One of Delaware’s quiet success stories unveiled its Advanced Fabrication Center.
The center, a part of Air Liquide and its U.S. subsidiary, Airgas, is part of its Delaware Innovation Campus in the Glasgow Business Community south of Newark.
The Innovation Campus opened in 2007 and employs about 170. Its opening came during a time when the state’s economy was slowing down prior to the downturn of 2008-2009.
The center focuses on helping industrial customers adopt new manufacturing technologies and more efficient and cost-effective production processes.
Supplying welding and other gases for manufacturing is a big deal for Air Liquide. Manufacturing represents 20 percent or more of the total business mix of the company.
Advanced welding just one of the activities of the center, a part of a worldwide system that includes sites in France, German China, Japan.
Air Liquide is based near Paris. It acquired suburban Philadelphia-based Airgas, in 2016.
Researchers demonstrated the latest welding technologies including cobots. Lower cost cobots perform precision welding with a robotic arm working through an app on a smartphone.
The system, which has been named Fred, which may still be a year or so away from commercial use, can be easily moved to a job site on a four-foot by four-foot table.
Unlike human employees, Fred does not have to be a permanent expense. Cobots can be rented for the duration of the work.
Fred is part of an effort to deal with a long-running shortage of human welders that could reach the half million mark in the next decade. The average age for welders is 55.
Air Liquide and Airgas are not planning to get into the fabrication business. Instead the research and development work is aimed at helping customers tap markets and improve operations, moves that will spur use of the company’s industrial gases and other products.
The Glasgow site is also engaged in membrane science as well as energy-intensive processes and semiconductors.
Delaware was chosen as a location, due to the presence of researchers and research universities as well as proximity to key markets. Glasgow replaced an R&D center in the Chicago area.
Researchers at the site come from more than 20 nations.
One of the initiatives of the Innovation Center involves hydrogen-fueled vehicles. The center worked with the University of Delaware, which operated a hydrogen-powered bus.
The work in Glasgow will aid Air Liquide in building hydrogen fueling stations in California. The state is offering incentives for vehicles powered by the fuel.
Air Liquide has a global network of Innovation campuses with integrated R&D centers that maintain close ties to the Group’s activities, which encourages open collaboration with customers, suppliers, universities, research institutes and start-ups.
The Delaware Innovation Campus has already developed partnerships with universities, including Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Princeton, Georgia Tech and the University of Delaware.
Michael Graff , executive vice president & executive committee member of Air Liquide S.A. and CEO of American Air Liquide Holdings, Inc.: “Air Liquide is devoted to innovation through application-focused research development and technological solutions. The AFC provides new, state-of-the-art facilities to support customer-centric projects, improve and develop more efficient manufacturing technologies and encourage innovation to help sustainably meet the challenges of tomorrow.”