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Archive for March, 2012

Argon, Automation And The National Anthem

Friday, March 30th, 2012
The Star-Spangled Banner

The Star-Spangled Banner

The Spring Management Conference is less than a month away now. If you’re heading to Baltimore for the SMC, you may also want to take time to visit the Maryland Historical Society Museum, where you will find the Star-Spangled Banner in its original form. From the MDHS website:

Currently on view is The Star-Spangled Banner. A Patriotic Song. Published by Carr Music Store in Baltimore in 1814, it is one of the few remaining copies of the 1st edition of the poem set to music we know as our national anthem.

Not only is the Star-Spangled Banner an important part of our country’s history, but the exhibit itself is an illustration of the wonders of the gas industry. That’s because the nearly 200-year-old manuscript is preserved with high purity argon gas.

Of course, the Star-Spangled Banner isn’t the only thing preserved with argon. The inert gas is commonly used in wine preservation, and is even used for preserving other countries’ precious artifacts. Ever wonder what goes into preserving a document in argon? In the video below, the National Archives shows how it keeps a 715-year-old document intact. The precise engineering that goes into preserving the Magna Carta is incredible.

The video also offers a look into the automated machining equipment used to make the case itself. Typically, when it comes to automation, I think of manufacturers that are looking to increase productivity on large runs. This video, however, shows a very different need for automation—precision. Document encasement, far from being a mass production, allows very little room for error. Now that’s a niche market.

Social Media Case Study: Ozarc Gas

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Last month, Ozarc Gas sponsored the Northeast Arkansas Weld-A-Thon, a welding competition involving area high school and vo-tech welding students. Over the past three years, the event has steadily grown to include 36 students from 12 area schools, giving these young welders a place to show off their skills and learn more about the welding industry. One of the most unique aspects of the 2012 event was Ozarc’s use of social media in conjunction with the event. I spoke with Ozarc sales rep and event coordinator Nick Garner about the experience. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

What is the goal of the Weld-A-Thon?
Our goal is to get students interested in welding and show them that this isn’t just a grease-monkey job. It’s a job that’s in demand, and if you’re good at it, you can make excellent wages. We want to get the students excited about welding, so that it’s not just something they do in their high school ag class. We want to help them further their skills and go on in the welding industry.

Ozarc Gas uses Twitter to promote 2012 Weld-A-ThonI enjoyed following along on Twitter. What was the impetus behind live tweeting the event?
I think this industry is behind when it comes to social media. A lot of the current activity on Facebook and Twitter is limited to vendors, and you don’t see many competitions like this taking advantage of social media.

What role does social media play in furthering the goals of the Weld-A-Thon?
Social media is a great way to get the word out about the competition and give these kids the recognition they deserve. Even though these kids are in high school, they possess welding skills that are beyond my abilities. I know I couldn’t do some of the things they are doing. It’s awesome to see. We’re hoping to get more and more exposure for the event through social media. We hope to reach more schools this way.

What was the experience like using social media with the event for the first time?
It was the most fun I’ve had at the competition yet. In addition to the Twitter feed, we posted photos of the event on Facebook. At the end of the competition, we reminded everyone about the Twitter feed and the Facebook page where they can go and look at the pictures. We handed out fliers encouraging participants to like Ozarc Gas on Facebook and tied it in with a welding hood giveaway.

Have you seen results from your efforts?
We’ve seen more followers on Facebook. Giving away the welding hood provided a little more motivation for people to like our page. During the competition, I saw more followers on Twitter from within the welding industry.

Can we look for you to be live tweeting again next year?
Definitely. Next year, I want to try to get the schools involved and get them following on social media, especially the students. We plan to advertise the social media aspect more before the competition next year and really promote that to the students.

For Ozarc Gas, social media is proving to be a great way to promote the the Weld-A-Thon and welding industry in general. And while this particular use may not result in immediate sales revenues, it helps create and strengthen relationships between Ozarc and local schools and students. As Garner admits, there are a few tweaks to be made for next year’s event. With additional promotion, Ozarc hopes to draw in even more students and boost event participation. This in turn provides additional exposure to Ozarc’s propylene cutting demos at the event and introduces more schools to the process.

