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Archive for February, 2012

New Tanker Truck Definition Draws Criticism

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Tanker Truck Regulations QuestionedAs reported in a recent issue of the GAWDA Connection e-newsletter, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration changed the definition of tank vehicle in a way that impacts many drivers. The change outlines volumes for trucks transporting liquid or gaseous materials within a tank or tanks. At or above these volumes, drivers need a special tank vehicle endorsement on their CDL.

The summary states: “This new definition will require a tanker endorsement on the CDL of any driver operating a CMV that would be transporting four or more intermediate bulk containers, since those typically contain anywhere from 250 gallons to 330 gallons of liquid per IBC.”

The article also explained that the American Trucking Associations was preparing a petition to amend the rule, which would be supported by GAWDA and other associations. This past week, ATA released that petition in the form of a letter to FMCSA, which called the definition “burdensome” and described it as broad and including vehicles that are “manifestly not tank vehicles.”

Along with these issues, a loose enforcement timeline creates confusion for drivers and companies operating in multiple states. The rule was enforceable as of July 2011, but states have until July 2014 to comply. ATA Safety and Security Policy Manager Boyd Stephenson told The Trucker, “States have the option of starting to enforce the rule on the effective date, others wait longer. So you might wind up with Montana beginning to enforce the rule immediately and Idaho choosing to wait three years.” Particularly for distributors doing business in multiple states, this could create some confusion and/or additional expense.

Another question is why it has taken so long for this definition change to draw attention. The notice was published in the Federal Register way back in May 2011 as part of a larger final rule revising the CDL testing and learner’s permit standards. With states able to enforce the rule as early as July 2011, should FMCSA made the change more transparent and/or deliberate?

How do you feel about the new definition change? Do you agree that it is too broad and burdensome?

Another Word On Helium

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Last Friday, I posted a blog about the use of helium. It followed a series of posts regarding the rising costs of and access to the gas. I included a video taken at Alinea Restaurant in Chicago, where they are serving customers an edible balloon filled with helium. At the end of the video, the waiter serves the balloon and tells the diner that he can either pop the balloon with a needle or place his mouth on the balloon and inhale the helium. Inhaling helium is never a safe practice, as evidenced further by recent events in the news.

My inclusion of this video was meant as an ironic take on the rising cost of helium balloons; and unfortunately I fear this irony fell short. I should have clearly pointed out that the practices of this restaurant are entirely unsafe.

Even now, this video cannot be ignored. Over 200,000 people have seen the edible balloon video. It’s been featured on the websites of popular news outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, CBS News, TIME, Huffington Post and The Discovery Channel. GAWDA members who have seen this video know and understand that inhaling helium is dangerous and can be fatal.

If any of your customers are using helium in an unsafe manner, please let them know about the dangers of inhaling gases. GAWDA DOT, Security, EPA, & OSHA Consultant Mike Dodd released a notice about the dangers of inhaling helium yesterday, and is a great resource if you have any questions regarding safety matters related to helium or other products.

Finally, I want to thank the GAWDA member who brought to my attention the unsafe nature of this video. It reflects the true concern for safety that GAWDA and its members promote, and the awareness and vigilance we must all have.

Helium Alert: Help Customers Stay Safe

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Helium Safety AlertSafety is a number one priority for the Gases and Welding Distributors Association, as it is for GAWDA members everywhere. When working with welding and gases, there are many potential dangers. Unfortunately, when these products fall into the wrong hands, there is a potential for accidents. The best way to prevent these accidents is through education.

Reports have come out this week that a 14-year-old girl in Oregon died after inhaling helium at a party. A group of teens was using helium to make their voices sound funny, and the girl ended up with air pockets in her veins that led to her death. As MSNBC states, the event “exposes the rare but real dangers of inhaling helium, especially from a pressurized tank.”

Dr. Mark Morocco, associate professor of emergency medicine at the Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles, explains the dangers of inhaling helium: “It is similar to when a scuba diver surfaces too quickly. A gas bubble gets into the bloodstream, perhaps through some kind of tear in a blood vessel. If it is a vein, the bubble will stay in the lungs. If it is an artery, it can block the flow of oxygen-laden blood to the brain, causing a stroke. If there is a hole in the heart, the bubble can go from a vein to an artery and then to the brain.”

