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Archive for January, 2011

NASA Talks Cryogenic Gases

Friday, January 28th, 2011
Discovery's external cryogenic gas tank

The dark orange external tank is the largest component of the space shuttle stack. It holds 535,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for the shuttle's three main engines.

There was an interesting article this week on GAWDAwiki about NASA, cryogenic gas and Facebook. In short, NASA fielded questions from its followers on Facebook, many of which were about the use of cryogenic propellants. There were a number things about this story that piqued my interest.

First, I think it’s great that so many people have an interest in gases. I definitely learned a lot about their use of liquid hydrogen and oxygen. NASA explains:

“The tank holds about 535,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Both propellants are cryogenic, which means they are super-cold. The oxygen is chilled and pressurized to minus 297 degrees F in its liquid form and the liquid hydrogen buries the temperature needle to minus 423 degrees F.”

Ever wonder about the filling? Wonder no more:

“The liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tanking process begin simultaneously. The process begins by chilling the transfer lines and main engines. Both commodities begin with slow fill to avoid thermal shocking of the aft domes. We then transition to fast fill up to about 98 percent capacity. We slow back down at this point to avoid overfilling. Once filled, we move into a stable replenish flow rate to maintain proper propellant levels and conditioning.

“Regarding the liquid hydrogen tank, we use helium to pressurize the tank for flight. The preburn you mention is actually for the liquid oxygen exhaust at the main engines.”

A look inside the external cryogenic tank

A look inside the external tank shows the junction of the liquid oxygen tank on top and the liquid hydrogen tank on the bottom. The intertank joins the two tanks together to make a complete external tank. Photos via NASA

Now you have a good reason to watch the next shuttle launch! (Check out the launch schedule here.) What questions would you ask NASA about their use of gases?

The second reason this story interested me is because it’s a great use of social media to connect with people and share knowledge. Education is a great way to establish yourself as a trustworthy authority.

In terms of a gases and welding distributor, how are you reaching out to your customers through social media? I’d love to hear any interesting stories you may have involving social media in your business.

Out of curiosity, anybody know who provides those 535,000 gallons of cryogenic gas? I’d love to hear if a GAWDA member is involved.

Art Cars Redefine Welding Art

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

I’ve written about the use of welding and gases in art before, but never like this. Thanks to Mike on LinkedIn, my impressions and ideas of welding art have been stretched to their limits. I’m talking about the art car community, which makes use of welding—in fabricating their fantastic creations—and uses propane gas to “shoot flames from their cars.”

Houston is home to a big art car community, which puts on an art car parade—this year’s will be in May—and is home to the Art Car Museum. As Mike explains, “The art car parade in Houston is incredible, it has to be seen to be believed. It is one of my favorite events and favorite CRAZY group of people.” Taking a cue from Mike, I won’t try to try to describe exactly what an art car is—it truly defies words, and is something you have to see to believe.

Thanks to Mike for sending these photos of some incredible handy-work in the art car community. I’d love to see it in person some day.

Any distributors supply customers in the art car community? If you have any photos, I’d be glad to post them.

Click images to enlarge:

Dragon Art Car
Dragon art car
Car shooting propane flames
Gargoyle art car Horse at the Art Car Museum
Gargoyle art car Horse at the Art Car Museum

Cryotherapy: The Next Hyperbaric Therapy

Friday, January 21st, 2011

The merits of hyperbaric oxygen chambers and their ability to treat all kinds of ailments are well documented; however, another sort of treatment, the cryogenic chamber, doesn’t get as much publicity. For one thing, subjecting your body to extremely cold temperatures for several minutes is not something most are eager to do, unless you happen to be a member of the Polar Bear Club.

It may also be the fact that most people are not aware of cryotherapy. The practice involves the use of a chamber in which cryogenic gases (often liquid nitrogen) are used to cool the body. Like hyperbaric therapy, cryotherapy is claimed to treat many things, including muscle and joint pain, insomnia, fibromyalgia and psoriasis. It does wonders for preserving the deceased (Walt Disney, Ted Williams, et al); maybe it can help the living!

