With a history spanning more than 115 years, Swedish industrial gases company AGA, the Regional Business Unit Northern Europe within the newly formed Linde plc, is heavily driving an innovation and digitisation agenda.
Founded in 1904 by Gustaf Dalén, the only Nobel Laureate to ever create an industrial gases group, the company is very different today to the one that began life in Sweden in the early 20th century.
Boasting 100 production units at 60 sites, some 400,000 gas customers and 600 sales outlets, AGA, a division of the new Linde plc, is without a doubt the leading industrial gases supplier in the Nordic and Baltic region.
The company has celebrated many successful milestones in recent years, including inaugurating the world’s largest fully automated filling station for industrial gases in 2016, and this year AGA is gearing up to open a new top modern site in Sweden with its level of automation a first-of-its-kind in Europe.
At the helm of this is CEO Dr. Andreas Opfermann (left), who has been with Linde for nearly 15 years and is well known within the industrial gases industry.
“AGA’s people spearheaded many innovations which have become standard in our industry,” Opfermann tells gasworld as we sit down exclusively with him to discuss the history of the company, AGAs ambitions going forward, and the opportunities with automation/digitisation.
Here, in part one of an exclusive three-part series, we look at the history of the company and where AGA is today.
AGA was originally formed in 1904, near Stockholm, when the acetylene company Svenska Carbid was taken over by then newly formed AB Gasaccumulator (AGA). With inventive genius Gustaf Dalén’s direction, the company demonstrated acetylene welding for the first time in the country, which led to welding becoming a revolutionary technology in engineering workshops and shipyards.
But it was the company’s inventions within lighthouse technology – the flashing beacon (1905), the AGA compound (1906), the sun valve and Dalén mixer (1907) – that would dictate its future.
In 1901 AGA purchased the patent rights of the French invention of dissolved acetylene and Dalén began his work on automatic flashing beacons for lighthouses. His subsequent invention of the sun-valve enabled lighthouses to function perfectly and unattended for long periods.
However, Dalén’s dedication had tragic consequences and in September 1912 a gas accumulator exploded in his face while being heated up. Doctors succeeded in saving his life, but he never regained his sight.
Still bedridden, Dalén was awarded the 1912 Nobel Prize in Physics for his inventions of self-operating regulators which in combination with gas accumulators can be used to light lighthouses and light buoys. Since lighthouses saved many human lives, these were inventions which, entirely in the spirit of Alfred Nobel, were to the benefit of humanity.
“It is not so well known outside of Scandinavia that AGA also produced many industrial goods like cars, TVs, radios and electronics until the 1960s and 1970s. Probably the most famous is the AGA stove which is still in production today in the UK, but not by us,” Opfermann continues.
“I would say that AGA is well known with our customers, as well as within Linde, as a leader and innovator. Our people spearheaded many innovations which have become standard in our industry.”
Dalén developed the head efficient cooker which could burn unattended for 24 hours between 1924 and 1929. By 1934 it was being sold worldwide and later manufactured in some 10 countries. The AGA oven is still an icon among cookers and is popular with a number of celebrities, including British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
Moving towards the gas sector, a new market emerged in the 1940s with the use of oxygen in steel plants. Swedish steelworks started using oxygen in metallurgical processes and the demand was so high that new, larger air separation plants and new transport methods were required. AGA built its first liquid oxygen factory in 1951 in Lidingo – the first facility in Sweden for producing liquid oxygen.
Industrial gas leader
During the late 1960s AGA began to concentrate on the gas sector. It became part of The Linde Group in 2000 and today is the leading industrial gases supplier in the Nordic and Baltic region. AGA has 100 major production units at 60 sites in eight countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), with some 400,000 customers and sales outlets.
The company forms Region Northern Europe at Linde plc, which is led by Opfermann.
“I have been in this role since March 2016 and have been with Linde since 2005 in various roles. I had the privilege to build for Linde its innovation group, to develop its clean energy business and technology portfolio and most recently to head Linde’s entire research and development (R&D) division,” Opfermann highlights.
“Looking back, particular exciting times were driving the integration of BOC into Linde as well as initiating Linde’s digitisation roadmap. The integration of BOC in 2006 was probably the highlight of the Linde history for a long time.”
“I would say that AGA is well known with our customers, as well as within Linde, as a leader and innovator. Our people spearheaded many innovations which have become standard in our industry. For example, individual cylinder control, automated sorting and filling of gas cylinders or the remote operation of our plants.”
AGA is a company with automation and digitisation at its core. This year the company fulfils a 15-year journey to complete automation when it automates its last plant.
“What we call digitisation today has long standing roots in our industry as automation. Digitisation is seen as a new and hot topic in our industry, but in some of its aspects it’s just the next level of automation of our operational chain.”
Opfermann says AGA’s new filling plant in Enköping, Sweden is the next level and logical step for the company. It will see the consolidation of six sites into one with 1.8 million cylinder fillings per year and an entire production flow that is automated, from sorting to filling, storing and picking.
In part two of this exclusive three-part series with AGA, Opfermann discusses in detail the Enköping site as well as AGA’s Riihimäki facility – the world’s largest fully automated filling station for industrial gases. Read the full article here.