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What The Future Holds For Welding And Gases

Friday, July 6th, 2012
Automated Welding Robot

Robotics is a growing market for welding suppliers.

What does the future of the gases and welding industry hold? In the world of business, understanding what your customers will want tomorrow (maybe even before they know themselves) can be a significant advantage. Robotics, LNG, and shale are a few of the markets distributors are investing in for the future, and the reality is that it’s closer than many people think.

There are a variety of forces at play in shaping the future of welding equipment and gases. Technology has always been a major driver, and the emergence of technology is changing the pace of business and tools with which business is conducted. The movement toward energy efficiency and the price of oil are driving burgeoning markets where opportunities abound.

So where will the money be in the future? Or better yet, where is the money now? The Summer 2012 issue of Welding & Gases Today delves into growing markets in the aptly named cover story “Where Is The Money?

Technology, as I mentioned, is a major theme. Social Media is changing the way customers communicate. Computer systems are changing the way distributors handle Accounts Receivable. And robotics is changing the way manufacturers create their products.

In Robotics 101, Fanuc Robotics Staff Engineer Michael Sharpe talks about the past, present and future of robotics. Notably, Sharpe says manufacturing is coming back to the U.S. “I’ve talked to many suppliers who comment that production in China has not saved them money because of high shipping costs, scrap rates and others.” This is great news for distributors and for the economy in general.

When it comes to energy, shale and LNG are hot topics. Somewhat surprisingly, the conversation on hydrogen as an alternative fuel is relatively quiet. For years hydrogen had been talked about as the future of energy, particularly with hydrogen fuel cell forklifts and cars. While automakers continue to push forward, the fueling infrastructure remains a major question mark.

What markets do you feel hold the strongest promise for the gases and welding industry? On the flipside, which markets are not likely to last?

Email Scam Targets Industrial Suppliers

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Email Scam AlertI’d say the email scammers are at it again, but the unfortunate reality is they never went away. We all get phishing emails from time to time, trying to lure us into giving away our credit card information, and hackers can be sneaky. They’ve come up with specialized emails targeting industrial manufacturers and distributors.

Just this week, I received an “Exciting Opportunity” in my email from a man named Brent Shelton, inviting me to “stand-in as a new supplier” for an unnamed material. I was informed that the venture was “in line with your personal capabilities,” even though I’m fairly certain Mr. Shelton cannot attest to my personal capabilities. You can see the entirety of the email in the box below. If you get an email like this one, your safest bet is not to respond.

From: Brent Shelton [b.shelton@inbox.com]
Subject: Exciting Opportunity

Greetings,

I would like to discuss a business proposal that has the potential for significant earnings.

I am currently employed with a privately held manufacturing company. My company has demand for a specific material that is vital to its processing operations. We are currently purchasing this material at a price well over the manufacturing cost.

I would like to explore the possibility of having you stand-in as a new supplier, providing this material while retaining the same profit margins. My role would be to introduce you to my company, as the supplier, and to obtain a contract between you and my employer. I have already discussed sourcing possibilities with the existing manufacturer, leaving room for attractive profit margins. What is still required in order to materialize this venture is an individual who is at arm’s length to oversee these supply chain transactions. The required capital to purchase our initial order from the manufacturer will be funded strictly from myself and no additional investment will be required from yourself. With that said, we can discuss terms and commission structure in the near future.

I understand that your experience with does not directly relate to my field. However, this venture is more in line with your personal capabilities rather than your professional experience.

Please send a return email to verify your contact number and to schedule the most convenient time to discuss these possibilities in detail. I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Kindest Regards,
Brent Shelton

I think it’s important to share scams like this one because they come and go in trends as scammers learn what people do and don’t respond to. It started with the Nigerian prince emails—until everyone learned what was going on. By the third or fourth time you were contacted by foreign royalty, you probably realized that it was too good to be true.

