The grandeur of Le Plaza Hotel, in Brussels, has welcomed a packed audience of industrial gas employees as EIGA 2013 got underway Wednesday morning.

The association, which is also celebrating it’s 90th anniversary this year, chose the subject of safety as a way of highlighting just how far our industry has progressed during this time frame.

The Messer Group’s Tim Evison got the day underway with a humourous video, which carried undertones of a serious message. In the video members of the public were interviewed on camera and asked some simple questions which varied from who was part of the industrial gases industry to what is the air made up of?

Many of the questions featured entertaining answers from members of the public, but the message was clear – our industry is an invisible industry to members of the public.

“The gases sector, as we have all just seen in the video, isn’t well known to the general public. But we play key roles in the renewable energy sector and reduce emissions in the manufacturing industry, for example,” said Mr Evison.

“We are in the process of delivering a century of improvements in this industry. But does it matter that the European people don’t know what we do?”

He added, “Communication is key. The EIGA board recognised this needed improving and they saw the 90th anniversary as a perfect opportunity to let the world know what we have been doing during these years.”

Mr Evison then handed over to his boss, and outgoing President of EIGA, Stefan Messer – who gave a presentation about the history of industrial gases and how they came to be.

Titled EIGA at 90: Reflecting the invisible industry, Mr Messer stated, “As the European Industrial Gases Association (EIGA) begins its 90th anniversary celebrations in 2013, it is a fitting time to reflect not only on the development of the industrial gases industry over the course of this long and eventful period, but also on the ways in which the industrial association has evolved in response to that development.”

“Large-scale commercial production of oxygen started for the first time in England with the founding of Brin’s Oxygen Company in 1886. Brin’s, the forerunner of BOC, used a barium-oxide process. The process was then joined by others based on the inventions between 1895 and 1903 of Carl von Linde, deployed commercially by Linde’s Eismaschinnen along with others, and Georges Claude, exploited commercially by Air Liquide and others.”

“All of them were processes which enabled liquefaction and then separation of air, and they were critical to establishing the modern cryogenic air separation processes which are still at the heart of key aspects of the industrial gases industry today. But it is important to keep in mind that the oxygen industry until the early 20th century was very different from today, and not just in scale.”

“As a consequence of the growing importance of industry and in order to deal in particular with cross-cutting issues such as safety and statistical reporting, an International Standing Committee on Acetylene, Oxyacetylene Welding and Associated Industries was established.”

“Abbreviated ‘CPI’ on the basis of its official French name, the organisation was founded in Paris in 1923. The CPI is of course the direct forerunner of EIGA, and we are celebrating the 90th anniversary of its founding this year.”

“A few things should be highlighted about the CPI. First, unlike the Acetylene Congress, this was primarily an industry rather than a scientific association. Second, it is worth noting that the long version of the name indicated the primary focus on acetylene and welding, by far the most important market for the industry into the post-World War II period. Third, although the main members of the organisation were Europeans, US, Japanese, and other delegates from outside of Europe were welcomed as well. Finally, it is telling that representation on the CPI was by country rather than by company, which corresponded well to the geographic division of the industry’s markets by gentlemen’s agreements.”

Mr Messer concluded his speech by saying, “EIGA continues to reflect these ongoing developments, but is also, through its efforts, helping to shape the industry as it faces new challenges. Two key elements of the “reflection” of the industry through the trade association deserve to be highlighted. First, membership continues to be company-based, but the numbers of companies participating has increased from 62 in 1985 to well over 100 by 1999. Second, although annual EIGA sessions continue to be held in the original membership states of western Europe, they are increasingly held also in the transition states of central and eastern Europe in recognition of their growing importance as markets and sites of production.”

“EIGA, though, does not just reflect developments in the industry. It shapes it in important ways, for instance through providing a forum for discussion of and action upon issues of common concern to all member companies. The introduction of EIGA’s Road Safety Awards in 1998 is one manifestation of this, while our trade association also works to promote productivity improvement in the industry through standardisation and through other means. In addition, EIGA helps shape the industry it represents by providing support to regulatory authorities on the one hand, and through facilitating globalisation through ever greater collaboration with CGA and other non-European organisations in the industry.”

“In sum, for 90 years now, the organisation and functions of the European-based trade association of the industrial gases industry have evolved in tandem with the industry’s development. EIGA and its predecessor organisations are a reflection of the “invisible industry”, but they have also contributed considerably towards helping shape it in key ways.”

Presentations from Day One will be summarised and published here on Thursday evening (GMT).