Helping industries meet the challenges of tomorrow
Published on April 12, 2022
Present in a wide variety of markets, Air Liquide is in a privileged position to observe and detect new trends, needs and uses across industrial ecosystems. Drawing on the powerful potential of essential small molecules and data management, the Group innovates with and for its customers to offer them new gas applications that contribute to their operational efficiency and address the challenges of both new emerging markets and the energy transition.
2 M industrial customers worldwide
€2.9 Bn of Industrial Merchant sales are related to solutions that protect life and environment
How does digital data enable Air Liquide to better meet the expectations of its customers?
Just like our customers, we have to produce sustainably, offer a quality experience and meet the latest industry expectations. Data is a powerful enabler for us in overcoming these challenges. The Integrated Bulk Operations1 program, which is currently being rolled out, is a good example. By digitally connecting logistical assets (production plants, tanks installed on customers’ sites or trucks), we are able to collect and analyze data to optimize the liquid gas supply chain in real time. The key here is that our logistics teams can anticipate customer requests and identify the right time for delivery by organizing more efficient and reliable delivery rounds. This gives us an agile logistics chain for better customer service while lowering our CO₂ emissions!
What role do employees play in this digital transformation?
Our employees are experts in our business processes and are in close contact with our customers. So involving them from the start is crucial when working together to build solutions that can improve our operational efficiency. This in turn provides a better customer experience. For example, the Digital and R&D teams worked with operators in France to design a solution that would increase their productivity in preparing customer orders for gas cylinders while optimizing handling operations.
What is the greatest challenge in optimizing data management?
Supporting decision-making, anticipating needs, managing performance and more. There is a wealth of data available and our teams were quick to see the value in capitalizing on it. So much so that you hear them talking about “their” data. Now the challenge is to upskill and train teams, an indispensable investment that maximizes the potential of data. In the future, using data will be part and parcel of employees’ everyday work.
A new ecosystem intelligence approach is being tested in the Industrial Merchant activity. What does this involve?
Essentially, it is about challenging our orthodoxies around how we look at current and new markets. The idea is to go outside our normal bounds and look at all stakeholders, their drivers of change and their interactions. We then build a strategic analysis that better addresses an individual market, prioritizing actions and reducing the time to market for relevant solutions. To do this, we need to be part of a broad, diverse ecosystem where we are connected with key stakeholders. Supported by the i-Lab2, we’re testing the approach on some market segments such as water treatment in the pharmaceutical industry.
How strategic is this approach for your business?
To stay ahead in a fast-changing world, we must detect trends and understand how they will shape our business regarding new customers, stakeholders (customers, customers’ clients, suppliers, public authorities, etc.) and business models. By being proactively involved in an ecosystem, we can deepen our knowledge and ask ourselves the right questions: What will this customer look like in five years? How will energy transition trends affect customers, and what impact will they have on their business and on the value chain? Who are the new players in the market? This approach puts us at the forefront of change so we can understand how disruption impacts our customers’ needs, and we can anticipate their future expectations and come up with new solutions.
What is the value for Air Liquide and your customers?
An ecosystem-based process gives a much better read of the customer’s environmental, regulatory and supply chain context across markets, helping us to prioritize actions and align resources. We start with their pain points and ecosystem changes and then build on them using a customer-centric approach. This can also lead to unlikely pairings or partnerships that accelerate our thinking and shape customer outcomes. By identifying critical water treatment challenges within the pharmaceutical industry that could be addressed by our technological expertise, we forge new connections to solve issues and create value for every player in the ecosystem.
A production furnace at a glass plantReducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions by improving the oxy-combustion process.
Glass manufacturers are increasingly seeking to improve energy- and cost-efficiency and furnace profitability while reducing pollutants. Air Liquide’s heat-oxycombustion technology improves the glass production process by reusing heat that would otherwise be wasted. An EU-funded study at a Bulgarian glass factory demonstrated that heat-oxycombustion reduced emissions of CO2 by 19% and of nitrogen oxides by 90%.
An innovative training approach for weldersSupporting welding customers to become more competitive around the world.
In the highly competitive metal fabrication market, customers seek increased productivity, improved quality and cost reductions. Air Liquide U.S. subsidiary Airgas offers a comprehensive, systematic program to help customers gain more value and continuously improve. The innovative “Unlocking the Hidden Cost of Welding™” program provides professional training, quality management methods and ongoing digital benchmarking tools, and is currently being successfully deployed in Europe and in Asia.
Integrated and sustainable water treatment solutionPartnering with Inopsys, a Belgian specialist in treating chemical and pharmaceutical wastewater.
Some waste waters from complex industrial processes are non-recyclable and often transported for incineration, a costly and CO2-intensive process. Air Liquide offers its customers an integrated and sustainable solution, developed in collaboration with Inopsys, that uses hybrid technology to purify wastewater streams on site. The Group initially shared its pioneering work in advanced oxidation with Inopsys, and now supplies the company with pure oxygen and strategic expertise.
Indoor vertical farmingDeveloping a foothold on indoor vertical farming in Singapore through a new partnership with the company &ever.
Aiming to create a buffer from supply disruptions and produce 30% of its nutritional needs locally by 2030, Singapore called upon the German company &ever to develop indoor vertical farming in the country. Air Liquide will support &ever’s sustainable operations to supply carbon dioxide, crucial for plant growth, which can help increase their yield and growth rate.
To meet the challenges facing society, a profound transformation of industry is underway. Air Liquide is contributing by working with its customers to build more innovative and sustainable industries. The Group develops new solutions for the future that support those involved in bringing about new industrial revolutions, whether that is electric vehicles, 3D printing or the agriculture of tomorrow.
The electric vehicle revolution is gaining speed and Air Liquide is a key player, as gases are crucial in manufacturing the next generation of batteries with an extended range and a reduced carbon footprint. The Group provides its expertise to the world’s leading companies in this ecosystem. Gas solutions are needed along the entire value chain, from extracting raw materials and producing electrodes to assembling cells and recycling.
In 2021, the first 3D-printed metal bridge was inaugurated in Amsterdam. This was a technological feat to which Air Liquide made a major contribution. The Group shared the welding and additive manufacturing expertise of its R&D teams and provided shielding gases to MX3D, the tech start-up that masterminded the project. More generally, industrial gases play a key role throughout the chain of additive manufacturing processes, ensuring their safe execution, operational stability and the final quality of the metal parts.
By 2050, the Earth will have 10 billion inhabitants, and food production will need to increase by 70%. This global challenge will mean using new sources of accessible, sustainable proteins such as plant proteins, insects or proteins derived from fermentation. Air Liquide is committed to this transition through the supply of gas and equipment solutions to those working in this field. The Group has forged R&D and industrial partnerships notably in Belgium, Canada, France and Germany, to support the development of this high-growth sector.
2. Air Liquide’s foresight department which investigates emerging trends and topics, and develops foresight tools and methodologies.