Chasing tornadoes

How ABB’s Plug and Switch System throws light on the different stages of the technology adoption lifecycle

In the 1990s movie Twister, a storm chaser is searching for the perfect tornado to develop an innovative device for gathering data and ultimately preventing these extreme weather phenomena. I had never made a connection between this storyline and high-voltage technology until this summer, when I got into a book named Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers by leading consultant Geoffrey Moore.

Moore’s work focuses on the early stages of the product innovation lifecycle, the difficulties which create obstacles to their diffusion (the chasm of the title, which has to be leapt across) and the metaphorical tornado which has to be chased and then ridden in order to reach mainstream diffusion, what Moore terms “main street”.

This year is the fifteenth birthday of the high-voltage hybrid switchgear Plug And Switch System (PASS). PASS is a hybrid module that combines the benefits of air-insulated and gas-insulated switchgear technologies, including the functions of an entire switchgear bay in a single module, pre-assembled and pre-tested at the factory. It was designed by ABB in 1999, creating a new market segment at the time. As suggested by Moore, ABB had to target a focused customer segment (the “innovators”, or “early adopters”) to initially establish PASS, and then broaden its focus to a wider market.

Image courtesy of the Chasm Institute
Image courtesy of the Chasm Institute

Of course, the market doesn’t change overnight, and it has taken time to find a foothold for this product, to change the mindset of professionals who were confident with a well-established and mature technology – leaping the ‘chasm’, as it were.

Now we have a definite marker of progress, as evidenced by the new PASS 420 kV. It took just a few months to be successfully introduced on the market and less than a year for 13 bays to be sold. Moreover, other products in the PASS product line had major breakthroughs on important markets like Japan. It seems as if we’re now staring the tornado right in the eye! Maybe PASS is no longer seen as an “innovative switchgear” – even though, of course, its technology is still innovative – and it is now a widely accepted solution. What do you say?

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About the author

Domenico Menduni

I’ve been responsible for Marketing Communications for the high-voltage business at ABB in Italy since 2012. My previous experience at an entertainment company, building a virtual community, inspired my interest in blogging and social networking. Beyond my day job, I’m very passionate about politics, economics and (of course!) technology.
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