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2012 SMC Day 2: Looking At The Business Landscape

Monday, April 30th, 2012
Juan Williams engages a packed GAWDA audience.

Juan Williams engages a packed GAWDA audience.

Day two of the 2012 Spring Management Conference was full of amazing take home value, between the opening business session speakers and the contact booth program, along with the networking breakfast, lunch and wines of the world reception. Needless to say, it was a very full day, and it may be several weeks before I can fully digest all that I took in today.

The opening business session speakers painted a picture of the business landscape in the year ahead. What are the economic and political challenges/opportunities that will arise throughout the remainder of 2012?

Political analyst Juan Williams offered his predictions for the November elections (Republicans take the House and the Senate, while Obama squeaks by in the presidential election, according to Williams.) He feels that the current political divide has kept important legislation from moving forward, and I would be curious to know how he feels his predicted outcome will impact the regulatory landscape. (Although I didn’t have an opportunity to reach out to Williams at the SMC, I’ve posed the question for him on Twitter.)

Economist Andy Bauer walked through a number of very interesting economic snapshots, comparing current recovery numbers to past recessions. I was struck by his explanation of the “skills gap,” the basic idea that when manufacturing workers lost their jobs in the recession, businesses moved forward, the jobs evolved (newer technology, automation, robotics, etc.), but the workers’ skill sets did not progress at the same rate. If nothing else, this explains why, amidst high unemployment, many manufacturers are having a hard time finding qualified workers. Perhaps it’s the expectations, not the workers, who have changed. It seems like there could be real opportunities for distributors to help bring those workers up to where they need to be, and prepare them to work with welding robotics and other technologies.

Distributors and suppliers connect at the contact booth program.

Distributors and suppliers connect at the contact booth program.

The contact booth program was lively, and I’m beginning to see more oil & gas related products making their way into the show. This brings me back to an interesting discussion from this morning’s breakfast, where the idea was raised that LNG and CNG are much like VHS & Betamax (for the younger generation, I submit Blu Ray vs. HD DVD as a substitute)…there are concerns as to whether they can coexist, or whether one will really become the dominant player.

Throughout the day, I met a great number of industry veterans, as well as the industry’s newer faces. It’s great to see the next generations getting involved early, and I was impressed from what I heard from the industry’s future leaders.

Looking forward to another promising day tomorrow. Be sure to take a look at the recent Preview of the Technology Discussion from MI Committee Chair Chris Dominiak. The panel is set to cover some of the industry’s most pressing technology topics. It promises to be a solid conclusion to an overall amazing event.

2012 SMC Day 1: Opening With Optimism

Sunday, April 29th, 2012
John and Ron Walters from American Torch Tip Company

John and Ron Walters from American Torch Tip Company

GAWDA’s Spring Management Conference got off to a great start today with great networking during the First Timers’ and President’s receptions. The turnout this year is incredible, and optimism is in the air. This is a great sign that business is on its way back.

It was great to see new faces at the First Timers’ reception. There were several new member companies in attendance, along with first time attendees from long-time members. GAWDA members regularly cite networking as one of the greatest benefits of GAWDA, and today’s reception stood as a testament to this. Members were optimistic about recovering markets across the country, and eager to talk with others about helium supplies and calcium carbide supplies, among other topics. (These events may look like fun, but I assure you, it’s all about business.)

During the reception, I had the pleasure of meeting Saket Tiku, president of the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturing Association (AIIGMA). As a representative of the Indian gas industry, Tiku brought a very different perspective than distributors and suppliers in attendance. I was amazed to learn that more than 90 percent of Indian gas distributors are independents, and that the industry is growing at an astounding rate of 19 percent. The growing industry is in need of new technologies and more advanced products, and Tiku is on a quest to bring higher quality gas cylinders and other allied products to the Indian gas market.

GAWDA SMC President's reception

A packed house for the President's Reception

Live tweeting from SMC got underway with the event, and it was great to see other members joining the conversation on Twitter with the hash tag #gawda. I’m hoping to get even more members involved tomorrow. If you haven’t joined in yet, it’s not too late—and signing up for Twitter couldn’t be easier. Just head over to www.twitter.com/signup and follow the instructions on screen. Be sure to follow www.twitter.com/GasWeldEdge for my updates, and use tag #GAWDA to join the conversation.

