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Archive for August, 2011

Copper Theft Hits Welding Distributors

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011
Copper Welding Wire

Copper welding wire and welding leads are targets for many copper thiefs.

Over the last year, the theft of copper has been on the rise. It seems like just about every day I read about the continuing idiocy of copper thieves, stealing wiring and piping to make a few bucks. Unfortunately for welding distributors, copper welding wire is one of the items that has been commonly targeted.

Just yesterday, a Louisiana paper reported that GAWDA member Red-D-Arc Welderentals’ Sulphur, Louisiana, store was victim to a series of burglaries over the last few weeks. Fortunately, police caught the thief in action during a stakeout. Zachary Menard was charged with stealing over $20,000 in welding leads.

The reason for the sudden onset of copper theft? The price of copper has gone up from around $1.25 per pound in 2009 to over $4 per pound in 2011. As a result, thieves have gone to extreme measures to collect copper scrap. The NY Times reports that, in Ohio, thieves stole 130 catalytic converters from a muffler shop. In Oklahoma, thieves used chain saws to cut down utility poles and steal 3,000 feet of wire.

The NY Times article reports that the FBI has called copper theft a threat to the nation’s “critical infrastructure.” Without a doubt, it presents a threat to welding distributors. What can be done? Dan Belanger provided some tips on preventing theft in his article, “It Has To Be Here Somewhere.” Belanger says, “As much as we hate to think about it, some of us are affected by theft, either internally and/or externally.” He provides some useful advice, including his tip to keep an eye on your dumpster. “One of the more creative ways to remove product from your building is to take it out with the trash and retrieve it after hours when no one is around.”

Have you been affected by copper theft? How can welding distributors prevent their wire leads from being stolen?

Hurricane Irene, Steve Jobs and Gases & Welding

Friday, August 26th, 2011
Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene

One of the biggest news stories over the last week has been the development of Hurricane Irene. Naturally, the storm has conjured memories for many of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast 6 years ago this week. In the wake of Katrina, many gases and welding distributors suffered losses and damage, as did their customers. In the spirit of the service GAWDA members are known for, distributors stepped up to provide generators and emergency supplies to the region and help their customers out.

After the Hurricane, many distributors revisited their emergency action plans and evaluated how prepared they were. They implemented additional precautions and training to make sure that the next time, they would be better prepared. Welding & Gases Today recapped these lessons learned in “Six Lessons From Hurricane Katrina.” With Hurricane Irene looking like it could hit a large part of the East Coast, distributors can never be too prepared.

Steve JobsAnother story that dominated the news this week was the resignation of Steve Jobs. Many credit him with Apple’s recent success—and whether it was mere timing, a right mix of products or pure genius, I can’t say. But I can say that the man loved what he did and loved his company. Unfortunately, his health prevented him from being able to continue. In his resignation letter, Jobs writes: “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.” What, if not love, could possibly possess a man to accept a salary of $1 to be CEO?

The reason I bring up Steve Jobs is because this love and attitude is something that Mr. Jobs shares with many GAWDA members. Whether they started the business or were born into it, the GAWDA members I’ve spoken to have an unparalleled passion for gases and welding—and most of all for serving their customers. This week, McKinney Welding Supply was featured on WNYC’s feature, “Niche Markets.” In the article, 83-year-old McKinney President Nick Mattiace is quoted as saying, “They’ll have to carry me out of here. At this stage in my life, I don’t think about retiring, I’ll just go on until I can’t. I love it, I never get bored with it.”

GAWDA members may not have the cachet of Steve Jobs, but their passion is beyond compare.

Can Apps Simplify Regulatory Compliance?

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Can Apps Simplify Regulatory Compliance?The announcement of a couple of new apps connected to the gases and welding industry caught my eye over the last week. First, OSHA launched a phone app that allows workers to measure the heat index of their work environment. Something like this might be more useful for welders than welding distributors, but it shows that regulatory agencies are paying attention to mobile technology.

Perhaps an Hours of Service compliance app could prove useful to distributor drivers in navigating complicated rules and exemptions, or maybe a medical gas compliance guide can make sure everything is in order. There are some definite possibilities that could make compliance easier and simpler.

Also, researchers at Purdue University are developing an app that allows users to interpret a hazmat placard by taking a picture. While geared at emergency responders, this sort of app could offer some potential for distributors who deal with hazardous materials to help promote a safe environment. “These new capabilities include the use of image analysis methods to automatically determine the type of hazardous materials present based on an image taken of the sign or placard, as well as the appropriate response protocol and evacuation perimeters,” says David S. Ebert, Silicon Valley Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Oddly enough, the hazmat app uses the same technology as an app that interprets gang graffiti. So if you are unfortunate to experience vandalism to your building, cylinders or trucks, the app can help you steer clear of danger.