To see how Garner took advantage of social media for 2012 Northeast Arkansas Weld-A-Thon, take a look at the photos on Ozarc Gas’ Facebook page and see the tweets from February 17 on www.twitter.com/cryogasman.

March Madness, Business Edition

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Last week, employers lost $175 million to distracted workers during the NCAA tournament. How much did March Madness cost your company?

With any luck, your employees remained productive throughout the first two days of the tournament. But even with the cost of the tournament, many employers also feel that the games can be a way to heighten employee morale. According to a recent poll by OfficeTeam, 68 percent of employers say that tournament games are either welcome or acceptable in moderation in the office. Perhaps these happy employees will return to work more productive than ever on Monday.

Whether or not you are a fan of watching basketball games in the office, there is at least one thing gases and welding distributors (and other businesses) can learn from the NCAA tournament.

Cinderella stories are a staple of the tournament. The last few years, there has been a 12- or 13-seed to make it through several rounds, with unheralded programs like Butler and VCU in the Final Four, or even the championship game. March Madness is a reminder that the little guys can win, and sometimes it’s the team that plays harder that comes out on top.

This brings me to an interesting conundrum:

I read a comment that said, in referring to small distributors in the gases and welding industry, that the niche for small players will always lie in supplying welding equipment. The commenter went on to say that small distributors will always struggle to grow in the gases side of the business due to the need for capital and a larger infrastructure required for delivery and production systems.

What do you think? Can a small distributor excel in the gas business, or does the need for capital limit the small operator to a hardgoods focus?

Then again, when it comes to the NCAA tournament, who would have thought that teams like Butler, VCU and Gonzaga would develop into more than Cinderella stories, but perennial threats?

Let The Military Train Your Employees

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Gases and welding distributors around the country are reaping the benefits of employing service men and women.

There are many advantages to hiring members of the military to work in the gases and welding business, both from a performance and financial standpoint. I came across a great article on OPEN Forum recently called “How To Hire A Veteran,” which addresses some of these benefits and, as the title suggests, how to recruit veterans to work for your business.

From a performance aspect, service men and women are motivated and disciplined. “They know what it’s like to work in a fast-paced and results-driven environment,” CDW Senior Director of Talent Acquisition Melissa McMahon tells OPEN Forum. Beyond that, military men and women come with a great deal of experience and training. By the time they enter the workforce, veterans have already undergone training that would typically cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in the private sector. If this training is not enough, the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 can help businesses get tax credits to cover the cost of training newly hired veterans.

Looking for a driver? Distributors have talked for years about the difficulty of finding qualified drivers for this industry. In New York state (and possibly others—check with your DMV office), veterans with experience operating a military vehicle can have their CDL road test waived.

Of course, there are some considerations to take when hiring from the military. Members of the National Guard and Reserve can get pulled away from their jobs for active duty. In hiring service men and women, it’s important to understand what this experience means.

The Second Quarter issue of Welding & Gases Today goes inside the experience of National Guard and Reserve members who work in the industry. “Take Your Boss To Work Day” follows Joe Campbell, president of Machinery & Welder Corporation, as he travels to a naval base in Virginia to see first-hand what members of the National Guard and Reserve do when called for duty.

What has your experience been like with hiring veterans? What are the greatest benefits and challenges?

St. Patrick’s Day Is A Gas

Friday, March 16th, 2012

St. Patrick’s Day is a good day for the gas industry. Across the world, massive amounts of CO2 and nitrogen will be consumed as thirsty citizens celebrate the day. According to National Geographic, more than 4.2 billion pints of beer will be consumed on this single day—that’s about 1 percent of the annual consumption total.

Just how much gas will be consumed? Different beers have different amounts of CO2. Brewers speak in terms of volumes of CO2, where 1 volume of CO2 is the equivalent of 1 gallon of CO2 at 1 atmosphere in 1 gallon of fluid. The typical beer has anywhere from 1½ volumes CO2 for a typical British-style ale to up to 5 volumes for a wheat beer. So if we take 4.2 billion pints of beer on St. Patrick’s Day…that’s about 528 million gallons of beer—considering an average of 2.5 volumes of CO2…that’s more than 1.3 billion volumes of CO2—in other words, a lot of gas. (If you are interested in converting this to other measurements, the previous link contains some useful calculations).

