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Archive for February, 2011

Final Countdown Fueled By Gases & Welding

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Discovery takes off for a final timeThursday, February 24 was the final launch for the Shuttle Discovery, which set off on its 39th flight. The final mission represents the end of an era for the space program, and the swan song for a shuttle that is absolutely steeped in gases and welding technology.

To start, the Discovery’s bright orange external fuel tank holds a total of 535,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The shuttle’s main engines burn the cryogenic propellants to accelerate from 3,000 mph to over 17,000 mph in a matter of six minutes to reach orbit. At that rate, you can bet the engines are burning the gas pretty fast. According to NASA, the engines consume liquid fuel at a rate that would drain an average family swimming pool in under 25 seconds. No wonder they need such a big tank.

As for the gas mix, the Space Shuttle’s main engines operate at a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen mixture ratio of 6 to 1 in order to produce 470,000 pounds of vacuum thrust. Because the gases are hydrogen and oxygen, the exhaust is mainly water.

A half million gallons of gas may seem like a lot, but that only accounts for the actual takeoff. NASA goes through a lot of gas in order to test the main engines as well. According to NASA, “Each time a shuttle main engine is test-fired for the 8-½ minutes it takes to launch a Shuttle into orbit, it burns 132,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and 49,000 gallons of liquid oxygen.”

How does the gas get from Air Products to NASA for these engine tests? By tug boat, naturally. It’s a fascinating five-hour trek that Captain Rocky Pullman has been making for 32 years, and you can read about it here.

In addition to gases, the Discovery was the first shuttle to use longitudinal friction-stir welds on two of the liquid hydrogen tank barrels. Previously, the panels were joined by fusion welding, and the change made a significant improvement to the structural integrity of future shuttles.

As many times as Discovery has taken off into space, it’s always an amazing sight to watch the shuttle take off. And it will never cease to amaze me what we can accomplish with a little welding and a whole lot of gases. Check out a video of the launch below:

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iPad Meets Industry

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

iPad Meets IndustryTablets like the iPad have taken the world by storm over the past year, dominating the Consumer Electronics Show, and working their way into the business world. On first glance, the devices seem like something of a novelty—but the continued development of applications suggests some staying power and perhaps some real practicality. With all this in mind, I began to wonder—is there a place for the iPad in the gases and welding industry?

First and foremost, gases and welding distributors are businesses, so it’s important to look at the iPad from a business perspective. Bob Evans, of Information Week, explained why he believes tablets will catch on in the business world: “By the end of this year, there will be thousands of enterprise-level apps for the iPad that are not just dumbed-down versions of traditional enterprise apps. Many of them will enable the iPad to do things that no other device can do as quickly, as attractively, as productively, and as simply.”

Even within the industry itself, apps are starting to pop up. I spoke to a supplier last week who offers remote monitoring of fill plants via iPad. From anywhere, the distributor or supplier can log on to troubleshoot problems or even do things like change a mixed gas recipe. Minimizing downtime and boosting flexibility are two of the advantages of this. A tablet could also give an owner or operator the confidence to step away from the business to attend GAWDA events, knowing that he can access such things remotely.

Welding and cutting manufacturers have released several apps to help end-users pick the right tools for the application. Such tools can empower a salesperson who adapts and embraces the technology, or it can render him unnecessary if he dismisses it. Tablets could also give salespeople the power to bring up videos and demonstrations on the spot or refer to online resources like GAWDAwiki at a moment’s notice. Many of these uses are already available and require no app at all.

What do you think? Do tablets have a place in the gases and welding industry? To those who are already using an iPad or tablet for business, please share your experience.

How A High Pressure Cylinder Is Made

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Gases and welding play an important part in many manufacturing processes and, as such, have made plenty of cameos on shows like the Discovery Channel’s “How It’s Made.” Watch “How Soft Drinks Are Made,” for example and you’ll see a device called “the carbonator” around the 1:40 mark. No doubt the “blast cell” that chills frozen pizzas (see the 4:05 mark) wouldn’t reach -24.8 degrees F (-31.6 degrees C) without the help of cryogenics.

These videos show gases in a supporting role, but the industry has also been at the center of “How It’s Made.” In one episode, the show goes inside GAWDA member Worthington Cylinders to see how a high pressure gas cylinder is made. It’s amazing to watch the transformation from a metal disc into a completed cylinder.