If you’re at the SMC, please stop me and say hello (see my picture at left). I’d love to hear your feedback about my blog and what you’d like to see more of in the future. Even if you’re not in Baltimore, I’d love to hear from you, too. Send me a message on Twitter to let me know what you think.

Check back tomorrow for part two of my daily blog from SMC. There’s a full day in store, with the opening business session, contact booth program and more.

Previewing The SMC Technology Discussion

Friday, April 27th, 2012
Technology Panel from the 2011 SMC

Technology panel at the 2011 SMC in Tampa, FL

GAWDA members, get ready for an exciting and interactive technology discussion this coming Tuesday, May 1, at the Spring Management Conference. Social Media Speaker Karl Meinhardt will join GAWDA’s Management Information for an “audience” interactive technology session that will leave you with some great takeaway value.

Back in February, the Management Information Committee sent out a survey to find out what technology challenges are facing GAWDA members. We received a great response, hearing from more than 125 members. You submitted your answers, and the MI Committee is responding to the issues you identified as the greatest concerns.

We asked members “How would you rate your current level or use of technology at your company?” Most felt they could be doing more with technology, with more than 70% of respondents rating their technology use as medium (63%) or low (8%).

What’s keeping members from investing in technology? The results were mixed, with cost (39.4%) and support (32.1%) selected as the greatest concerns.

We asked members “What is your biggest Information Technology problem or concern?” The overwhelming response was “Keeping up with the latest technology and how it can be leveraged to help my business.”

So what technologies do members want to know more about? We received a wide range of responses, and a few technologies emerged as most important to GAWDA members. Is there any value to mobile devices or are they just another IT gizmo?  Is Cloud Computing a passing another passing phase, or is it something I can leverage it within my organization to cut operational costs? These are a few of the questions we will address in our panel discussion.

If you think Social Media is just another passing phase or a cool toy your children play with…think again! Karl Meinhardt will be sure to “wow” you with his unique take on Social Media and how you can leverage it (for “Free”) as a sales and marketing tool and stay more closely connected to your customers.

Join us for a provocative and interactive technology discussion on Tuesday, May 1, to find out what the experts say you should be doing and how your peers are leveraging technology to gain the competitive advantage!

Chris Dominiak Guest Blogger Chris Dominiak is chair of GAWDA’s Management Information Committee. He is manager of information systems and technologies at Norco in Boise, ID.

4 Things To Do Before SMC

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Members network at the 2011 Spring Management Conference

With GAWDA’s Spring Management Conference only days away, there’s still time for some last minute planning to get the most out of your time in Baltimore. Even if you’re unable to attend the show in person, there are opportunities to learn and network remotely.

1. Prepare Questions
The SMC brings together some of the finest minds in the gases and welding business. Use them to your benefit! To get the most out of your investment in attending, think ahead and write down questions you have for your business. When you know what your questions are, you can seek out networking opportunities with a purpose. If you’re not at the SMC in person, ask questions on Twitter and LinkedIn where appropriate.

2. Sign Up for Twitter
Twitter is a great place to connect with fellow industry members during the Spring Management Conference and beyond. For the 2012 SMC, I will be live tweeting updates from my Twitter account @GasWeldEdge, sharing gossip and insightful comments overheard at the event.

To join the conversation, all you have to do is sign up for a free Twitter account. To find your first few followers, I’ve set up an entire list of GAWDA members on Twitter. During the SMC, search for tag #GAWDA, and #GAWDA to your own tweets about the conference. Share what you’re learning and react to what others are saying.

3. Tidy Up your LinkedIn Profile
Odds are, you’ve got your business card ready for the conference—but what’s the state of your LinkedIn profile? After meeting peers and prospective business partners at a conference, one of the best ways I’ve found to capitalize on those introductions is by taking all the business cards you’ve collected and connecting with those people on LinkedIn. Make sure your profile is accurate and as complete as possible. LinkedIn will offer suggestions on how to complete your profile along the way by adding areas of expertise and more.