Of course, not all of the gas consumed is carbon dioxide. Nitrogen makes up a large part of the gas mix used in beers like Guinness. (Something tells me that nitrogen use is somewhat higher than normal on St. Patrick’s Day.) How many pints of Guinness will be consumed on St. Patrick’s Day? See for yourself:

(Source: guysgab.com)

13 million pints, enough to fill the 60% of the Empire State Building. That’s a lot of nitrogen. Believe it or not, Guinness has a connection to the Gases and Welding Distributors Association. As I wrote about last St. Patrick’s Day, GAWDA member McDantim was responsible for developing a custom gas blender for Guinness & Co. back in 1986.

When it comes to beverage gases, do you see an increase in sales around St. Patrick’s Day? How do you prepare for the addtional demand?

GAWDA’s Regional Meetings Are A Must

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

GAWDA Regional MeetingThe calendar reads March and that means the seasons are changing.  Of course we know that Spring is right around the corner.  But more importantly for GAWDA members, Regional Meeting Season is upon us.  The season stretches from early Spring to late Autumn.  A quick check of the GAWDA calendar shows that nine meetings have already been scheduled.

Regional meetings are a vital part of GAWDA membership.  They nurture the symbiotic relationship between member and association.  The meetings are better when you attend, and you get more out of GAWDA by attending a regional meeting.

At the meeting, you have the opportunity to visit with distributors in your area and hear what is working for them and share ideas for tackling common challenges.  You get to put a face with a supplier who is in your area and is eager to help you grow your business.  And GAWDA provides an update on the latest benefits provided to its members and issues that are important to our industry.

Birmingham, AL, GAWDA Regional Meeting

Vestavia Hills is the home of the 2012 Birmingham Regional Meeting, March 25-26.

This year, the Birmingham-Dixie regional meeting is first on the docket.  We kick off our event with an evening dinner and cocktail reception Sunday night.  On Monday we start with breakfast and an update from GAWDA.  We then have three great speakers who will deliver “take-home value.”  We will hear from a Morgan Stanley analyst for an economic update, an industry executive on the state of consolidation and a university professor who is training the next generation of industrial distributors.  We will wrap up the meeting with a tournament on Birmingham’s finest golf course to determine the region’s best sand baggers.

Since 2008, I’ve attended regional meetings in Hattiesburg, Mobile, Fort Myers, Biloxi, Houston and Birmingham.  Each meeting is unique in its content.  But all have in common the rich camaraderie of industry friends and partners convening to make this industry better. So do yourself a favor, make GAWDA better, find a regional meeting near you and make plans to attend.

Guest Blogger James Cain is vice president of Atlas Welding Supply in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is chair of the Birmingham, Alabama, GAWDA Regional Meeting.

Congress Talks About Medical Gases

Friday, March 9th, 2012
Congressional Hearing on Medical Gases

LifeGas President Michael Walsh testifies before Congress.

If you are a follower of mine on Twitter, you may have noticed that there was a Congressional hearing about medical gas regulations on Thursday, March 8. Among the many issues discussed were the regulatory challenges facing medical gas manufacturers and distributors. The underlying problem is that medical gases like oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide are currently subject to the same regulations as pharmaceutical drugs, despite entirely different manufacturing distribution processes. Many in the gas industry believe that FDA needs to develop regulations that are targeted at medical gases specifically.

The industry has made a lot of progress on this front recently, as evidenced by the proposed Medical Gas Safety Act (HR 2227), introduced by Rep. Lance and cosponsored by members from both sides of the political aisle. The Congressional hearing was another step forward, as the industry was given a forum to plead its case. The Compressed Gas Association was represented by LifeGas president Michael Walsh.

In watching the hearing, I was shocked to learn that gases like oxygen are considered “unapproved drugs” in some venues. The problem, as Walsh explained, is that many customers are scared off by the “unapproved” label, causing them to cancel orders. The Medical Gas Safety Act would help resolve this by creating a process for medical gases to gain approval.