In response to the event, GAWDA released the following safety alert:

Helium Inhalation Alert

Feb. 23, 2012

On the news today was an article on the tragic death of a teenage girl that died from breathing helium at a party. The Gases and Welding Distributors Association and the Compressed Gas Association have for many years been concerned with the breathing of helium in order to get the high pitched “Donald Duck” sound. These associations have released many alerts and communications over the years warning people not to breathe helium from cylinders or balloons filled with helium.

We want to remind our distributors to remind their customers of the hazards of inhaling helium at any time and under any circumstance.

If you have any inquiries on where to find out more information breathing inhalants such as helium, you can find more at the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition website: http://www.inhalants.org/index.shtml

You can also refer your customers to the MSDS for helium and to CGA P-9, The Inert Gases: Argon, Nitrogen, and Helium.

Feel free to contact me if you have questions, concerns, or comments.
Michael Dodd
GAWDA DOT, Security, EPA, & OSHA Consultant

When you work with gases every day, safety becomes second nature. Keeping customers educated about the dangers they face is paramount. Stay safe, and help your customers do the same.

Learning From Businesses Of All Sizes

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

During a conversation earlier this week with someone in the business community, I was surprised to hear him say that, in reading about a large company in his industry, he could not relate because of the size of the company. I can see where he was coming from as the owner of a small business. But it’s hard to think there isn’t something he could learn from a larger company.

This conversation got me thinking about GAWDA members and the companies we profile in Welding & Gases Today. Over the last year, the GAWDA member profile has looked at companies ranging in size from 9 employees to 900. A big range, yes, and one that reflects the diversity of GAWDA members themselves. I’d like to think that no matter the size of a company, there are always things to learn from others. Large companies can learn from the little guys, and vice versa. How so?

At a 24-person operation like Melo’s Gas & Gear, it might be tales of how cylinder tracking has helped the company with accounts receivable and theft prevention. President Dave Melo says, “Reconciling cylinder balances can be an incredibly frustrating and potentially damaging process for a distributor.” Melo recalls the police making multiple arrests when cylinders ended up in the wrong hands, all because the company’s cylinder tracking system proved that the cylinders were stolen.

Meanwhile, a 900 person organization like Norco might teach a small business about success in a family business. CEO Jim Kissler recalls how in order to work for his father’s company, he first had to complete a four-year degree and then work outside the business for five to seven years. Kissler’s father was a firm believer in the teachings of Leon Danco: “Danco taught family business members to first become somebody before coming into the business,” says Jim Kissler. “It makes you more credible, and it makes you more knowledgeable about running a business when you’ve worked outside of the family business.”

When it comes to business, there are issues that simply transcend business size. Well, that’s my opinion, at least. What do you think? What have you learned from a business of dissimilar size?

A Second Helping Of Helium, Plus Dessert

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Helium is on everyone’s minds right now. As mentioned in my last blog post, a flurry of media attention has emerged on the helium shortage lately. It’s not just media hype or the balloon retailers who are talking about it. As I learned via Twitter, helium has been a big topic of discussion at the most recent Independent Welding Distributors Cooperative meeting in Orlando. Certainly there are a lot of questions surrounding helium, and hopefully an email exchange I had earlier this week can shed some light on these questions.

As indicated in Eyeing Potential Shortages In 2012 (thanks to the insights of Nick Haines, head of global helium source development at Linde), there are two helium plants slated to come on stream in 2012, and until the new plants are on stream, supply is likely to remain tight. From the current situation, I’d say Haines was right about supply remaining tight.

So when exactly will things ease up? One of the two plants mentioned is a joint venture between Air Products and Matheson that is expected to bring an additional 200 million standard cubic feet per year of helium to the market. Bob Lein, director, helium sourcing and supply at Matheson sent me this update on the anticipated startup of the Wyoming plant:

“Startup of the APMTG Helium plant in Big Piney, Wyoming, will commence as soon as a reliable supply of helium feedgas is made available to the plant by our feedgas supplier. We expect that to occur sometime in the next few months.”

