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Archive for March, 2011

Your Customers Are Doing It. Are You?

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Dive Into Social Media SuccessLinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, blogs…whether you use all or some of them (if you’re reading this, you’re doing at least one), there’s no denying that social media has an important place in marketing. A new survey of small businesses by American Express OPEN and SEMPO shows that social media trails only company websites as the favored online business marketing tactic.

In talking to GAWDA members about how they plan to market their companies, the number one response is word of mouth. You’re not alone. According to the OPEN/SEMPO survey, 82 percent of respondents say that they rely on word of mouth to attract new customers. Well guess what? Social media is word of mouth!

Those of you who are already on social media, I want to hear about it. Specifically, I want to know if social media has ever led to a sale for your company. Maybe someone responded to a tweet or a blog. Maybe you connected with an old friend on LinkedIn or Facebook, only to find out that person is a potential customer. Whatever the case may be, please share your social media success stories.

To support your social media efforts, Welding & Gases Today has added a new section to its website specifically for articles on social media. In this section, there are great articles on LinkedIn, best blogging practices, Twitter and other platforms. Check it out, there’s some great stuff there, and it’s only going to continue to grow.

What’s So Odd About Friction Stir Welding?

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Friction stir welding

8th International Friction Stir Welding Symposium Proceedings” was named this week as runner up for The Bookseller’s Diagram Prize, given annually to the book with the oddest title. The book seems self explanatory: it details the findings and developments of the technology at a German symposium last May. If not for “Managing A Dental Practice The Genghis Khan Way,” which took home the prize, friction stir welding might have gone down in infamy as inspiration for an odd title, alongside such classics as “Highlights In The History of Concrete,” “The Joy Of Chickens” and, of course, “The 2009-2014 World Outlook For 60-Milligram Containers Of Fromage Frais.”

I have to admit that I am a little puzzled as to why “Friction Stir Welding” came so close to winning, enough so to say that many people found it odd. Is it simply because they have never heard of friction stir welding? (If you’re not familiar with it, WGT highlighted the technique in “Advanced Technologies” in 2010). Perhaps the idea of people coming together to talk about a relatively obscure technology is entertaining to those on the outside. Or maybe I’m just too entrenched in the industry to see the oddity. Metalworking actually won the prize once before with “The Theory Of Lengthwise Rolling” in 1983.

As for the winner, the BBC explains “In his book, Young argues that despite the western world viewing the legendary warrior in negative terms, [Genghis Khan's] warmongering tenacity is required to build a successful business.” I admit, I am curious as to what bearing Genghis Khan has on the world of business.

According to the BBC, sales of last year’s prize winner, “Crocheting Adventures With Hyperbolic Planes,” increased by 1,500% within a month. That would certainly be some nice exposure for the industry. But even as a runner up, it seems that FSW is getting a fair amount of celebrity. Come next year, when the “9th International Friction Stir Welding Symposium Proceedings” is published (presumably), everyone will know about FSW, and the title will seem commonplace.

If you’re interested, the 9th International Friction Stir Welding Symposium is actually taking place in Huntsville, Alabama, this May. Highlights include a visit to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to check out FSW in action. I’ll keeping an eye out for the sequel to the Diagram Prize runner-up.

Video: Carbide Industries Responds

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

You may have seen the news this morning about GAWDA member Carbide Industries in Louisville, KY. A fire broke out Monday evening around 5:40 p.m. at a plant where Carbide Industries manufactures calcium carbide.

The chemistry behind calcium carbide makes this situation particularly unique. As GAWDAwiki explains about calcium carbide, “On contact with water or in damp surroundings, acetylene is formed and explosive atmospheres can be produced.” Because of this, first responders were unable to use water to combat the fire. Fire crews were able to use a dry powder to help contain the fire, and ultimately decided to let the fire burn out on its own. As of reports around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the contained fire inside the plant continued to smolder.

Plant Manager John Gant did confirm in a press conference that a large explosion occurred at a submerged-arc furnace used to make calcium carbide. He explained the manufacturing process to Fox41: “We mix a carbon source and a calcium source together…we use electricity to heat it up to about 3800 degrees, and that’s where the explosion happened last night.”

Below is a video of the press conference. Carbide Industries’ John Gant speaks around the 11:00 mark and again around 32:30. He explains a little bit about the manufacturing process and what happened from CI’s perspective. My thoughts go out to everyone affected by these events. I will be posting updates on Twitter (follow me @GasWeldEdge) as the more information becomes available.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, GAWDA Style

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Guinness's nitrogen widgetBeing that today is St. Patrick’s Day, and with a last name like O’Toole, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the holiday. After all, gases play a very important part in the merriment of many an Irish-for-a-day. I’m talking about Guinness, of course, the beer famous for its thick, foamy head.