Dr. Oz
Click the image to watch the video. Dr. Oz’s conclusion picks up in part 2 at around 3:15.

Believe it or not, the therapy is gaining in popularity. On a recent episode of The Dr. Oz Show, the show’s namesake put cryotherapy to the test. He had his assistant undergo the therapy for demonstration purposes. According to the TV personality, the therapy is worth trying for some ailments. Much like an ice pack, the cryogenic temperatures reduce inflammation and shrink blood vessels around injury sites.

As a distributor, how can you take advantage of the increasing popularity of cryotherapy? While some use it to treat medical conditions, according to Dr. Oz the experimental therapy is available mainly at spas at this point. Sounds like another niche market to me (Read about niche markets for gases and welding distributors). Either way, it’s great exposure for the gas industry.

Also, check out the article “Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy” from Welding & Gases Today, where Eleet Cryogenics VP Doug Morton explains how to capitalize on the growing market.

Distributors’ Motivational Methods

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

There’s no doubt that the past two years have been hard on most businesses, and GAWDA members are no different. However, in speaking with distributors, there is a certain pride I have noticed among those members who have been able to maintain their staff through the economic downturn. In many cases, sacrifices were made to make this happen, and in the midst of an economic mire, pay raises were sacrificed by workers in all industries.

A few months back, I posed the question: How do you motivate employees when raises are not an option? (See post here.) These may be slow times, but employee motivation is a constant need.

Well, the answers are in, and I want to share what distributors are saying. If you have your copy of Welding & Gases Today handy, the distributor responses are on page 110 of the Winter 2011 issue, or you can view the article online. (Look for the box that says “Six Ways To Get To Yes”)

Many distributors said open communication was the key to keeping employees motivated. We highlighted some of the more unique strategies for stirring up productivity and keeping employees happy. One such example is Jackson Welding Supply, who recently held a sales contest to give its employees a boost. “We hold a month-long sales competition, with separate categories for outside salespeople and branch managers, to make sure we hit our target,” he says. “The individuals and branch locations with the greatest sales growth receive $500 gift cards to a store of their choice. The employees love it, and we get great results.” This was just one of the great ideas distributors had.

What do you think? Could any of these motivational practices work for you? What else does your company do to keep employees motivated?

Liquid Nitrogen At Consumer Electronics Show

Friday, January 14th, 2011

The Consumer Electronics Show wrapped up last week, and you can bet that the gases and welding industry was represented. While specialty gases are commonly used in the electronics and semi-conductor industry—so therefore gases play a role in the majority of products at CES already—it was the versatility of liquid nitrogen that was on display in Las Vegas.

I was watching a video from CNET recapping the coolest gadgets debuting at the show. The hostess showed off tablets with keyboards, smart phones that dock into a dummy laptop, glasses-free 3D TV and …liquid nitrogen. Richard Blais, a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef, was there to represent the coolest (quite literally) technology in the food industry, making snacks with liquid nitrogen. In the video, they dip caramel popcorn balls into liquid nitrogen.

If you’ve never seen Top Chef, Blais regularly makes use of liquid nitrogen in his cooking. He’s bringing great attention to the industry, and people are taking note. He now even has his own show on the science channel, and from the looks of it, the liquid nitrogen flows pretty regularly on the show.

To see it in action, check out the video of liquid nitrogen at CES and get a preview of his tv show.

Social Media Regulations…From FDA

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

FDA's social media regulationsAmong the more unusual regulations that we might see in 2011, FDA is slated to publish draft guidance on the use of social media. Yes, you read that correctly. A recent message from the Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising, and Communications (DDMAC) says that the division has “been researching draft guidance topics on the following issues related to Internet/social media promotion of FDA-regulated medical products:

• Responding to unsolicited requests
• Fulfilling regulatory requirements when using tools associated with space limitations
• Fulfilling post-marketing submission requirements
• Online communications for which manufacturers, packers, or distributors are accountable
• Use of links on the Internet
• Correcting misinformation”   (via EyeOnFDA.com)

The agency is targeting a publish date of 1st Quarter 2011, so we should see this very soon. One bullet points specifically to the online communications of distributors, so this will impact those GAWDA members who manufacture or distribute medical gases.