Edible Helium BalloonLong term, popular belief (among distributors I’ve spoken with) is that the cost of helium will go up, as is the nature of basic supply and demand. As seen in my last blog, the cost and availability is certainly affecting the business of balloon retailers. Just think—some day, a helium balloon could be a rarity, a novelty reserved for special occasions.

Of course, if you’re going to pay extra for a balloon, some people think it might as well be edible too. Apparenlty one restaurant in Chicago does, where they’ve developed a helium-filled balloon for their dessert menu.

The green apple flavored delicacy created by Alinea Restaurant starts out as a syrup that is inflated with helium (See bottom left). Even the string is edible, as it’s made from dehydrated granny smith apple. Of course, whenever dealing with helium, it is always dangerous to inhale the gas. For that reason, Alinea attaches a needle to the bottom of the string, allowing diners to pop the balloon (to let the helium out) and eat up.

Edible balloon starts as syrup

The edible helium balloon starts as syrup.

Needle for popping edible helium balloon.

Needle for popping balloon

Photos via YouTube.

Helium Shortage Takes Over Valentine’s Day

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest days of the year for balloon retailers, and the ongoing helium shortage has been a cloud over many such businesses. I’ve been reading local news reports from around the country, all discussing the fact that helium-filled balloons are harder to come by and a little pricier this Valentine’s Day.

Welding & Gases Today has been following the helium shortage for the last few months, and with balloon retailers in the news, it seemed like a good time to check in with distributors. How is the shortage affecting distributors and their customers? The response is mixed.

Scott Myran, operations manager at Mississippi Welders Supply (Winona, MN), noted the helium supply strain in a conversation with me this past November, and told me this week that the situation has not changed in the last several months. “Helium is going to be an ongoing issue on into the future,” he says. “There’s a finite quantity. Eventually, we will get to the point where the U.S. is no longer the largest exporter in the world, and we’ll have to start importing. Helium’s probably going to become harder to procure, and it’s no doubt going to get more expensive.”

Despite the tight supply, MWS has been able to keep up with customer demand. Myran says the company created a backup plan on how it would prioritize if forced to put customers on allocation. “Medical needs would have been priority number one,” he says. Thankfully, the company has not had to call on this plan.

However, it appears some distributors have had to follow this route. End-user Donna Ryan, owner of Donna’s Helium and Balloon told Amarillo’s Pronews 7, “The way they are allocating the helium now, hospitals are on the top of the list, which is exactly where they belong. Balloon helium is at the bottom.”

While MWS has not had any difficulty meeting customers’ supply needs, Myran says costs have gone up. “Whether it’s helium or gas for your car, customers make that individual decision as they need to. Sometimes when we’re aware that something is in tight supply, price is not such an issue.”

In Wichita, KS, Lampton Welding Supply has not felt the pressure of tightening supply. “We haven’t had any strain. We’ve been able to fill 100 percent of our needs,” says vice president Doug Lampton. Lampton Welding Supply prepared for the helium shortage by purchasing additional helium cylinders, and it seems to be paying off. Lampton says the company has added quite a bit of business over the last few months due to other distributors’ inability to secure a steady supply of helium.

Similar to MWS, Glenn Bliss, president of General Distributing Company in Great Falls, MT, told KFBB “With our existing customers, we don’t foresee any issues whatsoever, but it’s a situation where we are not able to go out and proactively look for new helium business right now.” General Distributing invested in a tanker last year, allowing the company to pick up helium in bulk and bring it back to Montana. Bliss says the tanker allows the company to absorb some of the rising costs of helium.

How is your business handling the helium supply strain?

Of course, with the cost of helium going up, you can’t go wrong with a bouquet of welded flowers, like the ones created by a group of high school students in Washington for Valentine’s Day.

Will 2012 Be The Year For Recovery?

