BOC Australia, a member of The Linde Group, unveiled a new $20m specialty gases production facility and $15m robot cylinder automation system at its Sydney Operations Centre in Wetherill Park in late February.
The new specialty gases facility increases BOC’s capacity to locally produce and supply over 8,000 high purity and specialty gases to many high value industries in Australia, while the new automation system signals a further step forward in The Linde Group’s advanced manufacturing capabilities.
In an exclusive interview with gasworld, BOC South Pacific Managing Director John Evans, and Linde Group Executive Board Member Sanjiv Lamba, reveal that the plant was an investment in the making ‘for some time’ and will effectively set the blueprint for many more such facilities in the region in the years ahead.
Supply chain significance
BOC has invested more than $130m at the Sydney Operations Centre in Australia since it was opened. The site has a cylinder maintenance centre, dedicated medical gas filling facility, dissolved acetylene plant, nitrous oxide plant, specialty gases production facility and dry ice production facility.
The new specialty gases facility is arguably one of the most significant elements of the site, such is its state-of-the-art nature and ability to future-proof the region in terms of product supply.
“It has been planned for some time to replace the previous specialty gases facility that had been in operations for 30 years,” says Evans. “Design and construction of the new facility took just over two years, with up to 50 contractors working onsite during the construction phase.”
“It has significantly increased BOC’s capacity to locally produce and supply over 8,000 high purity and specialty gases to the Australian and Asia-Pacific markets.”
The significance of this capability should not go unnoticed. It is not just the sheer volume of products that the facility can produce that is so impressive, but also the fact that it can now release so many of the supply chain shackles that had become apparent over the years.
With leading laboratory technology designed by The Linde Group, the facility can now locally produce many scientific and calibration gases in almost half the time – and at higher packaging pressures. It also removes some of the constraints in the local supply chain, with Evans explaining that despite BOC producing and supplying specialty gases in Australia for many decades, its previous facility had both a smaller product range and longer production times, with some specialty gases imported from Europe and Asia as a result. With this, came understandably longer delivery times, rendering it challenging to meet the tight deadlines required by customers in Australia.
Not only is this now a thing of the past, Evans also underlined that, “BOC has the capability to supply custom-made mixtures into the Asia-Pacific region, displacing some of the supplies from the UK and other Asian countries.”
“In particular, BOC Australia is exploring export opportunities into Malaysia, Thailand, India and China – focusing on the environmental, petrochemical, medical, electronics and manufacturing industries”
Sanjiv Lamba, Executive Board Member, Linde AG
With Australia transitioning out of the mining boom and committed to building a more knowledge and research-based economy, the timing of this new plant could not be better. Evans cites the scientific, medical and universities sectors as driving specialty gases demand in particular.
Lamba affirmed the significance of the new facility in a growing market. “Firstly the investments at the Sydney site are a strong signal to our continued commitment to developing world-class facilities in Australia,” he added.
“The specialty gases plant with an expanded product and shorter lead times on many mixtures, provides Linde and BOC [with] the opportunity to not only meet the growing local demand in Australia but also to meet growing demand across the Asia-Pacific region and position itself as a leading exporter of Australian-made specialty gases into the region.”
“In particular, BOC Australia is exploring export opportunities into Malaysia, Thailand, India and China – focusing on the environmental, petrochemical, medical, electronics and manufacturing industries.”
Undoubtedly the aspect of the new facility that does not go unnoticed is its robot cylinder automation system.
The state-of-the-art system transforms the way cylinders are sorted, picked and moved around the busy production site. “This is a world-first application of a six-axis robot combined with four turntables that can see, pick-up and handle cylinders – so we are not only taking the lead in Australia, but globally,” says Lamba.
“The new system can handle up to 140 cylinders per hour, loading and unloading a pallet within 150 seconds, and storing up to 4,500 cylinders at any given time, all seamlessly,” he continues. “This streamlined cylinder process provides us the opportunity to operate more efficiently and deliver enhanced service to packaged gas customers.”
Such technology follows last year’s launch of the world’s first fully automated filling station for industrial gases in Finland by AGA, Linde Malaysia’s semi-automated filling plant, and the launch earlier this year of Linde’s Asia-Pacific Digitalisation Hub, among other developments in the advanced manufacturing for the group. Adding the Sydney site’s capabilities to this roll-call of digitised operations appears another sign of Linde taking the next step towards the plants of the future, an observation that Lamba is keen to furnish.
“Yes, this investment is part of Linde’s commitment to embracing the new era of advanced manufacturing and digital technology to maintain our global reputation for innovation across the countries where we operate,” he says. “This includes designing world-leading robotics and automation systems that improve safety for our staff and provide added value to our customers.”
“There are a number of benefits from the automation system, the first and most immediate benefit is a significant improvement in safety. Today we handle in the sorting and packing process more than 1.3 million cylinders annually. Automation provides an opportunity for BOC Australia to significantly reduce the risk of manual handling injuries to staff caused by strapping and movement of cylinders.”
And Lamba believes this plant could be the blueprint for many more to come in the country and the region in the years ahead. gasworld understands that after the successful implementation of this prototype system in Sydney, BOC and Linde are looking to invest in more cylinder automation systems for sorting and movement across BOC’s other major production sites in Brisbane and Melbourne, while also exploring opportunities across other Linde sites around the world.
Watch this space.