Digital transformation has become inevitable for industry. New technologies such as big data, the Internet of Things, cloud computing and artificial intelligence are entering every sector of activity. By 2024, the global market for industry 4.0 could represent 155 billion dollars, compared to 66 billion dollars in 20171. New uses are proliferating, the rate of change is accelerating and industrial customers are adopting the same habits as consumers in daily life, especially when it comes to responsiveness and an increasingly seamless, enhanced and personalized experience.
Air Liquide serves more than 2 million industrial customers in nearly every sector of the economy: food and pharmaceuticals, steel production, energy, chemicals, automotive manufacturing, aeronautics, etc. At the heart of these very diverse markets, the Group is in a prime position to observe and detect new needs and uses at the source. This very close proximity, combined with a large number of customers, field employees and assets (plants, facilities, cylinders, etc.), offers an ideal playground for developing new solutions focused on the customer and employee experience.
Seen very early on as a remarkable performance driver, digital technology is now increasingly integrated into the Group’s services and working methods. In just a few years, this transformation has occurred at every level of the organization: manufacturing, logistics, traceability, operational performance, on-site and truck safety, a simplified employee experience with a single online work platform, and more
"Our greatest strength is believing that digitization doesn’t just mean implementing technology. It’s about putting people first. Upstream, that means creating brand-new services and products based on an in-depth observation of our customers’ issues. And downstream, we transform our organization to continually make it more agile, by engaging our employees and developing new skills."
Digital technology represents a vast source of solutions for managing the Group’s assets more effectively. The Smart & Innovative Operations (SIO) program is a prime example: control centers remotely adapt production at the Group’s plants to improve reliability – especially with predictive maintenance - and optimize energy consumption. The objective is to respond more effectively in real time to customers’ varying supply needs. Launched in France in 2015, the SIO program is now deployed in Europe, the United States, Asia Pacific and the Middle East. At the end of 2019, Air Liquide inaugurated its first automated order preparation system at the gas cylinder packaging plant in Feyzin, France. This offers numerous benefits: increased operational efficiency, a clear improvement in the quality of service provided to customers, and reduced handling by operators. This technological progress would not have been possible without the involvement of plant operators during the earliest project phases and cross-functional teams during the design and digitization phases.
—The successful deployment of new technologies depends largely on users’ (customers’ or employees’) ability to adopt them. The Group is committed to developing a digital culture as well as internal expertise, and this transformation involves new, more collaborative and cross-functional working styles. This was the spirit behind the creation of our Digital Fabs in 2016. Focusing on a business line or function, these fabs bring together diverse teams from Air Liquide operations, business lines and R&D, as well as digital/IT experts: developers, data scientists, designers and user research specialists. This latter resource enables Air Liquide to further its understanding of customers’ and employees’ needs and behaviors (user journey, qualitative studies, etc.) to maximize the adoption of new technologies for a continually enhanced experience.
Launched in 2019, Qlixbi was designed with and for welders through co-building workshops in their work environment. Combining an easier-to-use new generation gas cylinder and a range of digital services, this solution is revolutionizing the welding business. It is a real boon for welders, who work in a competitive market and need to manage numerous constraints, including gas supplies. With Qlixbi, they receive a cutting-edge connector to link their welding station and gas cylinder in a single click. Continuous supply is ensured by connected services that enable the user to monitor their gas reserves online and automatically replenish supplies, while facilitating collaboration between workshop teams.
Another example of technology that serves people is “cobots” or collaborative robots that help operators perform tasks. This is the case of BotX Welder, a solution co-developed by Air Liquide’s U.S. subsidiary Airgas and its Red-D-Arc branch, the Innovation Campus Delaware and start-ups Hirebotics and Universal Robots. Designed using welder expertise, this cobot is programmed to carry out a wide range of welding operations to industry standards. As a workshop assistant, BotX Welder is a flexible way to compensate for a shortage of labor in the welding market.
As industrial customers expect an increasingly simple and seamless procurement relationship, Air Liquide is reinforcing its multichannel distribution strategy, combining physical presence with e-commerce. In the United States, Airgas offers a unique integrated approach incorporating its network of more than 900 sales outlets nationwide, its telemarketing team and its e-commerce portal. The aim is to offer customers the best possible service, based on simplicity, speed and efficiency. In Europe, Air Liquide has rolled out, in addition to the distributor network, the myGAS digital portal and mobile app, to cover the entire customer journey, from stock management and ordering to tank level monitoring. This partnership approach is intended to help customers (craftsmen and small to medium business owners) increase their everyday efficiency.
Air Liquide puts people at the heart of its customer-centric transformation to meet today’s imperatives for simple, effective service – a transformation that generates value for all the Group’s stakeholders.
1 Zion Market Research - Industry 4.0 Market by Technology and by Vertical: Global Industry Perspective, Comprehensive Analysis, and Forecast, 2017-2024
Article published on August 28, 2020