Even for non-technophiles, it is easy to swoon over the state-of-the-art flat screen displays, poised and sleek, all shiny and new, while strolling down the aisle of an electronics hypermart. The inner workings that are responsible for ensuring that the screens are worthy of ardent admiration, however, comprise a complex tapestry of processes from chip sets to the supply chain.In fact, you might be surprised to know that Air Liquide designs, manufactures and supplies the materials used to make many of these smart devices.
Air Liquide serves its electronic manufacturing customers by offering a large range of high added-value products and services, from gas and chemical management to on-site production units. In the digital race, companies are looking to manufacture smarter, and are moving towards a data-driven manufacturing process with a clear push for ever-higher efficiency, reliability and safety. Our customers are no different; they have embarked on a journey to achieve unparalleled quality excellence and we have also worked in parallel to support them.
In the Asia Pacific zone, Air Liquide’s electronics business line accounts for almost one-third of the total revenue. Growth in this key sector is expected to grow significantly over the next 5 years, driven by the continued emergence of new technologies such as autonomous cars, enhanced connectivity through Internet of Things (IoT), faster and bigger data centres.
The Rise of Digital Within Air Liquide
To stay ahead of the curve, Air Liquide Singapore kick started a series of digital strategy launches 3 years ago. It started with the introduction of the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) to enhance shop floor management. Manual paperwork was aplenty and engineers often found themselves attending to administrative tasks, leading unproductive use of their technical skills-set. By digitizing production planning and processes through the MES, real time transactions and stock movements can be traced via a barcode system. The paradigm shift manual to digital greatly enhanced plant operations, a game changer for Air Liquide at that time.
Spurred by the success of MES, Air Liquide sought to digitize labs processes to ensure lab data integrity and traceability. Digitizing the system to automate the capture and integration of analytical results into our information system enabled e-copies of certificates to be produced for customers, reducing the reliance on physical documents.
The digital initiatives launched in Singapore have streamlined operational processes and delivered impressive results. The strategic changes made has put the Singapore operations in the position to reap long-term benefits. Upon the success of the pilot, Air Liquide took digital transformation to the next step in a big way.
From Singapore to Southeast Asia
At the end of 2018, Air Liquide launched SIO-EL (Smart Innovative Operations Electronics), a centralised unit fitted with latest technologies and data analytics experts to improve operational excellence across countries in Southeast Asia.
For such digital projects to come to fruition, the right tools were needed. Our plants are in the process of undergoing a complete revamp to digitalise infrastructure. For example, additional sensors and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices have been introduced in plants. In addition, we have created an internal platform hosting industrial solutions and software for Alarm Management, for Statistical Process Control (SPC), and to perform data analytics such as predictive maintenance. All these digital tools serve one objective: Enabling data driven decision-making in operations whilst driving continuous improvement.
From Data Creation to Value Creation
While the automation derived from such digital projects alleviates arduous and recurring manual tasks that the operations team used to undertake, the more pertinent benefit of the digital transformation in Air Liquide’s electronics business line was the enhancement in the quality of data generated which brought invaluable insight for Air Liquide and our customers. Following the collection and cleaning of data, analytics are then implemented to identify patterns, enabling us to make predictions and move towards strategic foresight.
The methodology of predictive analytics underscores thinking beyond data which in turn reaps multiple benefits for our customers including protecting our customers from product quality excursion, improving product stability and optimizing the output of customers’ assets. In addition, predictive analytics opens the door to new ways of working with customers, resulting in value co-creation and collaboration through the sharing and streamlining of data. This digital journey shifts our approach to data management from one of mere collection to realizing value creation - not just for Air Liquide but for our customers too.
People and Process at the Centre of Digital Transformation
The challenge in digital lies in the ability to see beyond data. This means an entire re-examination of our operational model and keen understanding of where the value lies. Although intangible, processes and organization are key success factors for healthy digital transformation to occur. Digital tools require the buy-in of employees in order for new digital habits to be cultivated within the organization. As such, the user-friendliness of tools have to be constantly sharpened and end users must be educated to fully understand the utility of the tools in order to ultimately guarantee the adoption of the new digital tools.
Having employees and users onboard the digital transformation journey also requires the right infrastructure in place. Processes and systems have to be enhanced via a fundamental rethinking of our business model. Importantly, we have to further converge our Operation Technology (OT) with our Information Technology (IT) to reap benefits from a wider spectrum of data, crossing business and operational value. This convergence of technologies is how we will produce a comprehensive and unique picture of the entire digital ecosystem.
Alongside the refinement of AI, growth of smart cities and annual updates of smart device technology, data and innovation are already at the forefront of the Electronics business of Air Liquide. So the next time you tune in to your favourite Netflix drama or send a text on Whatsapp, remember that a lot more than meets the eye goes into the manufacturing of your smart device - beneath trendy brand names, flashy exteriors, intricate microchips - beyond data, there is Air Liquide.