4. Do Some Research
It doesn’t have to be heavy reading, but it never hurts to read up on the latest industry and member news. What better way to start off a conversation with an industry peer than by showing you know something about them and their company? Think: “I saw that you just opened a new branch in Columbus. How’s the manufacturing market in that area?”

Where can you find this information? You might bring your copy of Welding & Gases Today along on your flight to Baltimore. Or while you’re waiting in the airport, take a look through the daily news headlines on the mobile version of www.gawdawiki.org.

As speaker and legal consultant Matt Hoffman writes in his blog post “Ten Rules for Conference Attendees,” “The amount of preparation you do before the conference is directly proportional to the benefits you’ll receive after it.” He has some other great tips as well, such as “Don’t tell someone you’ll follow up unless you intend to. Breaking the first promise you make to someone makes them believe you’ll break others, too.”

How do you prepare for the Spring Management Conference? Share by leaving a comment, and don’t forget to tweet during the conference using hash tag #GAWDA.

Thanking GAWDA’s Volunteers

Friday, April 20th, 2012
2012 Board of Directors
GAWDA’s 2012 Board of Directors

GAWDA as an organization relies on the support of volunteers for everything from keeping up with government regulations to selecting effective leaders for the organization. GAWDA’s committees provide a variety of critical roles to the association, and they wouldn’t exist without volunteers. Being that this week is National Volunteer Week, I want thank those GAWDA members who give their time and service to help make GAWDA what it is.

Perhaps the most high profile volunteers are GAWDA’s Board of Directors, including President Bryan Keen, the entire executive committee and the GAWDA vice presidents. Those who have volunteered for these leadership positions have taken on great responsibility, and no doubt a fair amount of stress at times. You can Meet the 2012 Board of Directors in Welding & Gases Today.

Along with the Board of Directors, GAWDA’s has a variety of committees that help make things happen. Behind every GAWDA program or event is a team of hard-working volunteers. Even the Spring Management Conference, which runs April 28 – May 1, relies on the work of the SMC Planning Committee to bring everything together and deliver the greatest value to attendees.

All told, there are 12 GAWDA committees: Executive Committee, Government Affairs Committee, Human Resources Committee, Industry Partnering Committee, Insurance Trustees Committee, Leadership Development Committee, Management Information Committee, Member Services Committee, Safety Committee, Young Professional Committee, Annual Meeting Planning Committee and SMC Planning Committee.

Some committees have as many as two dozen members, all of whom devote their time and energy to establish best practices, organize events and programs and more. You can see the members of each committee on GAWDA’s committee page. The Committee menu also provides a place where you can sign up to join one of these groups.

As 2009-2010 GAWDA President Jenny McCall wrote in one of her columns, “You still get value from GAWDA membership by just sitting on the sidelines, but you will get more benefits by getting into the game and participating in volunteer opportunities. GAWDA belongs to its members. Sitting on the sidelines and complementing or complaining about the coaching is being a spectator, not a player.”

If you know someone who’s a member of GAWDA’s committees, be sure to thank them for their hard work. To those volunteers reading this, thank you for your service, and thanks to your families and co-workers for supporting our volunteers.

GAWDA Members Go Back To School

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012
Bryan Keen and Jim Lisecki Paint A Vo-Tech

GAWDA President Bryan Keen and Linde's Jim Lisecki speak to welding students about opportunities in the welding industry.

Believe it or not, National Welding Month is more than halfway over! Among the many ways the welding industry is celebrating this month, GAWDA’s Paint A Vo-Tech program is one of my favorites. Through this effort, GAWDA members are volunteering their time and resources to help reinvigorate school welding programs with a fresh coat of paint, new welding curtains, technical posters and other touches.

So far, two GAWDA members, Keen Compressed Gases (Wilmington, DE) and AWISCO (Maspeth, NY), have led the charge by getting involved with local schools. Keen Compressed Gases President (and current GAWDA President) Bryan Keen used the opportunity to address students about the opportunities the welding industry has to offer. As he wrote in his column entitled “Not So Extreme Makeover,” “A fresh coat of paint was just the beginning…We decided to really transform the classroom and weld shop into a place the kids could get excited about…We also talked to the kids about careers in the industry and how to improve their chances of getting a job in this tough economy.”