Phishing emails can be dangerous for anyone, but particularly dangerous for a business when employees are answering emails from customers. It can be hard to spot when a customer request is not legitimate, and you’re counting on the judgment of each individual employee to spot a scam.

For examples of other email scams to watch out for, take a look at my blog entry from last year, “Email Scammers Are Back.” You can also see examples shared by AWISCO’s Victor Fuhrman in Welding & Gases Today.

It’s important to make sure all of your employees are aware of these scams. I personally know a small business owner who was victimized by one of these scams, and I can tell you there is little to no recourse you can take when your money’s been stolen by a scam artist in an unknown country.

How do you keep your employees informed of email scams? Do you have other examples of email scams targeting industrial suppliers? Please share them in the comments.

Social Media Takes Root At SMC

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Another great Spring Management Conference is in the books for GAWDA. One thing that was different about this year’s meeting was the fact that there were no simultaneously scheduled breakout sessions. If you ask me, I think this is a good thing.

Last year there were three sessions (technology, HR and GAWDA Consultants), and attending one meant missing possible great takeaways from the other two. If your company sent multiple people, it would be possible to divide and conquer, but for many, it meant missing important information. This year, everyone sat in on the technology discussion. I believe this was an important conversation for all to hear.

Following Tuesday’s session, I had an interesting conversation with a young distributor employee, who shared an exchange with his company president during the session. The distributor president told the young employee, “I’m so glad you were here to see this discussion on Social Media. I wish there was a separate session for guys like me.” Although the president recognized the importance of Social Media, he perhaps did not recognize the importance of his involvement in it. The young employee, taken aback, told the president that he needed to be there too, and that the conversation about Social Media was one he needed to be a part of as much as anyone.

As the MI Committee stated in the technology panel discussion, when implementing new technology, whatever that technology is, employee buy in starts at the executive level. For employees to embrace change, the leaders of that company must embrace it as well. Social Media is not just about IT and technology—it’s about building relationships and communicating with customers and industry partners. And it is not merely a young person’s game. The over-55 age group is one of the fastest growing demographics on Social Media.

It was great to see so many people embrace Social Media at the SMC. I was live tweeting throughout the event, and saw quite a few people join the conversation as it went on throughout the conference. If you haven’t joined yet, it’s not too late. The industry conversation is always going online. Drop me a line on Twitter at @GasWeldEdge.

#GAWDA Twitter Transcript

Take a look back at the SMC conversation on Twitter. View the complete #GAWDA chat transcript after the jump.
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2012 SMC Day 3: Communicating Through Technology

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
Karl Meinhardt stands before the Technology Panel at GAWDA's Spring Management Conference

Karl Meinhardt stands before the Technology Panel at GAWDA's Spring Management Conference

The final day of GAWDA’s 2012 Spring Management Conference had a distinctly technological flavor. The closing business session featured GAWDA’s Management Information Committee and Social Media speaker Karl Meinhardt. Gases and welding technology itself is a broad, but very important topic. As MI Committee Chair Chris Dominiak revealed in last week’s guest blog, more than 70% of GAWDA members feel they could be doing more with technology.

Meinhardt got things started with an overview of Social Media. While much has been said and written about the use of Social Media to communicate with customers, one of the particularly interesting ideas touched on in Meinhardt’s speech was how Social Media can be used internally to facilitate communications within an organization.

Meinhardt pointed to the example Lockheed Martin, which after surveying its workforce, realized it was poised to lose a great deal of experience and knowledge as the Baby Boomer generation begins to retire. How did the company respond? Lockheed Martin used the power of Social Media to capture this experience for future generations. The organization created an internal wiki, their own private version of Wikipedia, where employees could contribute ideas and experiences.

After the session, I spoke with Josh and Erich Haun from Haun Welding Supply (Syracuse, NY), who were likewise struck by the idea of using Social Media to streamline internal communications. Erich pointed to the training advantage, to be able to reach employees across multiple locations to help do away with the response “I didn’t know you could do that.” Both agreed that the potential for technology to improve internal communications is intriguing.

