In 1999, Linde AG acquired AGA, creating at the time Europe’s second-largest industrial gases group. In 2006, Linde acquired UK-based BOC Group, leading to the creation of what was until recently known as the Linde Group.
But there was further consolidation to come, and arguably the biggest news yet, with the announcement in 2016 that the Linde Group was to engage in a mega-merger with US-based Praxair, Inc. – a $90bn move that created a new market leader in the global industrial gases business.
Following the completion of the Linde-Praxair merger in 2019, which created Linde plc, Ellringmann says this was the “right time” for AGA, now Linde, to change its name.
“Time to unite”
“Why have we done this now, 20 years later? Merging with Praxair and forming the industry leader, globally, being the number one, this was the right time to unite as one and make it visible as much internally as externally,” Ellringmann tells gasworld in an exclusive interview.
“It might have been an option 20 years ago as well, but the timing wasn’t right then. Now, we are visibly the major player, and this has benefits for not only our customers, but our employees too.”
“For our customers, they are now aware of the global offering that we have that brings new opportunities to this region. For our employees, we bring the message that as a company we are more than our operations in Region Europe North, and opportunities for our employees are not limited to the legacy AGA area, but actually they have opportunities globally, as part of Linde.”
With the shared name comes a common joint strategy: making the world more productive.
“More productive by means of our innovative solutions, our technologies and our services,” Ellringmann explains. “Productivity for our customer means making them more efficient and making them more environmentally friendly in their process performance in the connected world, which includes safety.”
“Safety is at the heart of what we are doing here. As much as we are the global number one in industrial gas from a business perspective, we also have to include our performance in safety, which is something we are focusing on very much.”
Whilst Ellringmann is new in his role at Linde Europe North (formerly AGA), he’s not new to the wider Linde corporation.
“I joined Linde’s Corporate Strategy department on Group level in 2010, based in Munich, Germany. I headed that department from 2012 to 2014 and then assumed my first operation role in 2014 as the managing director of Linde Electronics, Munich,” he explains.
“In 2016, I moved to the UK and assumed the responsibility for Sales and Marketing for the Merchant and Packaged Gases business for UK & Ireland.”
“I started here at Linde Europe North in December 2019, in the role of Business President. At Linde, we are managing our businesses through what we call regional business units and the role of being a business president, or a president of a region, is having the responsibility for a geography.”
Having worked in a couple of different industries throughout his career, Ellringmann says he typically refers to the industrial gases industry as a “beauty”.
“Industrial gases are everywhere. I can’t imagine a single industry, almost globally, without the use of industrial gases,” he enthuses.
“It really is a beauty with regards to how different and ingenious it is. It’s global as much as it’s local, it’s commercial as much as it’s technical, you’ve got very small cylinders with super high purity, but you’ve also got large air separation units (ASUs) and process plants.”
“To a degree it’s old fashioned and established technology we base our industry on, but on the other side you are also talking about cutting edge technology in some of the industrial gas applications – be it with hydrogen, or the semiconductor industries, or food and additive manufacturing.”
“This, together with a culture of approachable people, people who are competent and people who play in a team, is where I get my passion and inspiration from. And it all still holds true today.”
Ellringmann says under his leadership he will continue to drive the successful development of the region.
“This didn’t just happen in the past few years, Linde Europe North has a history that goes back 100 years. With the focus on the core industrial gases since the 1970s, we are the market leader in this region. We are the market leader for a reason, this doesn’t happen without our doing,” he explains.
“Building on this strong team, I think we have a reason to believe we can continue to operate successfully in this region. I think it takes some additional effort to sustain this position, it’s about continuous improvement – investing in our infrastructure as much as we invest in our people and capabilities. This is what we’re going to focus on.”
AGA becomes Linde – Two companies. One shared name.
Automation and digitisation
Another continuing area of focus for Linde Europe North is automation and digitisation. The company is close to finishing a 15-year journey to complete automation.
In 1995, in the town of Riihimäki, southern Finland, the first automated filling site was built. But this was never scaled in the industry, the company was somewhat ahead of its time.
Fast forward 20 years, the company completely renewed and modernised its operations in the Riihimäki filling site again, this time with the latest in robotic technology, responsible for all stages of filling and handling of the cylinders, to become the world’s first fully automated filling station for industrial gases.
The plant produces more than 200 gas mixtures and more than 700,000 cylinders per year. Its cornerstone feature is the automated carousel filling equipment.
Last year, Linde Europe North opened the next step in its automation – a brand new modern filling plant in Enköping, Sweden, where the entire process is fully automated.
Picture self-propelled trucks set gas cylinders in locks where they are automatically sorted according to the desired filling and receiver. A robot lifts the bottles into the filling carousel and then back out and into the lock where they are picked back up by the self-propelled trucks. The entire production flow is automated from sorting to filling, storing and picking.
€40m ($45.5m) was invested in this facility, which sees the consolidation of six sites into one, with 1.8 million cylinder fillings a year.
“We are currently working on our most recent investment in Enköping into an automated filling plant for healthcare and for industrial cylinders, but we are still in the process of doing so,” Ellringmann says.
“We are just about to start relocating the production for healthcare into the site and then as you might expect it will take some time to fully ramp the production up and to get the benefit that we expect, be it on the safety side or be it on the efficiency side.”
“Therefore, I think our journey to complete automation is anything but done, yet. I think we have got a very good set up there on the filling plant site, but then it’s also time to look further into our processes in the company.”
“We talk about making all of our processes paperless, streamlining them, that could be in purchasing or procurement, it could be about delivery notification or delivery notes. All of that currently is still paper based and we’re looking into how we can make interacting with Linde us easier for our customers, as much as for ourselves internally.”
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