I was surprised to learn that the FDA was stepping into the realms of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, et al, but it does make sense to a certain extent—social media are largely unregulated. We’re in a new age with social media, and with it come unique challenges. Bullet #2 raises an intriguing point: how do you meet regulations when Twitter limits your characters?

I’m still undecided on this, but I want to hear what you think: Has the FDA overstepped its bounds, or do you welcome the idea of social media guidelines? What social media issues would you like guidance on?

How A Resolution Becomes A Regulation

Friday, January 7th, 2011

In my last post (Resolutions For A New Year), I talked about setting resolutions for 2011. As I learned from Ned Lane’s article “Top 5,” communicating those goals to others can help you accomplish them. Not only does it create accountability, but it can enable those around you to provide any needed support. If they don’t know about it, they can’t support you.

While I was thinking about resolutions, I thought, wouldn’t it be great if federal agencies made New Year’s resolutions, too? With a steady stream of changing regulations, compliance in itself can be a full time job. If we knew ahead of time what was on the agenda, it might help distributors be ready and, in turn, allow them to help their customers prepare.

Although the government doesn’t issue its own New Year’s resolutions as such, I’ve tracked down some of the items they’ll be paying attention to this year:

• First, GAWDA’s FDA & medical gases consultant, Tom Badstubner, looks at the medical gases initiatives planned by the FDA, Congress and the USP. Among the potential changes are new guidance from the FDA and medical gas monographs from the USP.

• For truck drivers, GAWDA Government Affairs, Human Resources & General Counsel Consultant Rick Schweitzer reports that Hours of Service could be changing. Follow the link to find out what changes your company may have to make to dispatch and driver management protocols.

• OSHA recently released its regulatory agenda for the next year. Changes to OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard may be impacting distributors in August 2011, and they should keep tabs on combustible dust rulemaking that may be impacting their customers.

• Among EPA’s regulatory priorities, the agency’s attention to indoor air quality could have an impact on the welding industry (pp. 79845 – B2).

• For an overall look at coming changes, take a look at the “Top 11” regulatory changes in 2011 as compiled by Paychex, Inc. Of note are changes in tax law, allowing businesses to expense capital investments and healthcare reform. These should be on the radar of any business owner/operator.

What regulations are you watching for in 2011? What will impact you and your customers most?

Resolutions For A New Year

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Top 5 - Setting GoalsIt’s hard to believe it’s already 2011, but here we are 4 days in. The New Year means it’s time for New Year’s resolutions. I’m not just talking about perennial promises to drop a few pounds or kick a bad habit—this is just as good of a time to set goals for your business. GAWDA VP Ned Lane wrote a great article where he shared Cee Kay Supply’s (St. Louis, MO) effective “Top 5” process for establishing goals and accountability. According to Lane, the open goal setting system accomplishes 3 things:

1.    A goal is not a goal unless it is written down and shared with others.
2.    It creates accountability. No one wants to share a cupcake goal or to report that they did not complete the previous month’s Top 5 goals.
3.    Managers are made aware of what is going on in other company departments.

At Cee Kay Supply, all members of the Senior Management Committee set 5 monthly goals. This would be a great time to set some yearly goals, too. Then set a plan to help accomplish them.

One of my goals for this year is to become better connected to GAWDA members. I hope to do this by keeping in constant dialogue (our “Executive Dialogue” is a great forum for this), by talking to members for articles and news, and by connecting with more members through LinkedIn and Twitter. I’m not interested in boosting my followers and connections for the sheer sake of numbers—my hope is to build a network that represents the voice of the industry, to bounce questions off of and to generate discussions.

If you want to be part of the discussion, you can connect with me here by leaving a comment on one of my posts, then add me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

What is your New Year’s resolution?