All in all, the Paint A Vo-Tech program sounds like an amazing opportunity for all involved. The schools (who face ever-shrinking budgets) get a helping hand to refresh their facilities, and students have a reason to get excited about welding class. For the distributors and suppliers involved, it’s an act of goodwill that strengthens the relationship with that school and with the students. And if you promote the event to local and industry media, it can be a great source of word-of-mouth advertising for your business and the industry.

With that in mind, be sure to share if you’re going to take part in the Paint A Vo-Tech program. Both AWISCO and Keen partnered with industry suppliers in their school makeovers to make their events a true joint industry effort. Getting the word out ahead of time can help garner support from fellow industry members.

For those readers who are not GAWDA members, do you know a welding school in need of a makeover? Let me know, and I’ll help you connect with a distributor in your area.

As I mentioned at the start of this blog entry, National Welding Month is halfway over. That said, a school makeover in May is just as valuable as one in April. But don’t wait too long—the school year will be over before you know it.

Helium Shortage Turns Into Force Majeure

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Still-Leben Mülheim 10 ies
Despite hopes that the supply of helium might straighten itself out in 2012, it appears gases and welding distributors won’t have it so easy after all. The most recent development is the announcement from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management about a two-week maintenance outage in June 2012, which coincides with a planned 8-week outage of ExxonMobil’s helium supply. There are several other outages, including the shutdown of Skikda in Algeria in anticipation of tying in the Skikda megatrain, which is expected to come online in the Third Quarter. Even in the short term, helium supplies in Qatar and Australia have outages planned for April and May.

Up until now, most distributors I’ve talked to have escaped the clenches of tight helium supply. But with additional outages, several suppliers have allocated their available helium supplies, leaving distributors with little choice. Now the only question is how they will respond.

Cee Kay Supply announced that it will not accept new customers and that existing ones may be subject to price increases and allocation. Gas applications in medial, laboratory and manufacturing are currently exempt from this allocation.

Included in the announcement from Cee Kay were letters from Linde and Air Products explaining the circumstances of their allocations. Air Products writes that it is “providing you formal notice of force majeure,” a term many distributors are familiar with from challenges with calcium carbide supplies in 2011.

As GAWDA Consultant and General Counsel Rick Schweitzer referred to in Welding & Gases Today:

Force majeure is a French term meaning “superior force.” When the seller’s performance is affected by some unforeseeable event, the seller’s performance is excused. The event may be an “Act of God” such as a fire, flood or tornado, or it may be labor unrest, war or insurrection. In order for the seller to take advantage of this provision, the event may not be caused the seller’s negligence or intentional act.

As the helium situation continues to linger, how are you responding?

One suggestion from LinkedIn is to switch customers to a trimix for GMAW and FCAW applications. Although most trimixes contain helium, it certainly requires less helium.

How is your company handling the helium shortage over the next few months?

How To Spot Remarkable Employees

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

What are the qualities of a great employee? In the past, we’ve discussed some of the merits of a great salesperson (In GAWDA’s Sales Hall of Fame, for example, and a recent LinkedIn conversation about whether a salesperson needs to know how to weld to sell welding equipment). But beyond those traits that define a great salesperson, manager, customer service rep or any other specific position, are there universal qualities that top employees share?

Inc.com columnist Jeff Haden thinks so. In his article, “8 Qualities of Remarkable Employees,” Haden outlines the qualities that make employees stand out above the rest.

They ignore job descriptions, he says. “When a key customer’s project is in jeopardy, remarkable employees know without being told there’s a problem and jump in without being asked—even if it’s not their job.”

They’re always fiddling, he suggests. “Remarkable employees find ways to make processes even better, not only because they are expected to… but because they just can’t help it.”

Just as important as skills, talent, education and intelligence is drive. “Remarkable employees are driven by something deeper and more personal than just the desire to do a good job,” he says, noting that remarkable employees like to prove doubters wrong.

