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Archive for October, 2010

Casual Friday: Compressed Gas Pumpkin Cannon

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Punkin' Chunkin' Air CannonWe’re two days away from Halloween. Unless you have small children or an insatiable love for chocolate, you probably don’t get as excited about Halloween as you did when you were younger. Well, get excited again, because everyone knows that compressed gases and pumpkins go hand-in-hand. OK, so most people don’t immediately make that connection, but it’s true.

Behold the Punkin’ Chunkin’ contest, where competitors try to launch pumpkins as far as possible. The secret to defying gravity is by using compressed gases like nitrogen. We were turned onto the contest by GAWDA President-Elect Bryan Keen. He told us about a customer who used compressed nitrogen for the pumpkin launching contest. In the competition, teams use giant cannons powered by nothing but air, and the results are stunning.

In 2008, one team set the Punkin’ Chunkin’ record by launching a pumpkin 4483.51 feet using compressed gas. That’s about .85 miles. Not bad at all. This year’s contest runs Nov 5-7, and will air on the Science Channel on Thanksgiving. Here’s a little preview of what you might see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpfGGWK46pc

Motivating Employees When Raises Are Not An Option

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

MotivationHere at Welding & Gases Today we’re underway with our annual industry forecast, and it’s full steam ahead. We’re calling GAWDA members all across the country to find out what we can expect for 2011. This is officially the first forecast I’ve taken part in, and it’s been a great experience so far.

I’ve been hearing a lot of cautious optimism. Distributors are hopeful about increasing business. The good news is that many companies are investing in new people and new equipment. A number of people I spoke to were fortunate enough to maintain their entire staff throughout the economic downturn without having to lay off any employees. If the welding and gases industry is any indication of the rest of the economy, then it’s a good sign.

While things are looking better, there are still tough challenges facing distributors. A number of companies discussed the challenge of motivating employees when money is not flowing freely. How do you encourage productivity when you can’t provide raises? Maybe it’s through praise, or is just having a job motivation enough? One distributor said he motivates his salespeople by turning their work into a competition among the company. Another distributor said he has pizza parties and get-togethers with employees to boost morale.

What is your company doing to keep employees motivated during slower economic times? I’d love to hear your ideas. Share your tips by responding to a brief survey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ZHSJ5ST. Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments section as well.

UPDATE 1/19/2011 : The answers are in! Find out some of the strategies distributors are using in my follow-up post, Distributors’ Motivational Methods

Cylinders Straight Out Of Science Fiction

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

See Through Gas CylinderChanges in gas cylinder technology often look to improve on external aspects: RFID tracking, automated filling, ultrasonic testing, and so forth. It’s more unusual to see major changes to the actual cylinders themselves. After all, what kinds of improvements can we make to something so durable and effective? When I came across this see-through cylinder, it struck me as really innovative. The idea behind it is that customers will always know how much gas is left, and they’ll never run out at an inopportune moment.

While this technology is currently limited to propane cylinders, maybe the potential is there for high pressure gas cylinders as well. The Lite Cylinder Co. says the composite fiberglass tank is as strong as steel, except 30 percent lighter, and its casing is non-corrosive. It certainly would be practical to have lighter-weight medical oxygen tanks, and I’m sure others could benefit from lighter cylinders too.

The see-through capability might not be useful for every gas, but it could be helpful for liquid gases to indicate when a tank is low. For a distributor, it could also help you identify if there are any foreign substances in the tank when a customer returns it (as mysteriously happens from time to time). I can think of a number of benefits, not the least of which is the fact that lighter, see-through tanks are a great selling point for choosing your gases over a competitor.

Although the thought of replacing tens of thousands of cylinders is enough to give anyone an aneurism, there’s no reason to worry just yet. So far, I haven’t seen any see-through high pressure cylinders. While the technology may not be developed to that point yet, we may be looking at the future of the industry.

What do you think? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of a composite cylinder?

Follow Devin O’Toole on twitter: @GasWeldEdge

Casual Friday: Testing A Gas Cylinder Myth

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

If you ever had any question as to how dangerous gas cylinders can be when mishandled, well, my advice is don’t try to prove it. However, some people aren’t satisfied with simply accepting the potential for danger. Myth Busters is a perfect example of this.

In this casual Friday video, the two mad scientists put a gas cylinder myth to the test: Can a ruptured high pressure cylinder break through a concrete wall? The result of their experiment is pretty incredible.

This has me wondering, what other myths are there surrounding the gases and welding industry? Any urban legends swirling around your office? Share them by leaving a comment.

Enjoy the show!

Can You Learn Welding From A Book?

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Crosswords For Seniors For DummiesThe publishers of the well-known how-to series have just published Welding For Dummies. The books have been around since 1991 and cover seemingly everything, so why did it take them so long to publish Welding For Dummies? (It appears they did print TIG Welding For Dummies in 2008, but that only covers part of it.)

It got me thinking, if they’re not writing about something as ubiquitous as welding, what are they writing about? A quick scan produces such titles as Acne for Dummies (no thanks), Adoption for Dummies (maybe you should reconsider being a parent), Building Chicken Coops for Dummies (I prefer pre-fab) and Congress For Dummies (no comment). If you’re “over 55”, don’t bother with Crossword Puzzle Challenges For DummiesCrosswords For Seniors For Dummies is “tailored to your interests.” We’re still only on the letter C, but I think you get the point.

