How Linde Engineering re-invents itself with start-up methods Digitalisation strategy - cpp - chemical plants & processes

How Linde Engineering re-invents itself with start-up methods

Digitalisation strategy

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From the initial concept down to the last nut and bolt, it can take engineers years to plan and construct an industrial plant. This meticulous, step-by-step process is in sharp contrast to the speed at which disruptive business models emerge from Silicon Valley. Technology company The Linde Group is bridging these two worlds by embedding a start-up culture into its digitalisation strategy.

Engineers use virtual reality headsets to train future operators of industrial plants. Algorithms forecast the lifespan of plant components. Smart glasses help technicians solve issues at distant locations. These are just three examples of digital projects that Linde has brought to application maturity over the past year. The Engineering Division of The Linde Group already has several years of experience in integrating digital technologies. The most notable examples are its five Remote Operating Centres (ROC), which are tasked with the remote control and management of about 1000 industrial plants around the world. What is new, however, is something typical of the start-up sector – the accelerator process.

Test it all – but decide quickly

Interdisciplinary teams bring together digitalisation experts and engineers to work on project ideas for three months and then quickly transition them to the business portfolio if they prove successful. The team simply drops anything that does not work within this timeframe (proof of concept). The ideas for new digital projects are often suggested by employees from Linde Engineering’s established lines of business. As business owners, they implement the projects in collaboration with members of the digitalisation team, cooperating if necessary with an international network of external partners, most of whom come from the start-up world.

Linde has set up a Digital Base Camp to bundle digitalisation efforts and anchor them throughout the company. Since August 2016, the digitalisation team has been working at this hub, located at the company’s Pullach site near Munich. In February 2018, Linde opened a second Digital Base Camp in Singapore to harness South East Asia’s huge potential for innovation and meet local market demands more effectively.

Whereas other companies house their digitalisation experts in external offices, Linde prefers to keep its digital innovators close to the business. Constant and close dialogue between the digitalisation team and business owners is key to the success of digital projects. That is why some members of the digitalisation team are former employees from Linde’s traditional lines of business – complemented by data specialists, software developers and external digital experts.

Creative ways to harness data

Many of these digital projects use data that Linde has been collecting from a variety of sources for years now. Half a million sensors located at about 1000 industrial plants around the world feed data on pressure, temperature, flow and vibrations into a new, predictive maintenance system, for instance. This alerts technicians to possible failures, so that they can pre-emptively replace parts reaching the end of their service life before they have a chance to cause trouble.

Since equipment manufacturers often have zero experience on the operational side, rough estimates are all they can offer as regards recommended maintenance intervals. This can sometimes result in parts being replaced even though they are still in good working order. Conversely, the early replacement of a component that is no longer fully functional can help to avoid a forced outage. Both scenarios lead to costs that can be prevented with a better understanding of the equipment health. Maximising plant availability is the ultimate aim. In the South-East Asia region alone, Linde expects to achieve annual savings of four to five million euros by optimising maintenance cycles.

Plants with a digital twin

Another Digital Base Camp innovation is the Linde Plantserv portal, which is resonating strongly among customers. This project networks plants with their digital twin. It makes it easier for operators to organise repairs over the Internet, sourcing spare parts more efficiently and at competitive prices.

Industrial plants are complex structures comprising tens of thousands of components. The Linde Plantserv portal is therefore built around plant-specific piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs). Once customers log in to the portal, they can find the diagrams for their plant and access the related spare parts. A pop-up window displays each component’s key information. Maintenance teams can request quotes for the parts they need via a marketplace and order them at competitive prices. Linde runs the platform and guarantees that the displayed parts are the right fit for the customer’s needs.

Virtual reality operator training

Linde Engineering uses digital twins of its plants to train operating personnel before the plant is even built. The virtual reality experience allows customers to become familiar with the plant topology and learn how to deal with critical procedures. The model is based on the 3D plant model, which is generated during the engineering phase. Now Linde has developed the technology to transform this design data into an immersive virtual world.

All that operators need to step into the virtual plant – their future workplace – is a virtual reality headset, two controllers and a notebook with a fast graphics processor.

Remote support with augmented reality

The use of smart glasses for remote plant support is another digital innovation from Linde. Linde experts can establish a livestream to local technicians wearing these glasses and help to resolve technical issues without actually travelling to the site. The camera which is integrated in the smart glasses transmits the local employee’s field of vision to the Linde Engineering expert’s screen. The expert can then provide help and technical information via the audio chat or by sharing the screen.

This equipment has already been deployed to a number of sites. Taking into account the travel and accommodation costs, as well as the time it takes to obtain visas and site permits, LindeGo is a highly cost- and time-efficient alternative to seconding additional personnel to work on site.

Second Digital Base Camp in the Far East

The success of the Pullach Base Camp prompted Linde to officially open an Asia Pacific Digitalisation Hub, including a second Digital Base Camp in Singapore in February 2018. Linde will invest over 30 million Singapore dollars in the hub, equivalent to around 18.5 million euros.

In many respects, the Asian market is light years ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to digital technologies, and Linde is keen to harness this potential.

www.cpp-net.com

Online search: cpp0218linde

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Author: Julien Brunel

Head of Digitalisation,

Linde Engineering

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