Another issue is expiration dates, which some government agencies attempt to enforce on medical gases. Walsh says, “Oxygen is an element of the periodic table. By its basic properties it will never expire.” Overall, Walsh was extremely well spoken. Let’s hope Congress and the FDA agree. You can read Walsh’s initial testimony here, or view the discussion in the video below.

From here, the next step for CGA is lobbying to have the Medical Gas Safety Act included with the Prescription Drug user Fee Act (PDUFA). At this point, there is a chance that FDA could attempt to block this effort, but there is hope. Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at FDA, also testified at the hearing. Dr. Woodcock said the FDA would be willing to work with CGA and industry manufacturers to come to a mutually beneficial solution. We’ll see what happens from here.

What do you think: Should the FDA adopt separate regulations for medical gases? How is your business affected by the current lack of specific medical gas regulations?

If you missed the Twitter chat yesterday, you can catch up by checking out hash tag #medicalgas.

View the Congressional hearing below or watch it on YouTube. It’s kind of a long one, but worth watching the discussions about medical gas.

LinkedIn Vs. The Business Card

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Business Cards Vs. LinkedInWith GAWDA’s Spring Management Conference fast approaching, many of you are probably readying your business cards. However, there has been some talk recently that LinkedIn could threaten the existence of business cards. In our “On The Edge” feature at Welding & Gases Today Online, we was asked that very question: Are business cards on the way out? For many, Social Media presents a more convenient and instantaneous result. But until LinkedIn has close to 100% of the market, I have to think that most people will continue to carry business cards.

A recent article on Bloomberg Businessweek called “How Business Cards Survive In The Age of Linkedin” got me thinking about the issue once again. The article explains that business cards were originally created as a means to prove a business’s legitimacy. But as Design Strategist Nathan Shedroff, points out, just about anyone can procure a professional-looking business cards these days. This, according to the article, is where LinkedIn reigns. The professional networking site allows more than contact information, it allows an entire resume and professional references. What better way is there to prove one’s legitimacy than a resume with references?

Business cards, on the other hand, are simple. An online business card printer tells Bloomberg Businessweek, “They don’t require batteries, experience no intercompatibility problems, require no sign-up, and everyone in the world understands them.” Some tout the ability of the business card to allow self-expression and branding. Despite the lack of actual “artwork,” I would argue that your LinkedIn page can say a lot about your brand as well.

Another argument for business cards suggests it’s the act, “the theater,” of exchanging a business card that keeps the business card alive. I have to admit, in my experience, while attending a trade show, business cards do feel a bit like currency.

Amidst all of this debate, is there really a need to choose sides—why not have both? For those who prefer paper, offer them a business card. If you’ve spent some time brushing up your LinkedIn page, asking someone if they are on LinkedIn could be a great conversation starter.

What do you think? Do you prefer LinkedIn or business cards? Which do you think is more effective?

Transportation Infrastructure Shows Promise

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Bridges and Transportation InfrastructureOn the official blog of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, there were multiple posts recently pointing to positive signs for gases and welding distributors. In a recent entry “The road to an America built to last,” LaHood writes:

If we want an economy that’s built to last, it must run on the wheels of a transportation system that’s built to last. We need to fix our roads and bridges; where it makes sense, we need to expand roads, rails, and runways…We have a lot of work to do, and—from engineers to heavy equipment operators to flagmen—we have Americans ready to do it.

The bottom line is that infrastructure—especially bridges—relies on gases and welding. The fact that this is a focus for DOT is a positive sign for gases and welding distributors.

High Speed RailIn another post entitled “High-speed rail is essential for economic growth and opportunity,” he says, “High-speed rail will transform American transportation for generations to come. And I’m excited to see this program take shape.” Distributors should be excited about high speed rail, too, because it means more work for their customers, particularly with the manufacture and repair of rail cars. LaHood explains that President Obama’s latest budget proposal includes a $47 billion investment in a high-speed passenger rail network over the next six years.

Are you seeing a rebound in these markets in your area? What markets do you expect to drive growth in 2012?