Into the future: at the push of a button

Seeing into the future: For many of us, that remains a pious wish. But in Linde’s Digital Base Camp, it has become a reality. The future lab team works like a startup, combining the power of data with creative ideas – making many a vision come true.

On the Linde Campus in Pullach, past and future are never far apart. In fact, a short elevator ride separates them. In the basement of one of the oldest buildings on the factory grounds, rests the Linde corporate archive – and it guards a great legacy. This is where documents and original recordings from around 140 years of proud company history are stored. It's a story that began with the charter of Linde's Eismaschinen AG – the company founded by Carl von Linde in 1879. In the building's top floor, in the bright spaces of a what was once a drawing room, that same story is now being taken into the future.

Past and future under one roof

It was here that, up until the 1990s, Linde engineers were putting pencil to paper and drawing plans for gas equipment and air separators by hand – and there was always the inner drive to think big and new. Clearly, that drive still exists today because in 2016, in those very same rooms, Linde founded the Digital Base Camp – an accelerator group whose innovative team of developers, data experts and creative minds is leading the company into the digital future with its data-driven business ideas.

There is never a quiet moment in this hub of ideas. A group of visitors from China is rallying around a high-tech drone about to embark on its maiden flight; scattered Virtual Reality equipment testifies to the dawning of new worlds; post-its adorn the chip-board walls – each one a new vision for Linde to explore and the open kitchen invites spontaneous discussion and tech-talk. Indeed, there is plenty of room in this future workshop: room for disruptive ideas and for the people who harbour them. But who is behind the project? And how are they driving change?

A user experience that the customer loves

Among other things, the digitalisation teams in Digital Base Camp are working to expand Linde's core business – production and distribution of industrial gases as well as plant engineering – further into the digital realm. Ideas come from experts within the various business units of the technology group; they are then developed in conjunction with the crew from the camp before becoming fully fledged digital products. Apps, for example, can help make processes faster and more efficient, offering a clear benefit for both Linde and its customers. Many projects are based on data that Linde already possesses which holds immense value to the business. Meanwhile, the thought leaders at the Digital Base Camp are working feverishly to make ‘Big data’ ultimately become ‘Smart data’ through creative ideas. The camp’s mission, in the words of Philipp Karmires, Head of Digitisation at Linde: "The focus of our activities is on one question: How can we use the data Linde has at its disposal to not only help our customers, but also help Linde build new business areas?"

For example, Karmires’ team worked closely with Linde's core business to launch the PlantServ Portal. It essentially provides Linde’s industrial gas customers with a digital spare parts marketplace which means quicker repair of their plants. Components are no longer recorded manually by tally and Excel spreadsheets, but by swiping fingers on a display. Sure, it is convenient for customers, but there’s more to it than that: "Essentially, it's about two things. First, to create an application with a user experience that the customer loves," explains Mathias Mostertz, Senior Business Development Manager, "Second, to prove it has significant savings in terms of time or cost."

Playful thinking meets entrepreneurship

The digital natives at Linde are working on up to three projects at any one time. Since the foundation of the Digital Base Camp, a total of around 40 projects have been implemented. A key factor in this success rate is the working culture: the camp sees itself as an accelerator within Linde. But what exactly does that mean?

In the first step, Karmires' team invests three months of time and expertise in a digital business idea – to see if it works in practice. During this time, software developers and UX designers build a prototype based on the available data and the business idea – as in the case of the PlantServ Portal. This is then tested in real scenarios with real customers. Once the customer has been convinced and the application has delivered the desired benefits, it moves to the second stage of development: the piloting phase. This is when products are commercialised. With the PlantServ Portal, this "high-speed approach" paid off: from the first idea to the product launch, the implementation only took seven months.
Meanwhile, another team of data scientists has found success with a project focused on doing something many of us can only dream of doing: looking into the future. As part of Predictive Maintenance, Linde uses the data that sensors in gas plants generate from component failure – e.g. of a compressor. This allows Linde to statistically predict when particular components need replacing or repairing – which it can then do proactively. The benefits are enormous, especially for an industry that cannot afford to stand still.

Welcome to the idea accelerator!

The proof of the pudding is in the eating! A well-known saying that the Digital Base Camp team holds dear. It is the unique mixture of playful thinking and entrepreneurial mentality that leaves Mostertz and his colleagues breaking new ground. But in the end, it leads to extraordinary solutions with tangible results which allow Linde to expand its portfolio of digital services. "Even company founder Carl von Linde was an entrepreneur through and through – and that's exactly what we live here," says Mostertz. It seems the circle of past and future is complete.