“Digitalisation will fundamentally change the way we work.” That’s the message from Julien Brunel, Head of Digitalisation at Linde Engineering Division (LE) and the central concept behind Linde’s activities, like its new virtual reality (VR) application called ‘plant in a box.’
Showcased last month, the German corporation’s latest digitalisation application ‘redefines’ plant engineering by allowing users to explore the finer details of an industrial-scale plant first hand – before it has even been constructed.
The Engineering Division within The Linde Group developed the simulation to safely and effectively train operators, improve internal processes and deliver additional services for customers.
It’s another step closer towards the true extent of digitalisation being realised in the industrial gas industry, but what else is on the horizon? In this exclusive interview, gasworld discusses the dawn of the digital era with Brunel (left) and further digitalisation concepts that the Tier One corporation will be bringing to the market in the near future.
What are the main features of Linde Engineering’s VR application?
The principle feature of virtual reality, especially if you compare it to looking at a 3D model on a computer screen, is that you are immersed in the 3D world of the plant and its surroundings. You are experiencing the plant instead of looking at a picture, which is completely different.
Users simply put the VR headset on and use a hand-held controller to explore the plants platforms and study its valves and compressors from every angle. You can even step inside process components such as heat exchangers and coldboxes – something that isn’t possible in real life. You crawl underneath pipes and so on and see how you, as a human, would be able to perform your duties within that plant.
How and why did LE develop the technology?
We wanted to develop an application that could ease familiarisation and training for our customers and also bring the possibility to improve design reviews or maintainability reviews. VR was the perfect match.
The VR simulation is based on extremely detailed CAD files that we created whilst designing the modules. The key to this development was the use of the technology that was initially built for computer games – completely out of the realm of typical technologies that we use in plant engineering.
The application was developed at our Digital Base Camp (in Pullach, Germany). It’s a central team that Linde uses to accelerate those ideas that create value of data that we already have within the group. It took just three months to bring this idea to life, from concept to realisation. That’s a key part of our accelerator strategy, to bring these digital ideas forward in a very lean and fast way. This VR application shows just how quickly Linde’s ideas can move.
“One thing is clear; digitalisation will fundamentally change the way we work”
In which other areas does LE believe this technology could be effective?
We have multiple use cases that we want to tackle with this new technology. Some examples are supporting sales, operator trainings and familiarisation, but we are also looking at opportunities within project execution such as construction planning.
What other digitalisation projects and developments do you have in the pipeline?
We have an array of projects in the pipeline, some of which our global customer service organisation will bring to market in the near future.
The first is a remote support application leveraging augmented reality. The concept uses a special pair of smart glasses that allow a remote connection with a Linde expert. You can walk around an actual plant site and receive guidance and assistance to manage troubleshooting and maintenance situations. In addition of looking at the real world, useful information can be provided within your line of sight such as repair guidance.
It’s something that we are working on both for our customers, to give them immediate solutions to problems that they might have on site, but also within Linde in construction applications to get expert advice without the hassle and time of having to physically get someone on site.
The second digitalisation application that we want to launch is a Customer Portal. It’s a web portal that would give customers central access to all the information that is needed to plan and manage a plant turnaround. The application would help identify parts that are broken within the plant, get them verified by Linde and then get them shipped straight to their site. The tool takes the guesswork out of ordering.
The third application is predictive maintenance – a hot topic in the industry at the moment. We at Linde have a unique setup in the fact that we own and operate thousands of plants that generate gigabytes of data every day, but also have trusted technical know-how in our Engineering Division. We can analyse and exploit the value of that data with the goal to prevent unplanned shutdowns and increase the asset reliability of our customers.
The technology is said to ‘redefine’ plant engineering. How could Linde’s VR application revolutionise the digital era in the industrial gas industry, in your opinion?
For me, VR is just the beginning of a whole world of new offerings and services that will hit the market. This example shows how using the data that we already have within the company can generate completely new services and possibilities for our customers.
In the future, you could think of merging the real world with virtual models, always allowing you to see the current state of your plant virtually with no need to walk around it physically. The level of detail is so good that you almost wouldn’t see a difference between the two. Then there is also the ability to see the operational data of machines and components that are present in plants. You’re looking at a completely redefined way of working with your assets.
How far off do you believe the industry is from digitalisation of operation across the board? How close – or far – are we from realising the potential of digitalisation?
That’s a difficult question to answer but I believe that there is huge potential in the industry. We need to make use of the gigabytes of data that are generated at all phases of plant design and execution; and that’s not even talking about the data collected during plant operations.
I think we are still at the beginning of this task and we cannot yet comprehend the magnitude of what will be possible. One thing is clear; digitalisation will fundamentally change the way we work as a plant engineering company and the way that we do business. The same applies to the operational side of things within the industry.