A critical point Haden makes is that many of these “remarkable” qualities cannot be measured through performance reviews, but nonetheless make a major impact on performance. Perhaps the lesson there is that performance reviews are a tool, but don’t tell the whole story.

In addition to Haden’s qualities, I would argue that remarkable employees are always looking out for customers. Especially with the important role that service plays at gases and welding distributorships, having remarkable employees can be a true game changer, and can be the difference between gaining or losing a customer.

What qualities define your remarkable employees? Share your examples of remarkable employees by leaving a comment.

The Poetry Of Welding

Friday, April 6th, 2012
Welding Rodeo Art

Welding and art are a great combination, shown here at the Welding Rodeo.

As I mentioned in my last post, April is celebrated at National Welding Month. April, as it happens, is also National Poetry Month.

On the surface, the two crafts are very different, but when you look a little deeper, there are quite a few similarities. Both welding and poetry are used to create. Sometimes these creations can be artistic. Welding has taken off in the art world, as evidenced by welding sculpture competitions like the Welding Rodeo. But poetry and welding also provide the tools on which nations are built. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a perfect example of a poem of influence and historical significance.

The two crafts likewise take skill, training and lots of practice to master. In each, there are many forms. Welding has GMAW (MIG), GTAW (TIG), SMAW (stick) and others, along with newer forms such as ultrasonic welding and friction-stir welding. Poetry has haiku, sonnets, ballads and a variety of traditional and experimental forms.

Finally, welding and poetry rely heavily on advocates of the craft to ensure future longevity. It might be a welding supplier’s efforts that get a young student involved in welding—or it might be a poem that does the trick. I’ve compiled a few poems here that mention welding and illustrate its importance.

Poet Ed Lahey has been called the greatest poet Montana has produced. He was known for writing about miners and other workers, giving a voice to the state’s labor force. He gave voice to a welder in his poem “Gimp O’Leary’s Iron Works”:

“His arc welder would strike
white fire and a bead
of blue-black rod would slide
along between cherry streaks,
and acrid smoke would curl away
to leave clean married steel,
not too frail, or buttered up
but straight and strong,
hard as mill forged rail.”

You can read more from this poem here, beginning on page 101.

Some other welding-related poems to check out are “Arc Welding” by Australian Poet Philip Hodgins and “Vulcan” by George Oppen.

In the past, I’ve looked at movies that involve gases and welding. Indeed, art is a great way to promote the industry. Do you know any other examples of art that promote welding and gases? Share in the comments below or on Twitter @GasWeldEdge.

April Is National Welding Month

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

National Welding Month is upon us. As explained in a 1996 AWS press release, “The reason why April is listed as National Welding Month by Chase’s Edition of Events, a recognized calendar of commemorations, is because welding is the secret ingredient that keeps today’s world together.” It goes on to say that welding is in everyday things, from cars to toasters, as well as more extraordinary things: “Welding has taken us to the moon and back, produced monuments of steel where we work and live, defended us in war and has been integral in modern research—from connecting computer pathways to bonding space age materials.”

Welding Greeting Card

Happy Welding!via Funkart on Zazzle

Of course, National Welding Month was not created so that members of the welding industry could pat themselves on the back and talk about how great welding is. Those in the industry already know about the “wonders” of welding. National Welding Month is about education and encouragement—informing people about the industry and getting them involved.

How does one go about celebrating National Welding Month? As Helium.com contributor Janet Cipolli astutely observes, “You almost never see any ‘Happy Welding!’ or ‘During This Time of Annealing’ greeting cards.” Hmm…I’m sensing a new market for distributors here.

Working with school welding programs is one great way to promote National Welding Month this April. GAWDA President Bryan Keen and Keen Compressed Gas (Wilmington, DE) made a difference for students at one lucky school by giving them a welding lab makeover. Other GAWDA members will be stepping up to the “Paint A Vo-Tech” challenge throughout the month.

In the video below, 2012 AWS President Bill Rice says, “It is my goal to make national welding month a time for everyone to recognize the contributions to our lives and to our future generations.” He adds, “National welding month is a time to tell everyone what you do and what opportunities are available.”

What are you doing this April to commemorate National Welding Month? Share by leaving a comment or tweeting @GasWeldEdge.