How Air Liquide guarantees the gas supply for its industrial customers

The primary mission of the OCC is to distribute gases to large industrial customers through Air Liquide’s vast network of pipelines
Large Industries
27 June 2017

The words ‘Operations Control Centre’ evoke images of clever technicians sitting behind a console dotted with all kinds of gauges, switches, levers and buttons, minutely studying a battery of monitors.

“In the past that image came pretty close to reality,” says Peter Craeghs with a smile. Peter Craeghs is the manager of the Air Liquide Operations Control Centre (OCC) in Brussels. “However, we replaced our console some time ago with high-performance and compact computer systems.”

 Large Industries


The primary mission of the OCC is to distribute gases through Air Liquide’s own network of pipelines to a number of large industrial customers. Within the Benelux alone, this network stretches approximately 2,225 km. Obviously this distribution must be accomplished in a reliable and consistent manner so that customers never have to worry about timely deliveries. It seems logical to assume that such a network, once up and running properly, functions largely without human intervention. But in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.




Puzzles for advanced users

“Human oversight occurs because the demand from our customers is constantly fluctuating. This means that we must continuously adjust the production levels of our plants injecting gases into the network. In this manner, we ensure that each customer is always supplied with the right gas in the right quantity and that the pressure in the pipeline network remains within reliable limits.

The production levels are also dependent upon the ambient temperature. There is also the fact that when some gases are produced, by-products are derived, the value of which must be taken into account.

“What makes it all even more complex is the fact that prices in the energy market change rapidly,” explains Craeghs. “Usually we have less than 30 minutes to absorb pressure differences. Within that time, we must decide which plants should produce more or less and assess the technical and financial consequences. The most difficult aspect is to constantly determine the right balance between demand and production on the one hand and costs and revenues on the other.”


The OCC is also the single point of contact when security incidents or crisis situations occur at one of the production sites or near the pipelines. “It is not the case that the OCC always resolves all the problems itself. We do, however, offer everyone who contacts us a ‘commitment to assist’. In other words, they can be confident that their problem will always be solved quickly and professionally.”

Big Data

But the OCC does more than just intervene in the here and now. It accurately records all events and actions taken. This creates a powerful source of big data that offers us valuable ‘single source of truth’ information, thus enabling us to simulate a huge variety of situations.

The OCC is then able to offer its customers tactical and strategic support. “We will soon be launching a programme to help our customers meet new challenges by offering them competitive, long-term solutions. A particularly interesting development is that we are combining the power of big data with our vast knowledge and experience.”

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