Maybe the reason they weren’t writing about welding is because it’s so hands-on by nature. I can imagine there are aspects that are hard to pick up from paper. That’s why we have things like Virtual Welding! Now that’s the way to learn.

While we’re talking about strange how-to books, toptenz.net has quite a humorous collection here, including such classics as How To Steal A Dog, How To Become Schizophrenic, and How To Survive A Robot Uprising.

Here’s a question for you: If you could have a how-to book about any topic related to the gases and welding industry, what would it be?

Wine On Tap? Now That’s A Niche Market

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Wine On Tap. Photo courtesy of xiaming.I’m currently working on the next issue of Welding & Gases Today, and one of the topics explored in this issue is niche markets for gases and welding distributors. Yesterday I came across one such niche via NPR—wine on tap—and I must say the concept is fascinating.

Restaurants and wine bars are increasingly offering wine on tap, with a little help from gases like nitrogen and argon. The use of inert gas pushes the wine from keg to tap without reacting with the wine. In fact, the gas helps preserves the wine longer than a typical bottle might at a restaurant.

While the concept of keg wine has been around for a long time, there is a renewed fervor for the beverage due to it being environmentally—and economically—friendly. It costs less than wholesale bottled wine and the containers are reusable. However, one proponent of wine on tap told NPR there are still some kinks to work out. Hear that? Sounds like opportunity to me! Welding and gases distributors specialize in solutions.

An underserved niche is a great way to expand into new markets. What niches does your company serve? How did you discover them? I’d love to hear about it.

Read about wine on tap or listen to the story below:

Casual Friday: Water-Powered Welding

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Today (October 15) is Alternative Fuel Vehicle Day! Honk if you’re driving a hydrogen-powered car. Okay, so they aren’t too common yet, but soon enough.

My search for an interesting video about alternative fuels led me to an amazing video about a different kind of alternative technology—water-powered welding. Denny Klein says he developed the method of turning water to fuel in hopes of creating a safer alternative to acetylene torches. But why stop there—he converted his car to run on the process too.

There are debates around the Internet as to whether Klein’s technology is really a hoax. I have no proof one way or the other, but it’s interesting to think that water could be the future of welding. Check it out:

If you’re interested, you can even read Klein’s patent application for the technology here.

Managers: Are You Negative Enough?

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Boss' Day is October 16October 16 is officially Boss’ Day. Many of you may even get the day off this year (it is a Saturday). Those of you who are managers should use this as a chance to reflect on your leadership: are you being negative enough?

A recent study of management styles (via CNN) produced rather surprising results. After studying 900 officer cadets at West Point, the results indicated that “negative” personality traits can be effective in managers. Some of the specific traits mentioned are stubbornness, narcissism, being overly dramatic, being critical of others, and unwillingness to compromise.

I can see how these traits would be useful in drumming up success at times, but not if they are not balanced by positive methods. The author of the study does point out, to his credit, that these traits are useful in small doses. In too high of a concentration, he says, negative traits can be “pathological” and can be detrimental to one’s career.

It is my unscientific opinion that negativity will likely only muster short-term results. But if you go to the drama well too many times, productivity will cease to flow. While a business is measured by its results, there are other important considerations, such as employee morale—things that lead to long-term results.

What do you think? Is there a place for negativity in management? What traits make a good manager?

Follow my twitter updates: @GasWeldEdge

Speed Dating for Businesses

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Photo courtesy of mrleroneThe West Virgina Small Business Administration recently turned matchmaker when it borrowed the concept of speed dating to help small businesses find loans. Companies spent six minutes each with various lenders to find their perfect match. The meet-ups not only helped companies find lending options, it gave them the opportunity to ask general questions about putting a loan package together.

I thought this was not only a great way to help businesses get loans, but I thought it was a very unique idea. It got me wondering if something like this could translate into a customer interface. What if you were given six minutes with a series of customers, while they hopped from you to your competitors. Would your company stand out above the others?

There’s an important point underlying the SBA event. The six minute meet and greets were not only used for banks to push their own interests, but also to help borrowers understand the lending process and what goes into loan packages. The point is, if you are given six minutes, if you can help a customer, solve a problem of theirs, give them a better way to accomplish their work, chances are they’ll remember you.

So what do you think? How would you distinguish your company? Could you sell your real value in six minutes?

Hydrogen Cars Come In Many Sizes

Friday, October 8th, 2010

It’s been a busy week for GAWDA members, with the 66th annual convention in Hawaii. For those of you just getting back from Hawaii, casual Friday is the cure to your jetlag.

But first I want to acknowledge the amazing generosity of GAWDA members, who donated more than $200,000 to GAWDA Gives Back. From the time the donation was presented on Sunday through the end of the convention, members donated an additional $8500 to bring the latest total to $202,312.17. This is an incredible show of kindness on behalf of members. It will make a big difference for a lot of families in Maui.

We already knew Hawaii was a great place to hold GAWDA’s convention, but now we have even more reason to return, and it’s all about hydrogen. The state has launched an effort to create a hydrogen infrastructure to support fuel cell vehicles. When it comes to hydrogen vehicles, building a refueling infrastructure has always been the major question. Hawaii is uniquely positioned because of its existing natural gas pipeline infrastructure. The hydrogen can be separated from the natural gas to provide fuel for vehicles. (Read more about it here.) Hopefully, this vision will be fully realized by 2015 when the annual convention is set to return to the Aloha State, so we can see it for ourselves.

Until this kind of infrastructure comes to the contiguous states, most of us will have to settle for remote-controlled hydrogen cars. Looks like fun!