Linde ASU plant at Linz, Austria

Plant services during the coronavirus pandemic

Ensuring a continuous supply of oxygen for COVID-19 patients is currently the number one priority at the Linde plant complex in Linz, Austria. LINDE PLANTSERV® was tasked with efficiently planning and executing a revamp – without interrupting operations and in compliance with strict coronavirus protection regulations. We take a look behind the scenes.

  • LINDE PLANTSERV® experts are revamping several air separation units (ASUs) at the Linde plant complex in Linz, Austria.
  • Even before the coronavirus pandemic, this work was supposed to be completed without interrupting operations. Production continuity is even more important now given that Linz supplies medical oxygen to hospitals and is therefore classified as critical infrastructure in the fight against the pandemic.
  • Thanks to efficient teamwork across all project partners, an optimized COVID-19 management plan and the outstanding commitment of everyone involved, revamp work is progressing extremely successfully.

It’s an endurance challenge similar to open heart surgery. Except the patient in this case is a Linde plant complex in Linz, Austria, and the surgical team is made up of LINDE PLANTSERV experts. But unlike real surgeons, they are expected to do their job while the patient gets on – more or less – with everyday life. “We have been tasked with a major revamp on several air separation units, spanning maintenance, repair and modernization interventions. But it is vital that our work does not compromise operational continuity,” explains Tobias Baier, project manager at LINDE PLANTSERV. “We have been working steadily in Linz for some time now but we still have plenty to do. For instance, we are replacing compressors, fixing pipelines, overhauling machine controls and modernizing instrumentation.”

Top priority: steady stream of oxygen

What is in itself already quite a challenge – since operational safety must be guaranteed at all times –became even more difficult with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The normal project plan was turned upside down. Added to this was the fact that the Federal Ministry of the Interior designated the Linz-based company as part of Austria’s critical infrastructure in the fight against the pandemic. This placed a serious responsibility on the Linde plant complex, as Baier explains: “The plant is producing medical oxygen for the ventilation of COVID-19 patients in Austria and Northern Italy, so the production flow cannot be jeopardized for one minute.” Continuous monitoring is therefore required to ensure that the oxygen tanks are kept well filled. Bottlenecks have been avoided thus far, so the ASUs are also able to deliver a reliable supply of O2 to the steelworks of voestalpine AG, the operator of the site. In order to guarantee this, Linde Austria has taken very rigorous measures to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 among its workforce. After all, only a handful of employees have the expertise to manage the entire plant complex. In addition, voestalpine has imposed strict rules for the industrial site on which around 20,000 people are employed.

Maintaining secure oxygen supplies is the number one priority. The coronavirus pandemic added an additional layer of challenges to revamp work.

Assembly work during a pandemic

“It’s a given anyway, but it was absolutely vital that our on-site LINDE PLANTSERV team would align closely with the local Linde Gas team,” according to Baier. A collaborative COVID-19 management plan was drawn up to define the occupational hygiene, safety and environmental protection measures required to prevent employees becoming infected during revamp work. “We were lucky in that we could fall back on plans that had already been developed by Linde Engineering – also in connection with the coronavirus – for a project in Singapore. That gave us a very valuable head start,” admits the LINDE PLANTSERV expert. “The difference with Singapore is that thousands of people are employed on the construction site there, so we just took these detailed documents as a blueprint and adapted them for our project.” 

COVID-19 prevention during day-to-day operations

The current COVID-19 management plan was then developed in conjunction with Linde and voestalpine AG. One measure was to divide the assembly teams into “pods”, each with dedicated containers for breaks and toilet facilities. It also defines how the latest coronavirus updates are communicated to employees, the hygiene measures that must be complied with, and how these alter the usual workflows. “For example, before the coronavirus pandemic struck, our experts could simply go to the control room to obtain written permission for the necessary assembly work,” explains Baier. “Now, we use a video link to clarify with the plant operator when and where we are allowed to carry out the works – and our site supervisor then delegates the various tasks to our colleagues for maximum efficiency.” Social distancing, temperature checks, masks and a sort of contact tracing diary have all become part of the normal routine in Linz. There are, however, some tasks such as welding where the employees cannot always properly maintain the safe distance of 1.5 meters. “The detailed records have since shown us that the coronavirus was closer to our Linz site than we thought. Thankfully, we detected potential contacts early and did not have any outbreaks, but are relieved we had such granular measures in place and can safely say that the extra effort was definitely worth it,” adds Baier.

LindeGO application – remote service from LINDE PLANTSERV

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Employee with LindeGO equipment  – remote service from LINDE PLANTSERV

In the picture with smart glasses

Complementing the massive organizational effort involved in preventing the spread of COVID-19, various innovative technologies have also lent a helping hand. Chief among these are digitalization technologies in general and innovative tools like LindeGO in particular, which minimizes the need for on-site staff deployments and thus the risk of face-to-face contact. At present, only two LINDE PLANTSERV employees, a site supervisor and a commissioning supervisor, are on permanent duty at the Linz plant complex. Baier explains: “Equipped with the smart glasses, they can go straight to the equipment in question, take photos with the integrated camera, and add notes to these to guide the experts. Based in Pullach, the Linde experts can then view these images in real time and see the condition of the plant components in detail for themselves.” With LindeGO, remote specialists are virtually propelled into the heart of the complex to support on-site technicians. This allows construction and assembly work to be planned for maximum efficiencies, without the cost and delays involved in on-site personnel deployments.

Success through collaboration, flexibility and adaptability

LINDE PLANTSERV adds value in a number of ways. In addition to keeping a close eye on cost efficiency, the team focuses on securing reliable plant operations – bringing external service providers and specialist companies on board if necessary. “Our core competencies include teaming up with the operator to prepare efficient assembly project plans,” says Baier. “At the same time, we also have to maintain a certain degree of flexibility in the deployment of our teams. Adaptability is simply a must-have when planning revamps at existing plants. Our experts are aware of this and take a pragmatic approach.” Since some of the engineers from Linde’s specialist departments work exclusively on LINDE PLANTSERV projects, they know the ropes and understand that the requirements of brownfield developments differ from those of greenfield projects. Even in the midst of a pandemic, the LINDE PLANTSERV team has proven yet again its ability to leverage existing infrastructure and collaborate efficiently and safely with customers, colleagues and suppliers.

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