Cylinders are amazing vessels, with incredible service life and the ability to contain potentially dangerous high pressure gases. You may have worked with gas cylinders most of your life, but have you ever seen one made? Check out the video below to see it happen.

What Does Service Really Mean?

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Customer service can be an overused buzzword, or it can also be the reason customers do business with you. Ask most GAWDA members what they are known for, and the answer is service. “Sales success in this industry is all about differentiating your company and yourself through outstanding service,” says Bryan Keen, president at Keen Compressed Gas, in “Seven Things Every Salesperson Should Know.” When it comes to service, what makes the difference between simply waving the flag of customer service and creating customer loyalty?

My quest into customer service started when I read an article in Inc. Magazine called, “How To Turn Disaster Into Gold,” written by Jason Fried, co-founder of 37signals, a Chicago-based software firm, which explains how the company came out of a potentially disastrous situation with a great reputation for service. There are some great lessons in Fried’s tale, most important of which is the fact that customer service should be personal.

Lessons From The MouseWhile discussing the article with my co-workers, I was turned onto a book called “Lessons From The Mouse.” The book, written by former Disney employee Dennis Snow, breaks down the Disney philosophy for customer service into 10 lessons. Snow’s lessons can be applied to any company and any job. Afterall, he explains, everyone has a customer (That’s lesson 8). Given the service-oriented nature of GAWDA distributors, I think the book has particular relevance for the gases and welding industry.

I found some of Snow’s lessons particularly valuable in getting a better grasp on customer service. One lesson, “Figure Out What Ticks Off Your Customer—And Then Do Something About It,” illustrates how eliminating customers’ frustrations can create loyalty. At Disney, where long lines were a constant problem, the park listened and developed answers like FastPass—where customers could bypass waiting in line—or engaging riders by making the line part of the ride, like the Tower of Terror, where waiters hear about the Twilight Zone back story. In effect, customers would end-up missing part of the ride if they missed the line. Now that’s a good problem to have.

These creative solutions have helped to boost customer satisfaction at Disney, and it’s the same mentality that helped Fried and his 37signals team. All 10 of Snow’s “Lessons From The Mouse” are interesting and insightful, and the book is a fairly quick read.

What are some examples of customer frustrations that you’ve addressed to create a positive customer experience?

Also, fresh off of Valentine’s Day, check out “Show Your Customers Some Love,” where Ross Shafer—who spoke at GAWDA’s 2010 Annual Convention in Maui—explains how developing a human connection is instrumental to creating customer loyalty.

Tips From A Distribution Industry Veteran

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Yesterday I tuned in to a webinar by distribution industry veteran Gary T. Moore. Moore spoke at GAWDA’s 2004 Spring Management Conference and has written a few articles for Welding & Gases Today. His webinar was called “17 Tips for Selling Through Distributors,” and it focused on the supplier-distributor relationship.

As an industry observer, I have a lot to learn, and I found Moore’s talk to be very enlightening in gaining a better understanding of the dynamic between distributors and suppliers. While Moore’s presentation was directed to the supplier perspective, many of his tips are beneficial for distributors and suppliers alike.

Moore describes the manufacturer-distributor relationship as a symbiosis, which is defined as “the intimate living together of two dissimilar organisms in a mutually beneficial relationship.” The key words in this definition are “dissimilar organisms.” Distributors and suppliers have different drivers, and there’s no getting around it. However, through effective communication, this relationship can grow and be mutually beneficial.

One of the most important forms of communication is feedback. Both distributors and suppliers need this communication from each other. While surveys can be good forms of formal, quantifiable information, one of the best ways to get a good response is by picking up the phone and asking open-ended questions such as, “Where are we coming up short?” This helps to generate more productive feedback and provides clear areas that need work. Distributors can facilitate feedback by giving follow-ups on sales leads provided by the supplier to help them determine the effectiveness of their efforts.

Recognition is another important form of feedback, and should be done regularly, whether it’s through a simple e-mail, acknowledgement in a newsletter or a formal award. Copying bosses and co-workers on recognition e-mails is a nice way to make sure others know about an accomplishment.

As Moore puts it, people want to do business with people they like, believe, understand and trust. These are a few of the ways to help distributors and suppliers build this trust and work together to deliver more value to the customer and to each other. For more tips, check out Moore’s article, Managing Your Supplier Relationships.

GAWDA Connection Gets A Makeover

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
GAWDA Connection

GAWDA Connection sports a bold, new look. Click on the image to interact with the new format.

