ABB’s electrical enclosures: ‘Not a unit you hide behind a doorway’

2014-09-15 - When ABB began revamping its electrical enclosures, also referred to as MISTRAL consumer units, the Italian design studio it was working with had a tough task in 2012: Marry technical specs ABB engineers knew were demanded by installers with a modern aesthetic to please people who interact with them daily, in homes, hotels and offices.

In addition to streamlining ABB’s enclosures offering, this project sought to connect values of beauty and grace with the functionality that electricians associate with ABB’s enclosures for miniature circuit breakers, residual current devices and surge protectors, said Slobodan Jokovic, Low Voltage Products manager for export in the Netherlands.

ABB's MISTRAL consumer units - an Italian design
What resulted, the System pro E comfort MISTRAL® created with Milan-based Design Group Italia, isn’t just good looking. MISTRAL offers freedom and flexibility to accommodate nearly any kind of electrical distribution system in industrial, commercial or residential environments.

“When you see the MISTRAL enclosures, you know it is an ABB product and nothing else,” Jokovic said. “It’s not only a consumer unit on the wall you hide behind a doorway or underneath a stair. It’s a unit that stands on its own.”

The challenge
In 2012, ABB’s enclosures product group set out to replace multiple ABB consumer units made at various manufacturing locations around the world for sale in Europe. Some were a decade-old or more; others had grown costly to produce.

The idea was to preserve functionality and robustness – they’re built to international standards to protect against moisture intrusion - while creating a product suitable for display in homes, hotel rooms, offices and other buildings.

“That was our first goal: Something that would connect you to ABB,” said Cristian dell’Anna, an ABB enclosures product manager in Milan, Italy.

Italian design studio helped create MISTRAL
To help, ABB turned to Design Group Italia, a nearly 50-year-old studio in Milan whose creations include aerodynamic helmets for bicyclists, iconic bar stools and the “Tratto” pen, along with popular brands of toothbrushes nearly everyone has held in their hands.

The studio also has a long, close relationship with ABB guiding the look and feel of industrial products. Design Group Italia helped create design standards for Power Products, to reinforce their reputation for reliability. It was also behind ABB’s Emax2 low-voltage air circuit breakers that won a 2014 Red Dot Design Award this year.

For the System pro E comfort MISTRAL®, however, Design Group Italia’s Chris Miller said the studio had a slightly different mission: Enclosures destined for consumers in homes, offices and other public spaces, not the factory floor that’s home to most of ABB’s other offerings.

Striking the right chord was essential, since people will be divided if something is too flashy. “You have to find a balance,” Miller said. ‘In the end, aesthetics counts.’

MISTRAL's consumer units are visually appealing
Since enclosures remain in buildings for decades, Miller said his group concentrated on creating something distinctive and modern, but that also communicated ABB values like Swiss-Swedish precision and quality.

On the technical side, challenges to overcome included producing an enclosure that was nearly flush with a wall - a strong trend in interior design, where technology is embedded as an integral part of an interior space, rather than installed as an afterthought - but still capable accommodating the necessary door hardware.

And they had to retain their visual appeal - regardless of whether they’re installed without a door, common in some markets. Even the colors were carefully chosen, to communicate values including the energy-saving technology that goes into modern building control systems.

“Electricians are the main target, because they install them, but they are going to take something to the customer they think is going to appeal to them,” Miller said. “In the end, aesthetics count.”

Extensive consultations
After consulting with customers including installers, ABB embarked on product improvements, including more space for internal cabling. A symmetrical design allows for a reversible door, untethering the unit from traditional location constraints.

Additional features including variable height and depth positioning of the MISTRAL’s DIN rails, making it easier to install miniature circuit breakers or control devices. The introduction of a new terminal block range also assists effective cabling.

The MISTRAL replaces 33 previous ABB enclosure ranges, making it easier for distributors to manage their stock, added Rob van Hoorn, head of ABB’s enclosures product group.

“These are so much more than simple units,” van Hoorn said. “We have invested in research and development, to develop a range that makes it much easier for electrical installers to cable and install.”

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