Data and artificial intelligence driving Industry 4.0

Published on May 16, 2022

11 mins

Industry is at the heart of the major economic and climate challenges that require a fundamental review of production activities. To meet these challenges, in the same way as those that led to the steam and electricity revolutions, data and AI are transforming plants, production and distribution methods. They open up a wide range of opportunities and offer extensive potential across all aspects of industry.

As a result, we are seeing smart plants, which are capable of managing their performance in an agile manner while reducing their carbon footprint. Air Liquide has been part of this "4th industrial revolution" for several years. The Group is a key player, as its Chief Data Officer Bruno Aïdan explains.

What is happening in industry in terms of data and artificial intelligence? Are we seeing a revolution?

Yes, an industrial revolution is underway! Today for example, a smart plant is made up of physical components as well as a layer of software that includes AI models, all of which is led by teams of committed technicians and engineers. At Air Liquide, data is at the heart of our operations, with 3.5 billion data points collected each day in each of our 600 production plants across the globe, from our 10,000 trucks and 24 million gas cylinders in circulation. Plus the data collected from our customers. Data is a strategic asset for our Group. In this respect, for example, we have a subsidiary dedicated to the industrial IoT (Internet of Things), as well as a department within Digital & IT that is entirely focused on data storage and processing, and the development of new digital services for our employees and our customers.

In practical terms, how does data change your operations?

It changes everything! Data expertise is now a key skill at Air Liquide and is as important as our long-standing technological and industrial know-how. Data drives our descriptive analyses, which describe what has happened in our operations and business lines, but also, and above all, prescriptive analysis, used to anticipate events that define these same operations and business lines. Moreover, the 3.5 billion data points that we process are such as to allow us to build increasingly efficient algorithms. In short, leveraging data and artificial intelligence allows us to achieve operational excellence and excellence in service for our customers and patients. We continuously adapt to changes in their needs through innovative solutions, for ever greater efficiency. Data and artificial intelligence provide us with a clear competitive advantage.

The teams have artificial intelligence and data resources, what does this mean in practice?

At Air Liquide, artificial intelligence and data are at the service of our employees. They are valuable daily allies, as they help with making the right decisions and streamlining processes. In terms of data scientists, data analysts and business analysts, Air Liquide offers the opportunity to work at the heart of operations and apply data to tangibly contribute to the industry of the future. What I mean by that is the ability provided to the teams to be able to do things more quickly and more precisely, to free up energy and unleash creativity. For example, we have maintenance teams that are able to manage our assets and tools by forecasting what will happen in the weeks and months ahead: allowing us to maximize value and gain a competitive advantage.

Data is a way of achieving our sustainable development objectives and it contributes to the objectives of our new ADVANCE strategic plan.

Bruno Aïdan

Chief Data Officer

Data, seen in that way, is therefore a performance enhancer, right?

Yes, it is, and much more. Data is also a way of achieving our sustainable development objectives. It contributes to the objectives of our new ADVANCE strategic plan, which reiterates Air Liquide’s commitment to the decarbonization of industry. For example: through our liquid gas supply chain digitalization program, we collect massive amounts of data. Predictive analysis of customer demand, and supply and delivery optimization allow us to reduce our carbon footprint while at the same time ensuring operating performance. By 2025, we aim to reduce the number of kilometers driven by our trucks by 10%. Last but not least, all of these measures also contribute to the sustainable development objectives of our partners and of society in general.

Data and artificial intelligence also contribute to improving the quality of life of patients.

Air Liquide is a major healthcare player; the Group provides support to 1.8 million chronically ill patients in their homes and develops medical gases and related services for 15,000 hospitals and new care facilities. Data and AI are powerful drivers of the personalization of the continuum of care for patients, carers and healthcare management professionals (social security and private health insurers); they aim to improve the quality of life of patients, while at the same time managing costs in an appropriate manner. Again, in healthcare, but on a different level, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, our algorithms were able to predict changes in demand for oxygen in hospitals by combining public data on current trends in COVID-19 cases in several countries under pressure with internal data in order to adapt gas production and its supply. Moreover, for patients suffering from chronic respiratory diseases and cared for in their homes via connected medical devices, algorithms are used to identify the risk of non-adherence of a specific patient and thus adapt that patient’s support in a predictive manner. In this way, we therefore adapt resources according to each patient’s needs at a given time.

What other changes have data and artificial intelligence brought about at Air Liquide?

Digital solutions change the daily lives of our customers and patients. The same is true for our employees. With our tech-savvy culture, the appeal of integrating data expertise into our business on a daily basis is strong. We have launched AI Readiness, an internal program that notably includes an artificial intelligence training component. For example, operational employees working in the field have received programming, statistics and modeling training. Our aim is to train 300 data scientists and analysts who work at the heart of our operations. We also organize data challenge competitions for our employees. These aim to predict events based on data sets provided to participants. Employees are delighted to share, learn, test and present their ideas. And that is how data inspires them to innovate in new ways!

What about young talents, young graduates?

Around 10 years ago, new graduates were drawn to start-ups, e-commerce and digital pure players. Today, we are seeing a different trend with the strong appeal of industry. They are keen to contribute to technological progress by using their skills at industrial groups like Air Liquide. This is combined with the desire to make a meaningful contribution to sustainable development objectives, the ability to build trust with our patients and customers. Data-related talent is  initially found in our Digital & IT departments and in R&D, at our Innovation Campuses. Today, they can also be present more widely across the Group, working alongside all employees in daily operational roles, at our plants (production, maintenance, supply chain, etc.) and in customer relation roles.