While it’s well known that many beers use carbon dioxide, Guinness is somewhat unique in its use of nitrogen gas. If you’ve ever had Guinness in a can, you may have wondered what that little plastic ball was in the can. It’s a widget specially designed to release nitrogen when the can is opened in order to help re-create that signature foamy head (Guinness is actually the original inventor of widget).

Guinness uses nitrogen to achieve it's signature foamLast year, we wrote about GAWDA member McDantim, who developed a custom gas blender for Guinness & Co. back in 1986. “At the time, most beers were dispensed using CO2,” says McDantim President Dan Fallon. “But Guinness uses a combination of CO2 and nitrogen because nitrogen is dissolved into the beer to give it a unique consistency and to give the foam its whipped-cream quality.” So there you have it, the secret to Guinness’ perfect foam.

You can check out the whole story on page 26 of the Winter 2010 issue of Welding & Gases Today. And then go out and celebrate St. Patrick’s day GAWDA style, with a little nitrogen and CO2.

Calling All Industry Experts

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

After almost a year writing about the gases and welding industry, I’m not sure I would venture to say that I have “the basics” of gases and welding down pat. There is so much to take in and there is always more to learn, even when it comes to the most elementary aspects of the industry. With every GAWDA member I talk to and everything I read, I always pick up something new.

For example, I was reading a blog explaining the cold test process for preparing liquid cylinders—not only was the idea of the cold test completely new to me, but even on a more basic level, I also learned about the difference between liquid cylinders and high pressure cylinders. Admittedly, I never really thought about the fact that there was a difference. And this is exactly the reason I would never say I understand the basics. I don’t know what I don’t know!

GAWDAwikiGAWDAwiki is one way to learn about the industry—it’s a mainstay on my bookmarks tab. And while it may contain more than 1,600 terms, I’m sure there are at least that many that are missing. Although I can look up the meaning of cylinder or normal evaporation rate, there are currently no entries for liquid cylinder, high pressure cylinder…or cold test, for that matter.

For those of you who do have the basics down, this is a great teaching opportunity. Thousands of end-users, distributors and suppliers rely on the wiki…you never know what they don’t know, so don’t take anything for granted. Consider this an open invitation to help out by adding a term or two to GAWDAwiki. You never know where it might lead. If a word is already in GAWDAwiki and you have something to add, go ahead and expand the definition.

There are three terms above to get you started, and many more to pick from. If you have the expertise but don’t know how to add a term, drop me a line and I’ll be glad to help you out.

And if you’re like me and there’s a subject you’d like to know more about, leave a comment below, and let’s see if we can find an expert to add a definition.

Welding Is A Blast, Literally

Friday, March 11th, 2011

In my last entry, I wrote about unusual applications for gases like nitrogen, the inert gases and helium (a flying house!). In case you thought I had forgotten about welding, think again. Welding has a lot of applications, but one of the most unusual welding processes I’ve seen is something called explosion welding.

If you’ve never heard of it, the method literally involves an explosion. The force from the explosion enables the joining highly dissimilar metals, such as aluminum, carbon steel, alloy steel, stainless steel, copper alloys, and so forth. The explosion delivers millions of pounds of force per square inch. Almost any metals can be joined, regardless of type of composition, and the result is a stronger material than what could normally be achieved by regular joining methods.

Chris Conrardy, VP for technology and innovation at the Edison Welding Institute, wrote about the importance of new joining technologies in “Advanced Technologies” (WGT Summer 2010). “Joining of dissimilar materials is of increasing importance to many industry sectors,” he says. Conrardy mentions other technologies, such as magnetic pulse welding and friction welding, that are also helping to join dissimilar materials. If you’re interested in cutting-edge welding methods, I highly recommend checking out the article.

Explosion welding was featured as part of Modern Marvels’ episode about welding. To see this amazing welding process in action, check out the video below.

How Gases Gave Us Flying Houses And Fresh Cheese

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

The gases and welding industry has fueled some very bizarre and unique projects. On GAWDAwiki’s daily headlines, for example, I read about a television crew that set out to recreate the famous scene from Pixar’s “Up,” where the main character’s house takes flight thanks to a whole lot of helium balloons. The TV crew built a light-weight 250 sq. ft. house and launched it with 300 weather balloons, each of which used an entire helium tank on its own. This is one you just have to watch, and you can see the sheer quantity of empty helium tanks in the background.