Today is an exciting day for GAWDA Media as we launch the newly designed GAWDA Connection e-newsletter. The February 8 Connection features a new look and a new, user-friendly format for news.

To start, the redesign is less text-heavy than the previous format. Where once all news was presented in full, new article introductions invite readers to click a link to read the full story. This serves two important purposes:

It reduces the amount of text, making the newsletter easier to scroll through. Members can control their own reading experience, selecting the information that is important to them.

Second, the full story encourages the reader to take a more active role in the story. When they click “read more,” readers will be directed to an online page which offers sharing tools for e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and other networking sites. Readers can also share their thoughts by leaving a comment in the area below the article.

If you’re a subscriber, the GAWDA Connection should already be waiting in your inbox. If not, you can view the online version here (and click Subscribe at the bottom to get it in your e-mail twice a month). You can share your feedback or questions by leaving a comment below or via Twitter by directing your message to @GasWeldEdge. By all means, please let me know what you think of the new format.

Football And GAWDA: A Perfect Pair

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Photo Courtesy James Smith/Dallas CowboyAs the Super Bowl approaches, the nation’s attention turns to football. Lucky for us, the gases and welding industry and the game of football are inextricably linked. Just this October, for example, at the 2010 GAWDA Annual Convention in Maui, Joe Theismann, Super Bowl champ, was the keynote speaker. We don’t need six degrees of separation—we only need one: South Jersey Welding Supply president Bob Thornton Jr. played in a pickup football game with Theismann on the beaches of New Jersey. In case you missed it, Thornton and Theismann recently reunited in the pages of Welding & Gases Today.

As for the Super Bowl itself, the gases and welding industry play an important role in delivering an amazing experience for fans everywhere. Between the TVs fans will watch on, the stadium which will play host to the event and the beverages served at the game, to name a few, the gases and welding industry has its fingers in a lot of Super Bowl pies. Just to give you a taste, the stadium’s arches boast 165,000 ft of welding. Get the whole story here.

Also, is there a chance that the longest field goal in NFL history actually used a football filled with helium? The MythBusters team put the question of whether helium makes a ball fly farther to the test. I’m not going to ruin the surprise for you. Check out a recap of the episode to find out.

And who could forget GAWDA’s Gridiron Greats, a collection of distributors and suppliers who dug out their old photo albums and shared photos from their playing days. For a little challenge, see if you can guess any of the GAWDA members from their photos without looking at the names. Our GAWDA Gridiron Greats team may not be able to compete for a Super Bowl, but at least they can boast their connection to the industry that makes the game what it is today.

Good News For Gases And Welding

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011
Hydrogen-Cooled Generator

President Obama looks down a hydrogen-cooled generator at a recent tour of GE.

Just the other day a member said, “When the gases and welding industry makes the news, it’s rarely a good thing.” When I heard this, it caused me to stop and think. I read up on gases and welding news every day, between the GAWDA Connection newsletter and the daily headlines on GAWDAwiki, and yes, some of it is bad news, but this is not representative of the whole picture. Typically, at the root of these stories is an unsafe or unregulated practice by those involved.

More often than not, the things I read show the awesome potential for what gases and welding can create. Sometimes it’s a new development or technology that’s improving the environment, advancing technology or simply shaking the foundations of the scientific world.

Last week, in the State of the Union, President Barack Obama pointed to the power of gases to provide energy independence, specifically hydrogen and carbon monoxide. “At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars.” Obama was referring to new research that uses metal cerium oxide to convert carbon dioxide and water into hydrogen and carbon monoxide, both of which can be used for fuels. Obama also talked about wind power, which relies heavily on welding for the fabrication of turbines.

In other news, this week, on the 125th anniversary of the gas-powered automobile, German auto-maker Mercedes launched a trip around the world, but it wasn’t powered by gasoline. Instead, the auto-maker showed that hydrogen is a viable replacement to gasoline by sending three fuel cell vehicles around the world. In doing so, Mercedes hopes of bringing attention to the need to commit to building a hydrogen infrastructure. The viability of hydrogen fuel is dependent on developing a hydrogen infrastructure, and hopefully GAWDA members can play a part in it.

As these news stories show, new markets for gases and welding have an amazing potential, including the ability to bring about energy independence. The implications of what we can achieve with welding and gases go beyond mere scientific curiosity to a real, practical impact. And this is good news!