 3 kV DC 3 kV DC 1 x 380 V AC
Traction rating traction: 2 x 165 kW braking:2 x 345 kW 450 kW 690 kW 690 kW 690 kW 1·38 MW
Auxiliary inverter (three-phase) 400 V AC 35 kVA 400 V AC 55 kVA 400 V AC 50/70 kVA 400 V AC 70 kVA 400 V AC 70 kVA 400 V AC 140 kVA
Battery charger 24 V DC, 8 kW 24 and 110 V DC, 5 kW 24 and 110 V DC, 8 kW 24 and 110 V DC, 8 kW 24 and 110 V DC, 8 kW 24 and 110 V DC, 8 kW
Weight, kg 520 410 750 850 850 2 550
Dimensions, m 1·6 x 1·8 x 0·43 0·84 x 0·82 x 1·49 0·9 x 0·85 x 1·9 0·9 x 0·85 x 1·9 0·9 x 0·85 x 1·9 2·7 x 0·85 x 1·9
Mounting Roof/underfloor Engine room/ underfloor In power module In power module In power module In power module
*supplied by a synchronous alternator
  • CAPTION: Cooler and brake resistor set for CC 800 DC compact converters.
  • CAPTION: Stadler's Flirt and GTW EMUs are fitted with Bordline CC 750 AC compact converters.
  • CAPTION: The BiBi electro-diesel AGC units that Bombardier is building for SNCF have ABB roof-mounted 25 kV/932 V/484 A transformers rated at 1 800 kVA weighing around 3 tonnes.