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Archive for October, 2011

Back To The Future Of Gases And Welding

Friday, October 28th, 2011

We’re hard at work on the next issue of Welding & Gases Today. For the next issue, we’re looking ahead to the future of the industry. Where is the industry going? What’s ahead?

One of the things I’ve noticed is that companies within the industry seem to be making their play to establish a stronger foothold for the future. Last year we saw supplier Air Products try to get back into the packaged gas side of the business with the attempted takeover of Airgas. In Canada, supplier Air Liquide has acquired multiple businesses on the distribution side, most recently Unitec in the Toronto area on October 4. Will this trend roll over into the U.S.?

Earlier today, Linde CEO Wolfgang Reitzle said in a press conference that the company would like to improve its market position in the U.S. Linde will seek to do this through a combination of organic growth and small to medium-sized purchases. It is yet to be seen what form these purchases will take.

Regardless, there is clearly a pattern of consolidation in the industry. In October 2010, Welding & Gases Today looked at the growing trend in the article “Is Now The Time To Expand?”  nexAir (Memphis, TN) CFO and General Counsel Milton Lovell said the rate of acquisitions was partly due to the economy. “There’s increased competition for those customers who are out there, so large- and medium-sized players are using consolidation to increase their market shares,” he said in the article.

Is today’s announcement from Linde simply a continuation of this trend? Or is it something more? How is the changing landscape impacting your business?

While we’re looking at the future, I want to share this futuristic video. Students at Paris Diderot University in France have created a levitating hoverboard by using liquid nitrogen to create a magnetic superconductor. Enjoy!

How To Handle A Helium Shortage

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Still-Leben Mülheim 10 ies
Two weeks ago, I went into a party store to buy a balloon. “Sorry. The helium’s all gone,” the clerk told me. It wasn’t that the store hadn’t gone for a refill or that the store’s gas distributor was unresponsive—there simply was no helium to be had.

For most of the industrial gas industry, the ongoing helium shortage is nothing new. However, the latest helium hiccup has drawn a fair amount of attention from mainstream media. Believe it or not, most of the attention has been on party balloon dealers. The Scranton Times-Tribune in Pennsylvania, The Wichita Eagle in Kansas and The Globe Gazette in Iowa all had articles within the last few days about local businesses that have been hurt by the shortage.

The latest supply squeeze was caused by a helium plant outage in Wyoming back in August and September. As Matheson Executive VP for Global Helium Phil Kornbluth told the Wichita Eagle, the root of the problem is that current supply nearly matches demand, so an outage such as this one means a shortage. “When you have a tight supply balance to begin with, maybe 95 percent, it doesn’t take much of a shut down to cause a shortage,” he says.

The question is: with inevitable helium supply challenges, how do you deal with it? Do you ration your customers equally? Do you prioritize medical and industrial facilities over balloon dealers, as one of the above articles says is happening?

How did you handle the latest supply challenge? Let me know by leaving a comment.

Welding And Gases In The World Series

Friday, October 21st, 2011

A St. Louis Cardinals-themed sculpture won Cee Kay Supply's first-ever welding contest.

Welding and gases are everywhere, even in the MLB World Series. No, really. Texas Rangers starting pitcher C.J. Wilson apparently used a cryotherapy chamber to prepare for game 1 of the Series. He spent 2 ½ minutes in the chamber, which was set at a frosty 295 degrees below zero—liquid nitrogen at its finest. Just think of it like a high-tech ice bath.

Wilson has used the therapy a few times this season after hearing that the Dallas Mavericks successfully used cryogenic chambers on the way to winning the NBA championship. Unfortunately, the cryogenic therapy wasn’t enough to get Wilson the win, who gave up 3 runs in 5 2/3 innings of work (Only 4 hits, but it seems he had some trouble finding the strike zone).

As it turns out, fellow Rangers pitcher Matt Harrison is also a proponent of cryotherapy. He starts game 3 on Saturday 10/22, so keep an eye out to see if he has any better luck than Wilson.

Of course, welding plays an important role in the World Series, too. If not for welding, we wouldn’t have some of the amazing stadiums that we have today. Although the Yankees didn’t make it to the World Series for once, you can read about the welding that went into the construction of the new Yankees Stadium in “The Great Welding And Gases Road Trip.” It’s a fun read, and it’s fascinating to see the role welding has had in building some impressive structures.

Finally, I know the folks at Cee Kay Supply in St. Louis will be rooting for the Cardinals this World Series. The company held a welding contest earlier this year, and winner Brandon Allen, a recent technical school graduate stole the show with his St. Louis Cardinals-themed creation. He created the piece with a combination of oxy fuel cutting and MIG and TIG welding processes. Just look at that wood grain! (You might need to click the picture to enlarge it). Read the details of how he built the piece here.

Regardless of who wins the 2011 World Series, you can bet gases and welding helped them get there.

Facing A Duty On Imported Cylinders

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

More and more businesses are turning to imported products. According to Fox Business, imports of high pressure steel cylinders grew by a whopping 69% between 2009 and 2010, up from $29 million to $49 million during that time.

Last week, the U.S. Commerce Department announced a duty on high-pressure steel cylinders imported from China. At a rate of 22.34%, this is no negligible amount. The purpose of the countervailing duty, as I understand it, is to offset any incentives or subsidies that China has granted its exporters, so as to return the item to its true market value.

