At a time when the country is fighting tooth and nail to tide over the second wave and its consequent disruptions, Ranabir Chatterjee, Head of Deliver, South Asia, Linde shares his valuable insights on what it takes to be on the frontline in the country’s fight against the pandemic, and walks us through the challenges and the untiring efforts in ensuring undisrupted liquid oxygen transportation throughout the country. Excerpts follow :
- As a company that is primarily engaged in manufacture of industrial and medical gases and construction of cryogenic and noncryogenic air separation plants, how has Linde stood up to the test of the pandemic?
Our experience and expertise in Cryogenic liquid logistics helped in this case. We pre-empted the challenge and realised that delivery of Liquid oxygen from Oxygen surplus locations in India to Oxygen-deficit areas of India would be difficult with the existing distribution resources.
Within this context, Linde was the first in the industry to suggest renting ISO Containers from the international market to de-bottleneck the Liquid Oxygen (LOX) supply chain and we engaged our APAC team to look for such ISO Containers in Global market.
The first consignment of such tanks ISO Containers that were imported was done by Linde in partnership with Tata Steel and with the support of the Indian Air Force. We are also collaborating with other partners such as ITC to bring more ISO Containers by air and sea into the country. These ISO Cryogenic Containers can carry up to 20 tons of Liquid Oxygen over long distances, and once they arrive in India, the ISO Containers are being conditioned and certified for liquid medical oxygen transport from Linde facilities.
These containers can also act as interim oxygen storages as a hub-spoke model in remote areas that are facing oxygen scarcity. We are also working with the Government of India to airfreight empty ISO containers within domestic destinations – this has a significant impact in reducing the delivery time. We also worked with Indian Railways (Concor) to set up a railway delivery system known as Roll-On-Roll-Off (RORO) service to carry Liquid Medical Oxygen across India.
This first-of-its-kind deployment has helped deploy several rakes, each capable of carrying 120M Ton of LOX. We started the operation on 1st of May, by now we are managing 12 railheads moving around 500+ tons of Oxygen per day by rail, across India.
The next big challenge was to manage the last mile, which is from the railheads to the hospital/filling station. For that, we made all arrangements at the railheads to safely decant the liquid and move them to hospitals in our tankers and, at the same time, achieved the turnaround of the ISO Containers’ within the shortest possible time. We are continuing to look at all possible ways to increase supply and improve distribution efficiency of Medical Oxygen. We are working as per Government directives and currently having discussions with different industry partners so that more containers can be brought into the country.
2] What are the challenges in the transportation of the supply of oxygen cylinders that can be solved with the help of technology in India and how?
There are various challenges; we can mention some main ones:
- Availability of user-friendly containers/ cylinders to supply oxygen
For supply of compressed medical oxygen, we use a cylinder made of steel, which is very heavy. Gas content in such cylinders is just 20 % of its total weight. Lightweight cylinders like Aluminium or lightweight carbon steel cylinder can help carry more gas and a greater number of cylinders can be transported.
- Lack of compressing stations especially in remote areas:
The aim is to set up more such compressing stations. Portable Cylinder filling stations could be another solution as they can be carried to remote areas with ease and the spread can widen.
- Fully manual stock level monitoring of cylinders and their gas level: Smart cylinders to be introduced so that same can be monitored centrally and any replenishment can be triggered by the producers without any intervention by the users.
3. In a situation of dire distress that the country is going through on account of oxygen shortage in the hospitals and alarming rise of COVID cases, what steps have been taken to maintain a fine balance between demand and supply?
As mentioned before, the first step is to transfer oxygen from surplus geography to the deficit geography in bulk, wherein we have used Railways and ISO containers. With the help of Indian Air Force, we have moved empty tankers by air to the source plant to save time. We made oxygen available to the refillers in the remotest of areas so that oxygen in the cylinders can be made available. We have moved empty and filled tankers by rail for faster turnaround in RORO service offered by rail. With all these mechanisms, we made Oxygen available in deficit area from the surplus area.
“We need to focus and improve our infrastructure, inventory management, proper flow of information throughout the chain. Most importantly, we need to stay ahead of the curve by finding a scalable solution and bringing flexibility to the whole system.”