The technology panel also addressed communication, looking at the The Cloud, mobile technology and the basic problem of implementing new technologies. The MI Committee stressed that, when introducing new technologies internally, it’s important to communicate with employees in advance and involve them in the process where possible. Buy in of the technology by company executives is critical if employees are to buy in. This has never been more true than with Social Media. As Meinhardt said, “If your customers spoke Chinese, you’d learn to speak Chinese.” Sounds like it’s time to learn the language of Social Media.

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.

The Year Of The Business Tablet

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012
O.E. Meyer sales reps on the iPad

O.E. Meyer sales reps on the iPad

It could be said that 2011 was the Year of the Tablet. From the iPad2 to the Kindle Fire (and everything in between), tablets took the world by storm, even penetrating into the business world. Distributors found tablets useful as an on-the-go sales tool, and companies like Sandusky, Ohio-based O.E. Meyer Co. outfitted their sales forces with iPads. Meanwhile several suppliers have developed apps and special websites that can be used with tablets.

So what technology will make the biggest impact in 2012? With the Consumer Electronics Show kicking off today and running through the week, we may get a look at some of the game-changing technology that’s on the way. However, it will most likely be a year or two before new technologies work their way from Las Vegas to the consumer market and ultimately into the business world.

A recent study suggests that tablets could have another big year in 2012, as iPads and other devices grow ever more relevant in the business world. The NPD group reports that 73 percent of small and medium sized business (those with fewer than 1,000 employees) have plans to purchase tablets over the next 12 months. Even companies with fewer than 50 employees intend to spend an average of $1,912 on tablets this year. That number increases drastically as company size grows, with 50-to-200-employee firms looking to spend over $10,000 on tablet technology.

“How can tablets help a gases and welding distributor?” you ask? “It’s enabled our salespeople to be more self-sufficient, and it’s taken a load off of our inside personnel,” says Eric Wood, O.E. Meyer Co. regional vice president of sales. According to a study from Frost & Sullivan, the number one aim among businesses using iPads is increased employee productivity, followed by reduced paperwork and increased revenue.

Have you looked at tablets at your business? Is it worth the investment?

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?

iPad Takes Hold In Gases And Welding

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

iPads are allowing salespeople to be more self-sufficient at O.E. Meyer Co.

Back in February, I posed the question “Do iPads have a place in the gases and welding industry?” Recently, I found the answer to that question: Yes.

In fact, iPads have found their place at Sandusky, OH, distributor O.E. Meyer Co. In the latest issue of Welding & Gases Today, we wrote about how the company has deployed iPads to its sales force. Regional manager Eric Wood says the iPads are allowing salespeople to be more self-sufficient and freeing up the inside sales team to spend time on other things.

Admittedly, iPads are an investment. The devices start around $500 and go up from there, depending on storage and connectivity. In justifying the investment, since most salespeople are already equipped with smartphones and laptops, the question is this: what does an iPad (or other tablet) offer that a smartphone or laptop can’t? It’s hard to pin down a definitive advantage. Email, web browsing and sharing photos and videos can all be replicated on smartphones and laptops, as can accessing inventory, ordering and more.

The key differences are minute, but still important. Smartphones are too small to use for customer interaction. Laptops take too long to boot, and are too cumbersome to carry around at customer sites.

Since the iPad launched in 2010, tablets have taken off, and they have seemingly graduated from novelty. Businesses are investing in them. Ironically, of all tablet makers, Apple has become the business standard thus far. According to Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer, 86 percent of Fortune 500 companies are deploying or they are testing iPads within their organizations. This is noteworthy.

Tomorrow, October 28, Amazon is set to unveil its own foray into the tablet market, which is already expected to be a game changer (in part because of its anticipated “aggressive” price). Will the new Kindle tablet make a splash in the business world? We’ll have to wait and see.

Has your business jumped in to the tablet world or steered clear of the craze? Share your experience by leaving a comment.

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?

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.