What kind of app would you like to see to help with compliance?

Hyperbaric Oxygen vs. Twitter

Friday, August 19th, 2011
Torii Hunter, trapped in an oxygen chamber, via Twitter

Torii Hunter, trapped in an oxygen chamber, via Twitter

Earlier this week, hyperbaric oxygen chambers found their way into the news (albeit the back page news) when baseball player Torii Hunter of the L.A. Angels got stuck in an oxygen chamber. After a tough loss, Hunter was using the clubhouse oxygen chamber and was apparently unable to get the zipper to the chamber open. The interesting part of the situation is the fact that he broadcasted the experience over Twitter via his iPad.

Several tweets later, and after more than an hour being stuck in the chamber, Hunter tweeted, “Finally someone came to my rescue. I just want to thank you guys in the twitter world for hearing my cry.”

Even at age 36 (that’s getting up there in the athlete world), the nine-time Gold Glove winner continues to perform at a high level…and who knows, maybe it has something to do with the oxygen. Although Hunter’s mishap was rather unique, he isn’t the only athlete using oxygen to improve and heal injuries.

In 2010, Welding & Gases Today took an in-depth look at hyperbaric oxygen therapy, its markets and its uses. Among the instances, the article reports, “The week before the Super Bowl, Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney used HBOT to help heal an ankle injury. Freeney ended up playing in all four quarters of the game.” Tiger Woods and Tim Tebow, among others, have been reported to have their own personal oxygen chambers.

It’s certainly a niche market for oxygen, but it’s one that’s growing. And maybe, with a little help from Torii Hunter and Twitter, the market has gained a little more exposure.

Remembering The Father Of Robotic Welding

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Robotic WeldingThe inventor of the robotic arm, George Devol, passed away last week at the age of 99. Although not one of the more well-known inventors of our time, Devol’s contribution was undeniably important, as it changed the face of modern manufacturing. Developed in the early 1950s, Devol’s mechanical arm could be programmed to perform repetitive tasks. By the 1960s, automakers and other manufacturers were using the mechanical arms to make their operations more efficient. One of uses that emerged for the arm was robotic welding.

Below is a classic video of Devol’s invention, the Unimate, putting its skills to the test on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. While the video presents the robot as something of a novelty, it demonstrates the ease and speed with which the robot can learn a task. Carson jokes that the robot could replace people’s jobs—suggesting that it could replace the show’s band conductor.

The truth is that while robotics have replaced some repetitive jobs, they have also created new skilled jobs. “A successful robotic welding process needs a human to program the robot, and that person needs to understand what the welding process is and the limitations of the welding process,” writes Brian Doyle, welding automation sales manager at Miller Electric, in the article “The Future Of Welding In Manufacturing.”

Without a doubt, the robotic arm and robotic welding have had a large impact on manufacturing operations all over the world. So here’s to Mr. Devol, the father of robotic welding (once or twice removed, perhaps). See his robotic arm in action in the video below:

If you are not able to view the video, watch it here.

The Evolution Of The Business Card

Friday, August 12th, 2011

The Evolution Of The Business CardIn our most recent On The Edge article—or should I say video—“Business Cards May Be On The Way Out,” Jeffrey Gitomer shares an anecdote about the changing face of business networking. He questions whether business cards are obsolete. Could they be replaced by the professional networking site LinkedIn?

It’s an interesting proposal. Afterall, the first thing I did when I got back from GAWDA’s Spring Management Conference this spring was to take the business cards I had gotten and looked the names up on LinkedIn. After that, I connected with a handful of others who I met but did not have business cards for. So I can see where he’s coming from.

Then again, business cards are evolving, too. On some business cards, we’re beginning to see QR (quick response) bar codes, that can be used to refer smartphone users to a website—it could even be a LinkedIn page. On the back of my business card, for example, is a code that directs users to my blog. This is a nice feature of QR codes: the ability to direct users to a long and complicated URL. Before, business cards were pretty much limited to a basic company website. Now, the possibilities are without limit.

Maybe rather than replacing them, LinkedIn is just simply raising the bar for business cards—challenging us to think differently about how to maximize the real estate of a 3.5” x 2” piece of paper. What do you think? Will LinkedIn make business cards obsolete?

