‘It’s our mission to make life easier for lab technicians’

Air Liquide’s R&A department offers a one-stop shop for laboratories
Research & Analysis
20 April 2020

Laboratories operate very differently from businesses in several respects, and this applies to both research laboratories and commercial operations. At least that’s the opinion of Kim Vissers, R&A key account manager at Air Liquide.

‘Laboratories have their own priorities, with different service expectations and needs than Air Liquide’s traditional customer base, for instance,’ says Vissers.

It’s for this reason that Air Liquide’s R&A (Research & Analysis) department focuses specifically on services for R&D centres, universities and commercial laboratories. ‘As you would expect, our R&A department supplies labs with all the pure gases and gas mixtures [see below] they need, but our unique service programme is what really sets us apart’ says Vissers. ‘It’s our mission to make life easier for lab technicians.’

Service agreements

Depending on customer needs, several service agreements are available:

  • Servigas 1: Under this maintenance agreement, Air Liquide handles preventive maintenance for installations.
  • Servigas 2: This agreement combines both preventive and curative maintenance.
  • Servigas 3: In addition to the above services, this agreement removes the customer’s need to invest in equipment. Put simply, Air Liquide handles the investment as well as preventive and curative maintenance.
  • Servigas 4: This extends Servigas 3 to include gas cylinder rental. Here, a specially trained Air Liquide driver connects and disconnects cylinders on request.
  • Local Customer Support (LCS): This is the most comprehensive service agreement for laboratories, taking care of everything for the customer. Also with this solution there’s no need for the customer to invest in equipment. Every week, a specialist Air Liquide technician comes by to check the installation’s operation and safety. A driver visits up to three times a week to replace any empty cylinders.

AutoSupply and myGAS

AutoSupply is a service for all Air Liquide customers with Air Liquide installations who use packaged gas. This advanced telemetry system monitors the contents of gas cylinders and transmits data to Air Liquide’s distribution centre, making it possible to schedule timely deliveries of new, full cylinders in exchange for empty ones.

Air Liquide’s digital customer portal, myGAS, is another distinctive service. It is a user-friendly online tool that offers a wide range of options to help customers manage orders, deliveries and invoices.

Supplementary services

‘The R&A team also offers safety training and audits,’ Vissers continues. ‘In any case we always recommend to customers that they review our white paper on lab safety. Of course, that’s not the same as customised training, but it’s a good start.’

As regards safety, Air Liquide also offers gas detection systems along with the associated maintenance agreements. These mainly involve CO2, hydrogen and oxygen, but detection systems for other gases are also available.

The concept is similar to that for the Servigas agreements. Gas detection systems comprise one or more detectors and a system to generate an alarm. They’re available for customer purchase, but can also be leased from Air Liquide. In each case, preventive and curative maintenance agreements are available. Whatever the choice, the sensors require regular calibration and replacement to avoid compromising safety.

Installations and gases

‘Of course, we also offer various other small laboratory equipment, such as gas cylinder relief valves, but we’re best known for our full gas installations,’ adds Vissers. ‘This can range from a single module with a bit of pipework and a relief valve to extensive gas installations serving an entire lab.’

‘With regard to gases, we distinguish between pure gases and gas mixtures. Pure gases are available at two purity levels, Alphagaz 1 and Alphagaz 2. Alphagaz 1 is suitable for analyses ranging from percentages to ppm, while Alphagaz 2 offers an even higher degree of accuracy - from ppm to ppb - for the most critical applications.’

‘We also supply laboratories with every gas mixture imaginable. We can even provide custom versions where necessary. Thanks to e-Mixture, a powerful online tool, laboratory technicians can provide us with the necessary information to ensure that the mixture meets the desired specifications. We also supply gaseous isotopes and chemicals as well as gases and supplies for specific electronics applications.’

Cryogenic gases and related services

‘Laboratories frequently make use of our CryoExpress service. This service tops up the labs’ cryogenic vessels and tanks with nitrogen or argon on demand. It’s the same principle as for our larger tanks, just on a smaller scale.’

Customers who use cryogenic gases in larger quantities are more likely to opt for a tank set up outside the lab, with the gas piped in. These tanks can be equipped with a telemetry system for remote content monitoring (level and pressure). This ensures a secure supply of gas, while removing the need for the lab to place orders.

If any malfunction should occur, the same telemetry system will alert the Air Liquide distribution centre. A technician will then be sent over to resolve the issue. In addition, a  team of on-call technicians can be reached 24/7 by phone for urgent interventions. Finally, Air Liquide has all the necessary equipment and expertise available to safely store and transport cryogenic samples.

Delivery options

Gases can be supplied in cylinders, cylinder packs, cryogenic vessels or tanks as desired. Laboratories can also produce certain gases themselves, such as nitrogen and hydrogen, using generators. An additional advantage here is that this does not require an environmental permit. Air Liquide offers an option to lease such generators, and it will also handle maintenance and any repairs.

Kim Vissers sums up the value of these services: ‘We’ve captured significant market share in Belgium, partly because we offer an exceptionally broad range of services and also because our one-stop shop concept saves labs a lot of time. We also offer great security of supply. And, of course, we have a great deal of expertise available.’