GAWDA supplier member Norris Cylinder Co. says Chinese producers are selling cylinders well below the normal trading value, and has petitioned for an antidumping duty of up to 176 percent. An antidumping duty is also targeted at bringing goods up to their true market value when they are priced below what U.S. producers sell similar goods for.

While these duties may not have gone into effect yet, it appears to be good news for American manufacturers. I’m curious to hear from gases and welding distributors. Will you be impacted at all? Even if you don’t use imported cylinders, your competitor might. How would a duty on imported cylinders impact your business

With All This Unemployment, Where Are The Workers?

Friday, October 14th, 2011

In the midst of a dismal economy characterized by high unemployment, it seems counterintuitive to hear companies say they are having trouble finding qualified employees. Such is the case for many companies. It’s not that there aren’t workers—it’s simply that there aren’t qualified or skilled workers for these positions.

One area that troubles many distributors in any economy is that of the truck driver. Back in 2010, Welding & Gases Today had an entire issue devoted to drivers in the industry. In “Behind The Wheel,” Barton’s Welding Supply Owner Randa Cannon said, “In a small area, it’s hard to find drivers. People with the qualifications want to drive 18-wheelers.” Along with a clean driving record, distributors say drivers need to be able to pass a drug test, have decent math, written and recordkeeping skills, and be able to pass government background checks.

An interesting story this week touched on a movement that may widen the field of potential drivers. The DOT is considering the approval of deaf and hard-of-hearing drivers for full CDL licenses. Without a full CDL, such drivers cannot partake in interstate commerce. Communication is, without a doubt, important for drivers. Distributors have described their drivers as “the eyes and ears” of their company, since they are in close contact with the customer. Although it might present some challenges, this would be a new field of drivers available for jobs.

In other job-related news, Air Products CEO John McGlade was featured on CBS News discussing the challenge of finding skilled workers. Cuts to vocational programs, he says, are exacerbating the situation. But industry members are not without means to change this situation. Distributors and suppliers play an important role in attracting young people to these skilled jobs.

Question of the Day: What are your staffing challenges? How are you responding to these challenges?

The Incredible Generosity Of GAWDA Members

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

We’re in the midst of GAWDA’s 67th Annual Convention right now. 2011 was another great year for what has become one of the finest GAWDA Convention traditions—GAWDA Gives Back. Started in 2000, GAWDA Gives Back is now in its 12th year. Every year, GAWDA selects an organization based in the Convention host city. On Monday, the association presented checks to two organizations: the FDNY Fire Family Transport Foundation and the Pencil Fellows Program. Each organization received $101,375, for a total donation of $202,750. Wow.

In light of this amazing donation, I put together some fun facts about GAWDA Gives Back:

  • The 2011 total was the largest GAWDA Gives Back donation to date. The previous highest donation was $193,162 in 2010.
  • In 2011 alone, GAWDA members surpassed the total giving from the program’s first five years combined. ($195,555)
  • 2011 was not the first year that GAWDA gave back to two organizations. When the Convention was held in San Francisco in 2001, GAWDA members donated to the Lincoln Child Center and Beating the Odds.
  • Maui, HI, is the city that has received the greatest total donations from GAWDA members. The city hosted GAWDA in 2000, 2005 and 2010.
  • Even with only one year under its belt, New York City is now the runner-up after Maui.
  • After donating $975,053 in the first 11 years, GAWDA soared past the $1 million milestone in 2011.
  • The 12-year combined GAWDA Gives Back donations equal an incredible $1,177,803.

Way to go, GAWDA members. Your generosity continues to amaze me.

Can Amazon Revolutionize The Business Tablet?

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

I recently wrote about how O.E. Meyer has adopted iPads for business. As with any technology, there is always the challenge of cost—not only the cost of the devices, but the cost of training, maintenance and repair. With something as unfamiliar and new as the iPad, there is the added cost of testing and development in some cases. (And of course, there is the cost of data plans!)

With that in mind, I was curious to see how much of a game changer Amazon’s tablet, the Kindle Fire, could really be. Where the iPad starts at $499, Amazon’s tablet comes in at $199. And while I’m not in the business of reviewing electronic devices, I was curious to know whether the Amazon Kindle Fire could challenge the iPad as a business tool.

O.E. Meyer Regional Manager Eric Wood was excited about many of the iPad’s features. Can the Fire stack up? Let’s go best of seven:

  • Where 3G connectivity allows salespeople to link into the network from anywhere, the Fire offers only WiFi. (iPad 1 – Fire 0)
  • If you can get connected, the Fire has the leg up for Internet browsing. Its cloud-based browser is reported to run at faster speeds than iPad’s Safari. (iPad 1 – Fire 1)
  • O.E. Meyer salespeople have used the iPad’s camera to take photos and videos of applications for customers. The Fire does not offer a camera. (iPad 2 – Fire 1)
  • Suppliers and distributors are increasingly using QR codes as a sales tool. The iPad can read QR codes with any number of free apps using the built-in camera. Again, the Fire has no camera. (iPad 3 – Fire 1)
  • As mentioned above, the Fire does offer a significant cost savings. (iPad 3 – Fire 2)
  • There are more than 100,000 apps in Apple’s App Store designed specifically for the iPad, including many business and productivity apps. While the Fire is built on the Android platform, and there are many business apps in the Android Market, the device won’t actually have access to the Market, only to Amazon’s own Marketplace, which doesn’t have nearly the collection of apps that its competitors boast. (iPad 4 – Fire 2)

So far, my findings suggest that the Fire is lacking in some of the areas that the iPad excels for business use. What do you think?