Speaking on gasworld TV’s Bandwidth in Your Bsuiness: Reloaded webinar on 28th January, Art Anderson – Managing Principal at AH Anderson Consulting, and Kevin Lynch – Senior Vice-President of Industrial Gases at Anova, joined gasworld’s Global Managing Editor Rob Cockerill and Broadcast Journalist Tom Dee for a Q&A session.

The guests answered questions on a multitude of topics, from preparedness of technology and solutions ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic, to business changes post-pandemic and medical gases. 

Reflecting further on the discussion had during the Q&A, here we revisit some of the questions put to gasworld’s expert panel.

Referring to the response from industry, Dee asked: you believe that there was a lack of technology or solutions for us to be able to have this instant reaction?

Stating that, although the technologies were in place, they just weren’t widespread, Lynch admitted that the building blocks were present but the bandwidth was ‘not necessarily there’.

“I remember I had only used Zoom for the first time two months before that and suddenly it was just insane how many people were trying to use Zoom,” he said.

“There was a huge amount of adaptation that occurred in a relatively quick period.”

Anderson added his thoughts, saying, “There were some companies that were prepared, no doubt about it. But, by and large, I think it was a shock.” 

“I think many people have talked about how digitalisation changed dramatically over the pandemic. They say it had to move fast and moved forward about two or three years in about three months.”

Next up was an audience question aimed at Lynch: How much has Anova’s business changed now compared to pre-Covid? 

Having been embedded in the industrial gas sector for 30 years, Lynch revealed that Anova had seen an evolution in monitoring. 

“I would say what’s changed in the past year and a half or so is the broadening of what people are interested in monitoring,” he said. 

“We’ve always done other things, we’ve always done other asset types: onsite plants, production assets, pipelines. I think we’ve just seen a great, great broadening of the interest level of our large customer base in terms of what are all the things that we really hould be paying attention to.” 

This was heightened, he added, by persistent interruptions to the supply chain. 

“It all comes back to the same thing, when everything flows smoothly and everything is predictable, what do you really need to monitor, right?” 

Giving an example, he referred to liquid oxygen and how it doesn’t travel that far ‘economically’, creating an illusion of a relatively simple supply chain. 

“You pull this stuff out of the air, you put it into a tank, you drive it down the road. It turns out there are a lot of steps in that process and a lot of things that can go wrong.” 

“That’s what people are more attuned to because they live through it, it’s where the business has shifted a bit.” 

Another audience question focused on clean energies: What key steps could the industrial gases industry take to establish its bandwidth or grow its bandwidth with regard to clean energies? 

With sustainability and involvement in the energy transition considered two of the most pertinent issues within the industry, Lynch emphasised the importance of strategy. 

“Right now you should be focussing on what is your strategy, your ESG strategy, but more so what is your strategy in terms of how you’re going to be able to participate in this energy transition.” 

“A good place to start is your customers, particularly your tier one customers. When you engage them they’ve already committed, many of them, to a net zero commitment by 2050 or whatever the date is.” 

“They’re already engaging their top suppliers and they’re also looking for partners that can participate in some joint projects, maybe a pilot or supporting a hydrogen hub.” 

On the topic of medical oxygen: what in your mind should the industry focus on to be better prepared in terms of medical gases next time around? 

With one of the main talking points during the pandemic being centred around the supply of medical oxygen, it was clear that the pandemic had exposed chronic supply and logistical issues. 

Asked about preparedness, Lynch replied, “I think in most cases, it was not a matter of there was not enough oxygen supply available, it was more a matter of logistics and prioritisation.” 

“Part of is making sure that there is capacity and in every local geography to be aware that this is probably, unfortunately, not the last viral disease that we’re going to have to live through.” 

“So to make sure that there is xygen capacity, but also bring in the ability yto put in temporary oxygen or on site generator units,” he added. 

Delineating several potential strategies, Lynch emphasised oxygen generators and prioritisation plans put in place by government. 

“I think there’s some element of government and business cooperation, at least in certain circumstances, to make sure that we have robust reaction plans.” 

In addition to viral pandemics, increased digitalisation has led to the threat for a potential ‘cyber pandemic’ according to industry experts. Cockerill aimed a question at Anderson on the topic of cyber security: Is cybersecurity a concern and is there anything you’re aware of in the industry that we’re doing to mitigate that? 

Stating that he thinks cyber security is a risk to every industry, not just industrial gas, he added, “It’s absolutely something we should be concerned about. We need to plan for it as part of our resilience planning.” 

“Here in the US, we had a huge event, in terms of the Colonial Pipeline, a cyber event that attacked the biggest pipeline flowing from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast, it was shut down due to a cyber event.” 

“It’s something we should be concerned about and something that clearly every IT executive at an industrial gas company should be prepared for,” he said. 

Concluding thoughts… have we truly realised the bandwidth in our businesses? 

Although he thinks the industry has done a ‘decent’ job, Anderson believes that a lot more focus needs to be placed on talent. 

“There’s a lot of things happening in the talent space right now and if you’re trying to hire somebody, if you’re trying to retain employees, if you’re trying to recruit, there’s a lot of challenges in that space right now,” he said. 

With various concerns around digitalisation and cybersecurity needing to be addressed and developed, Anderson added that workforce planning needs to become more strategic. 

“You need people that you can count on, that are going to be around and you’re going to need some more resources to handle the growth.” 

Staying on the theme of talent, Lynch felt as though not enough is being done to bring in new graduates and initiate them through engineering programmes to develop their abilities in that specific industry. 

“I think that’s going to lead to some long-term challenges for the industry. If we don’t start rededicating ourselves to bringing younger people in and training them up in the art and the craft of what we do,” he said. 

Lynch also emphasised the importance of working together, saying, “Overall, I think the industrial gas industry has done a very good job over the past couple of years. It’s a competitive industry but it’s also a collaborative industry. I’ve been really happy to see the way that when there was a crisis, I saw really strong collaboration on the part of the industrial gases business.” 

“I think we should be very proud of that and not lose sight of the fact that we responded in that manner,” he concluded.

The full webinar, Bandwidth in Your Business: Reloaded, can be watched On Demand here.