Tracking Employees With RFID? How It Translates To Cylinders

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Many GAWDA members are using bar code or RFID technology to track their cylinders. Tracking cylinders is great way to keep tabs on what’s coming in and out of the plant, but what if it could do even more?

In a recent study of RFID capabilities, tracking technology manufacturer Queralt used RFID to monitor employee movement throughout the plant, measuring productivity, times employees arrived and left, and how much time was spent on lunch. Readers at various locations detected when workers were nearby, allowing for the company to track the employees’ actual movements.

I’m not suggesting that you start monitoring your plant employees; rather, I think this suggests a possibility of advanced cylinder tracking. Maybe the flow of the plant is such that cylinders have to be moved excessively, and it is resulting in wasted time and labor. Advanced RFID tracking could provide an actual measure of unnecessary handling to determine the value of reorganizing the flow of the plant.

Or maybe RFID readers could register cylinders as a delivery truck is pulling up to the dock with empties, before the driver even gets out of the cab and opens the gate. This could save the time it takes to scan a bar code or RFID tag manually. Once registered by the RFID reader, the system could call on the data associated with each unique cylinder ID and alert plant workers as to any need for requalification, etc.

These are only a few of the possibilities. It seems to fit into the ideas of continuous improvement as well, something that a lot of distributors embrace. What else can you envision being done with cylinder tracking? It may seem like science fiction, but look at where we are today.

Using YouTube For Sales

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Using Social Media To Drive Sales

To give an update on my recent post, “YouTube As A Research Tool,” a GAWDA member shared another way of using YouTube as a research tool, and I want to share it with you. What I mentioned before was using videos to see applications in action. This week, I was speaking with Heath Wells, Regional VP of Sales at Cee Kay Supply (St. Louis, MO), who shared how he uses YouTube as a way to get to know customers better.

Wells explained that he uses YouTube to search for local businesses, and looks to see if they have any company videos or a company channel. “You can type in just about any type of business that’s within your territory,” he says. “If they’ve got a YouTube video, you can find it.” These videos can offer insight into what the customer does, what processes they use or even who you need to talk to in order to make a sale.

Whether it’s cold calling, identifying prospects or just getting to know more about an existing customer, YouTube videos can be a big help for a salesperson. Like any tool, it may not work every time, but if it works once, it’s worth it. And YouTube is only one tool. You can do the same thing with other social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook where customers may have pages on those sites. Social media is about connecting with people, so why not use it to connect with customers?

As we wrote in the Summer 2011 issue of Welding & Gases Today, “Your customers are using social media. What are you waiting for?” See how distributors are turning social media into sales success.

How are you using YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or even Google+ to make sales?

My Tour Of An Automated Fill Plant

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011
The final, automated fill plant

The final, automated fill plant

Last week, I made my return to Haun Welding Supply. Back in October 2010, I wrote about my first tour of the Syracuse distributor. At that time, Haun WS had just laid the groundwork for a fully automated fill plant. Josh Haun, credit manager at Haun, was kind enough to invite me back to see the new plant in action. Syracuse Branch Manager Al Dohrn walked us through and kindly answered the hundreds of questions we threw his way.

There are obvious benefits to automation, such as increased efficiency and reducing human error. However, there are some other benefits I picked up on during my short time at Haun. The first thing I immediately noticed was that the new, automated system was a quieter environment than the last time I was there. It was explained to me that the layout, the ability to bring pallets right up to the fill island and the movable manifolds meant less moving of cylinders and thus less commotion.

The fill plant in construction. A raised concrete fill island is the same height as the cylinder pallets for easy transport.

The fill plant in construction. A raised concrete fill island is the same height as the cylinder pallets for easy transport.

Also reducing the noise level was the fact that Haun recently implemented a second shift. As far as noise, this just meant that the activity was more spread out, and there were fewer people in the plant at once. The idea behind the second shift was to improve work flow and effectively reduce the number of cylinders needed. For example, if a batch of cylinders goes out on a truck to a branch on a Monday morning, that truck will not come back with empties until the evening. On a single shift, those cylinders could not get filled until the next day, and go back out to a store on Wednesday. By adding a second shift, those cylinders can be taken care of during the evening and be back on a truck Tuesday morning. These guys are smart.

In all, I could see that everything was done with purpose. Nothing was updated on a whim, or for the sheer sake of having shiny, new tools. Every piece of equipment, every design element, every adjustment was made knowing that it would help Haun operate more efficiently. Here’s to the success of their new plant!

Josh Haun (left) and me at the fill plant

Josh Haun (left) and me at the fill plant