Engineers use virtual reality headsets to train operators of large-scale plants. An algorithm can tell when a gas customer needs a new delivery. Smart glasses help a technician repair a complex module. These are just three examples of digital projects that Linde has brought to application maturity in recent months. Linde has been rolling out digital technologies across all business lines and workstations for a number of years now, as evidenced by the five Remote Operation Centres (ROC) tasked with the remote management of around 1,000 industrial plants around the world. What is new, however, is the introduction of something typical of the start-up sector – the accelerator process.
The accelerator process: Test it all – but decide quickly
“Digital technologies give us a rapid, low-cost way to test and fast-track new ideas,” explains Philipp Karmires, Head of Digitalisation at Linde AG. “Our game plan is to work on project ideas in small teams for three months and then quickly transition them to our business portfolio if they prove successful. We simply drop anything that does not work within this timeframe.” Only projects that prove viable are adopted. Such digital innovations are already providing revenue for Linde.
The ideas for new digital projects are often suggested by employees from Linde’s established lines of business. Karmires’ team members (known as digital accelerators) implement the projects in collaboration with the business units, collaborating if necessary with an international network of external partners, most of whom come from the start-up world.
Digital Base Camp in focus
The team led by former Google manager Karmires has been working from a Digital Base Camp since August 2016. Located at Linde’s Pullach site near Munich, on the sixth floor of a 1950s office building, this hub anchors and centralises all digitalisation efforts at Linde. “We need to feel like we are a regular part of the company,” points out Karmires. “The success of our concept depends on constant dialogue and exchange with our business colleagues.” That is why some members of the team at the Digital Base Camp are highly experienced former employees from Linde’s traditional lines of business. They have been joined by data specialists, software developers and external digital experts. The team is enhanced with specialists from technology start-ups and universities (e.g. the Technical University of Munich), with which Linde has various cooperation partnerships. This autumn, Karmires also took the helm of an additional team in Singapore. This is where Linde opened a second Digital Base Camp in February 2018, to harness the innovative power in Southeast Asia, and to better meet the requirements of customers in the Asian market.
Mining data troves
Many of the projects use digital data collected by Linde from a range of business fields over the years. For instance, the data produced by 500,000 sensors in industrial plants around the world is being fed into a new predictive maintenance system. This will warn technicians about upcoming faults, so they can replace components before an outage even occurs. The goal is maximum system availability. By using optimised maintenance cycles, Linde expects to save several million euros per year In Southeast Asia alone.
From prototype to successful product
“We believe that we can evolve our core business and take it into the digital age. But we can only do this if we place these methods and technologies at the heart of our company and let them cascade out to the rest of our organisation,” explains Julien Brunel, Head of Digitalisation at the Linde Engineering Division. The challenge for him and his team is to convert projects that have emerged from the accelerator process into viable business models. In both Linde Divisions and also some of the local entities, digitalisation experts are either developing new products and services from prototypes or optimising existing business processes. Several innovations already prove the success of this approach.
Digital twins, virtual instructors and smart glasses
Already an attention-getter in the industry, the LINDE PLANTSERV™ portal was developed in the Digital Base Camp. This project links each system with its digital twin. This makes it easier for operators to organise repairs via a web browser, and to order spare parts efficiently and inexpensively. Industrial plants are complex constructions with tens of thousands of components. At the digital heart of the LINDE PLANTSERV™ portal are its plant-specific piping and instrument flow schemes, called Piping and Instrumentation Diagram (P&ID). In the portal, customers can find diagrams of their systems, along with the required spare parts. Linde operates the platform and guarantees that all displayed parts fit optimally.
Linde Engineering also trains specialist personnel on digital images of its systems – even before completion. Animations of the complexes in the Virtual Training Simulator are based on the system’s design drawings. In a virtual reality environment, customers can familiarise themselves with their plant and train on their system in advance of critical situations. And should problems arise with the systems, which are often located in remote regions, so-called smart glasses can help. LindeGO is the name of this project, which is already in use at selected sites. The data glasses enable remote maintenance of a system. In the event of malfunctions or repairs, Linde experts use augmented reality to help the technical personnel on site, rather than having to travel there themselves. The devices are already being used at various locations – as a cost-effective and time-saving alternative to sending specialists.
Smart Glasses LindeGO
The best of both worlds
In traditional plant construction, engineers meticulously plan every project step in projects that often extend over several years. However, digital business models from Silicon Valley develop very rapidly. Linde Engineering brings these two very different worlds together in its digital transformation strategy.
“We are committed to our strategy because we know we have to change to remain competitive moving forward,” affirms Karmires. “We have chosen to embrace this change from a position of strength before the disruptive wave hits our industry.”