Friday, February 10th, 2012

The recent recession seems to be more drawn out than others in recent memory. Past recessions have been followed by strong economic growth, but not this time—not yet, at least. Things have taken time, but there are positive signs—at last. Many of the distributors I’ve talked to over the last few weeks say business in January and February has been stronger than expected.

One contributor to a slow recovery was the fact that businesses held off on spending capital. As economist Joseph V. Kennedy points out in his article, “How Much More Can We Handle,” corporations have been sitting on roughly two trillion dollars in accumulated capital. As for consumers, it seems they may have finally broken through and are beginning to spend again. (Black Friday sales in 2011 were a record-high $11.4 billion.) With any luck, the business world is on the heels of consumers.

If GAWDA members are any indication, businesses may be ready to spend in 2012. In the Welding & Gases Today 2012 Business Forecast, 59% of distributors said they plan to build new or expand existing facilities; 46% will hire new employees. Mike Taylor, owner of All Gas & Welding Supply (Monticello, NY), told W&GT, “If you have access to capital, it’s a good time to invest in your business.” Their customers, too, are beginning to spend once again. Lefeld Welding & Steel Supplies President Gary Lefeld says, “The customer base is more optimistic and ready to release money on needed repairs and projects. There’s movement in the pent-up demand.”

Although certain industries, construction in particular, are not back on their feet, there are new, emerging markets, and it’s up to distributors to go after these prospects. Energy in particular is showing positive signs with the growth of industries like shale and LNG. As Bob Garland writes in “The Shale Effect,” “The recovery, production and delivery of shale gas have a positive economic impact not only on the core oil and gas industry, but also on the indirect suppliers (supply chain) and the induced suppliers (consumers)…For gases and welding distributors, this means a new and expanding market.”

That said, some distributors are still feeling the strain of the recession. “We have many faithful customers who are buying only what they need. No one is stockpiling inventory,” says Ann Clay, president at Tri-State Oxygen (Ashland, KY). But overall, distributors are positive, with 98% predicting 2012 sales to be the same or better as 2011.

What do you think? Will recovery come in 2012?

Find out what industry suppliers and distributors in your region are planning for 2012 in Welding & Gases Today’s Business Forecast.

More Gases In The Super Bowl

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Sutton-Garten Company makes a bulk CO2 delivery at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Fresh off the Super Bowl, I wanted to share an update about the gases that play a role in The Big Game. As it turns out, the CO2 for the 2012 host stadium is supplied by Sutton-Garten Company (Indianapolis, IN), a GAWDA distributor member. “We deliver bulk CO2 and beverage gases for the beer and beverage service at Lucas Oil Stadium and quite a few of the surrounding restaurants and bars,” says President Pat Garten.

(In case you missed my previous post, check out five more ways that gases and welding industry was intertwined with this year’s Super Bowl.)

Believe it or not, he says Homeland Security checked his company’s truck before they were allowed in the stadium to make deliveries. He adds that the Super Bowl village only allows deliveries very early in the morning…so it sounds like the Super Bowl has kept Sutton-Garten on its toes.

Sutton-Garten has a dedicated page on its website for the Lucas Oil Stadium carbon dioxide system. I love the quote from Lucas Oil Building Authority President David Frick regarding the CO2 room, who says, “It’s the most important room in the building.” The website explains that the carbon dioxide system operates on nine 600-lb. bulk cylinders, which are piped to concession stands throughout the stadium. Pressurizing the system required about 700 lbs of carbon dioxide alone. There are some more great photos from Sutton-Garten at the link above.

During last night’s Super Bowl, oxygen also made a cameo as cameras showed a close-up of Giants Linebacker Chase Blackburn breathing in what looked like medical oxygen after intercepting Patriots QB Tom Brady. See the shot in the short video below.

You Can’t Have A Super Bowl Without Gases And Welding

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Welding makes it possible for fans to stay warm in Indy's network of skywalk-connected buildings.

This weekend, the country’s attention turns to football. And with it, it’s a perfect time to recognize the gases and welding hard at work behind the scenes of the Super Bowl. As the title says, you can’t have a Super Bowl without gases and welding. Even if you could, why would you want to?