With every bizarre application for the industry’s products, you might say that individuals are blurring the lines between science and science fiction. In the First Quarter issue of Welding & Gases Today, GAWDA’s board members shared some of the bizarre applications of their customers. Cryogenic freezing of human body parts is up there, but one of my favorites (which doesn’t appear in the article) has to be the customer of Keen Compress Gas who uses nitrogen to build pumpkin cannons for a local “Punkin Chunkin’” contest. Read all of the strange applications in “Link Up With GAWDA’s 2011 Board.”

Sometimes just as amazing as the bizarre applications are the everyday uses for gases and welding that are right under our noses. It seems like just about every day I learn about a new application that uses the industry’s products. Recently, for example, I read how certain cheese manufacturers are achieving the appearance of a vacuum-sealed product simply by filling the package with inert gas. When it ships, the package is the shape of a football. By the time it gets to store shelves, the gas has absorbed into the cheese, leaving the shrink-wrapped look. Who would have thought?

It’s amazing how many processes make use of the industry’s products, and it seems like every day someone is using gases or welding to make something better, or just simply prove that the impossible is possible.

Share your most interesting applications: What is the strangest application or request a customer has ever presented you with? What little-known everyday applications do your customers use gases and welding for?

IBM’s Watson Takes On Automation

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Jeopardy! The IBM ChallengeThese days, I can’t watch TV without noticing every time a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef uses liquid nitrogen or when the con men on USA’s White Collar use a welder to aid with one scheme or another. So I shouldn’t be surprised to take notice of a cameo on Jeopardy! The gases and welding industry has opened my eyes to a lot of things. But it wasn’t a gas or any related equipment that caught my eye—it was IBM’s Watson computer, which recently competed on the show against Jeopardy’s winningest contestants.

Watching Watson compete on Jeopardy! was, to many viewers, a spectacle for entertainment. To IBM and to others, Watson represents the potential to aid doctors and other professionals in making sense of data and interpreting human language into the most likely answers. As for me, all I could see was automation.

Only a few months ago, my understanding of automation was simplistic at best. Automation was, to me, an oft-used buzzword like “lean” and “value-added.” I understood it inasmuch as GAWDAwiki’s entry on automation explains that it “refers to the application of a computer-based system to improve productivity and quality of performance.”

IBM's WatsonRecently, I’ve been reading and talking with GAWDA members about automation. Now I know when a distributor refers to their automated fill plant, that it might mean one of many steps is automated, whether it’s shut-off, vacuum, fill, etc. Even to those distributors who may not be concerned with applying it to their own processes, automation cannot be ignored. More and more customers are looking for automated welding and cutting processes, and distributors need to be equipped to answer those questions (without help from Watson).

To me, Watson represents the evolution of automation, right down to its ability to press a button more efficiently than its competitors (which drove them crazy). The idea of automation is not new. The gases and welding industry has been making use of automation for at least 40 years. But the recent developments in the technology are astounding.

Even so, Watson’s infamous answer of “Toronto” in response to a question about U.S. Cities shows that even the most advanced automation will make mistakes if left to its own devices. Robots can perform tasks more efficiently, but they perform more reliably when they work together with humans. There is no replacement for the expertise and judgment of a trained professional, especially in the gases and welding industry.

What would you use Watson for at your business?

Regional Meeting Season Opens

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

GAWDA Regional MeetingIt’s hard to believe February is over already. Spring is only three weeks away, but another season is just beginning (and I’m not talking about Spring Training). March 1 marks the beginning to a great slate of GAWDA regional meetings that will take place all over the country throughout the year. For the inaugural meeting of 2011, GAWDA members gathered in Bonita Springs, Florida, to listen to speakers, network, and play a little golf.

There are around a dozen regional meetings every year, and each one is unique in its own right. Each meeting features different speakers and unique attractions. Events have been hosted at venues ranging from baseball stadiums to casinos.

I spoke with Ken Flora, VP sales & marketing at Welder Services (Fort Wayne, IN) who has organized the Fort Wayne regional meeting for the past 15 years. Regardless of who’s speaking, Flora says the regional meetings are a good way to make contacts in the industry. “It creates camaraderie between GAWDA members and vendors.” According to Flora, attendees enjoy the meeting so much that they come back year after year, and it has even created something of a friendly rivalry on the golf course. “The Berger brothers (of Berger Farm & Welding Supply) over in Plymouth seem to dominate our golf scramble, so we’re always out to try to beat them.”

Another one of the great things that goes on at regional meetings is fundraising for GAWDA Gives Back. Silent auctions raise thousands of dollars every year for charity. At last year’s Gettysburg, PA, regional meeting in September, members raised an impressive $64,116 for the campaign.

GAWDA members, what is the most memorable regional meeting you have been to? What traditions make your region unique?

See the slate of regional meetings and to find the location nearest to you.

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