You invest heavily into your production plants, tanks, containers, cylinders and other assets to serve your customers.

But in this new digital age, are you and your customers getting the best out of this investment?

That’s the question asked by Alizent-Asset Interactive, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Air Liquide, focused on digital transformation and the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Since 2017, Alizent has been helping to close the gap between industrial realities and digital possibilities; connect people, processes and assets; empower businesses to optimise performance; improve user experience and reshape business models.

But the entities that make up Alizent have been in the IIoT business under different names for more than 25 years.

A. Duret

Source: Alizent

“Responsive to our clients needs and a market in constant evolution, we decided to combine our three companies – Air Liquide Services, Athelia and Keops – in 2017 under one brand: Alizent-Asset Interactive,” explains Managing Director Alexis Duret (left) in an exclusive interview with gasworld.

“One brand to optimise our technological and industrial expertise globally and cater to our clients needs wherever they may be from our offices in Paris, Madrid, Leeds, Houston and Montreal.”

Alizent uses technologies such as radio-frequency identification (RFID), mobile computing, global system for mobile communications (GSM), low-power-wide-area networks (LPWANs) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) to connect industrial assets, collect and store their data and finally leverage them into a supply chain or maintenance operational system.

The company’s solutions are used around the world today to track more than 20 million returnable containers, monitor 20,000 bulk tanks and collect billions of data per day from Air Liquide plants and pipelines.

gasworld spoke exclusively with Duret to find out more about Alizent and its strategy, digitisation and Air Liquide’s Smart and Innovative Operations (SIO) programme.

GW: Do you think digitisation is accelerating faster than anticipated?

AD: In the field of IIoT, I consider that we are certainly seeing a second wave of intense innovation occurring.

It follows the one we saw in the late 90’s/early 2000’s where the GSM technology allowed industrial companies to connect industrial objects. Air Liquide first on-site installations and bulk tanks were connected at this time.

The limiting factor in terms of digitisation speed is probably not the technology, nor the capacity of actors such as Alizent to roll-it out quickly.

It is rather the capacity of industrial actors to manage the change these new tools and ways of working create in the teams. It takes time for the teams and the organisation to change, so as to really leverage digital tools benefits.

GW: What impact do you think digitisation will have on the work force?

AD: Digitisation further strengthens the expertise of teams, taking decision-making capabilities to the next level.

This contributes to unlocking the full potential of teams, enabling needs to be better anticipated and applying skills and knowledge where most needed.

This also means the need to accompany employees through this transition through training and enhancing the skills and competencies required. For example:

  • Field activities efficiency (maintenance, refilling, deliveries) is increasing thanks to digital tools such as tablets, smartphones or rugged handheld computers, that are replacing paper. Through these tools, field teams now interact in nearly real-time with teams in control rooms or dispatch centres, as well as with clients.
  • Teams in control rooms and dispatch centres are progressively shifting from managing events in a mainly reactive way, to anticipating and optimising events (minimising production costs or delivery routes for example) thanks to real-time interaction with field teams and the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence.

Alizent G+

Source: Alizent

GW: Air Liquide launched the SIO programme in 2015. Tell us more about this.

AD: The SIO programme of Air Liquide leverages the latest digital technologies to transform the way the group operates its production units.

By integrating and leveraging digital technologies, we are increasing the reliability, efficiency and flexibility of supply to our customers.

Through big data combined with human intelligence, Air Liquide pilots, analysts and experts are able to monitor and support various productions in real-time.

SIO centres enable remote management production for large production units spread across four continents, as well as optimising energy consumption and improving reliability at these sites.

GW: What’s Alizent’s role in the SIO programme?

AD: Within Air Liquide’s SIO programme, Alizent has been in charge to contract with main providers of technology, roll-out the digital systems that are required for Air Liquide business teams to run SIO operations, such as predictive maintenance or remote optimisation, and then support them.

SIO systems roll-out has been done in a consistent way all across the world, and with a fast execution, and this is a good illustration of the value Alizent provides in general to Air Liquide.

GW: Finally, tell us about Alizent’s strategy.

AD: Our strategy is not focused on simply deploying new technologies, but rather on meeting the evolving needs of both our customers and employees.

It is achieved by unleashing collaboration between digital teams, IT teams, business lines and operations to transform our core business and make our organisation even more networked and agile. In short, it is an inclusive transformation powered by and for people!

I’d also like to stress that technology is only one part of the digital transformation. In our view, any industrial transformation project shall start from the user, or the client, identify the value created and the right user/customer experience, and only then can the right technology be selected.

Too often, we have seen clients who started from the technology, and then tried to find a usage for it and this has led to a lot of wasted time and effort. Think usage/value first!