The game is being hosted in Indianapolis this year, and in February, that means it’s going to be cold. Thanks to propane supplied by Ferrell Gas Company, local fans will be able to keep warm. Tents are going up all over downtown Indy, and the Office of Code Enforcement is requiring that they be heated for safety reasons. The Super Bowl committee uses propane because it burns clean, with low odor and emissions, and it’s not affected if the power goes out.

Fans staying in any of the 4,700-plus hotel rooms connected to the Indiana Convention Center, on the other hand, can thank their warmth to welding. That’s because those fans will never have to walk outside to get to the game. The ICC is connected to Lucas Oil Stadium by climate-controlled pedestrian walkways (pictured at right). Judging from the pictures, strong welds are definitely key to supporting these steel-and-glass skywalks.

Within Lucas Oil Stadium, where the game will be played, there are 16,000 tons of steel. The stadium has a first-of-its kind SuperFrame Structural System with a unique two-panel moving roof design. The roof itself is supported on five rails. Also, the stadium, which normally has 63,000, has boosted its capacity to 70,000 for Super Bowl XLVI. Sounds like a lot of welding to me.

Of course, gases are at work throughout the game, whether it’s helium balloons, medical oxygen on the sidelines or carbon dioxide making sure fans’ drinks are nice and foamy. GAWDA member Cyl-Tec designed and installed the entire nine tank cryogenic CO2 beverage system within Lucas Oil Stadium. The system stores pressurized, liquefied gas, with a high capacity for vaporization that allows more gas per volume.

Photo Courtesy James Smith/Dallas Cowboy

Dallas Cowboys Stadium hosted the Super Bowl in 2011 with over 165,000 ft. of welding.

Finally, if you’re in town for the game and you’re in the mood for a steak, it turns out Indy offers a venue unlike any other. Dunaway’s Palazzo Ossigeno (“Oxygen Building” in Italian) is housed in a building formerly used for the manufacture of bottled oxygen and hydrogen up until 1991. The Indiana Oxygen Building, as it is known, was built in 1930 by the GAWDA member of the same name. No word on whether knowing the building’s former owners can help you get a reservation.

Also, for recommended reading, be sure to check out “Gases And Welding In The Big Game,” which talks about how welding and gases were at work in last year’s Super Bowl—starting with the fact that the host stadium’s arches alone have over 165,000 ft. of welding.

What Customers Want On Your Website

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Firefox screenshot-404 error in Wikipedia

Does your company's website look like this?

To this day, I am still surprised when companies don’t have a website. In the latest issue of Welding & Gases Today, nexAir’s Patrick Galphin makes the case for e-commerce, but that assumes that your business already has a website. Certainly, I understand that the gases and welding industry has traditionally been and continues to be a “local” sort of business. But even when it comes to local buying, customers enjoy the ease of a website.

Almost as bad as having no website is having a poorly made website that is confusing or out of date. I came across a great article recently that questions what is it that local customers want from business websites. Whether you have a bad website or no website at all, this article offers some food for thought.

One of the best things the article offers is a series of statistics. What information is the most valuable to customers on a website? Customers in the survey ranked their wants as follows:

1.      List of prices
2.      List of services
3.      Easy to find contact details
4.      Physical address
5.      Driving directions
6.      Customer testimonials
7.      Clear photos of business
8.      Personal message from manager
9.      Links to social media profiles

Of course, how your customers rank these items may differ slightly based on your business. This is a great starting point; but to know if you’re really on key, why not ask your own customers: “What information would be most valuable to you on our website?” It’s better than guessing.

The article offers some other surprising insights, such as the fact that 40% of survey respondents say they are less likely to do business with a company if they don’t have a physical address on their website. Other offenders that repel customers are slow websites (22%) and ugly websites (21%). “No website” wasn’t one of the questions, but I know it’s a deterrent for me.

As article author Myles Anderson points out, some companies put a lot of effort into external actions when it comes to their website, i.e. search engine ranking and social media. These are important marketing activities, but they cannot stand alone; all that effort can be wasted if your own site is not optimized for your customers and the search engines.

So the question is, do you know what your customers want, and are you giving it to them?