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Posts Tagged ‘Casual Friday’

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.

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.

Back To The Future Of Gases And Welding

Friday, October 28th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

YouTube As A Research Tool

Friday, July 29th, 2011

In covering the gases and welding industry, I sometimes have to write about processes and equipment with which I am unfamiliar. There’s no pretending I know the ins and outs of cutting with propylene, for example. Reading up about these things online is helpful, and GAWDAwiki can provide some guidance where I may not know technical terms. However, talking to GAWDA members is, of course, the best way to get first-hand information and develop a better understanding. But doing some research beforehand can help so I know what questions to ask.

One of the newer forms of “research” is YouTube. With a quick search, there’s a good chance I can see a process or piece of equipment in action. The video below is a perfect example. Although I had a general idea of what laser welding was, I had ever seen what it actually looked like. Thanks to S. J. Smith for sharing this video on their Facebook page—I now know exactly what laser welding looks like. And who knows, if laser welding comes up next time I’m having a conversation about PLC or improving customer efficiencies, I might just know to ask whether it’s a solid state laser or a gas laser. The more details, the better the story. And the better the story, the more it can help GAWDA members.

How do you use YouTube videos for training and/or research? Share by leaving a comment.

Watch the video below, or watch on YouTube.

Casual Friday: Testing A Gas Cylinder Myth

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

If you ever had any question as to how dangerous gas cylinders can be when mishandled, well, my advice is don’t try to prove it. However, some people aren’t satisfied with simply accepting the potential for danger. Myth Busters is a perfect example of this.

In this casual Friday video, the two mad scientists put a gas cylinder myth to the test: Can a ruptured high pressure cylinder break through a concrete wall? The result of their experiment is pretty incredible.

This has me wondering, what other myths are there surrounding the gases and welding industry? Any urban legends swirling around your office? Share them by leaving a comment.

Enjoy the show!

Hydrogen Cars Come In Many Sizes

Friday, October 8th, 2010

It’s been a busy week for GAWDA members, with the 66th annual convention in Hawaii. For those of you just getting back from Hawaii, casual Friday is the cure to your jetlag.

But first I want to acknowledge the amazing generosity of GAWDA members, who donated more than $200,000 to GAWDA Gives Back. From the time the donation was presented on Sunday through the end of the convention, members donated an additional $8500 to bring the latest total to $202,312.17. This is an incredible show of kindness on behalf of members. It will make a big difference for a lot of families in Maui.

We already knew Hawaii was a great place to hold GAWDA’s convention, but now we have even more reason to return, and it’s all about hydrogen. The state has launched an effort to create a hydrogen infrastructure to support fuel cell vehicles. When it comes to hydrogen vehicles, building a refueling infrastructure has always been the major question. Hawaii is uniquely positioned because of its existing natural gas pipeline infrastructure. The hydrogen can be separated from the natural gas to provide fuel for vehicles. (Read more about it here.) Hopefully, this vision will be fully realized by 2015 when the annual convention is set to return to the Aloha State, so we can see it for ourselves.

Until this kind of infrastructure comes to the contiguous states, most of us will have to settle for remote-controlled hydrogen cars. Looks like fun!

Casual Friday: Hand vs. Liquid Nitrogen

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Once again, it’s time for a “Casual Friday” video. You could say this is an example of poor safety when it comes to handling gases. In this video, the filmmaker demonstrates a unique property of liquid nitrogen that allows him to insert his hand directly into the Dewar without causing any damage. It is called the Leidenfrost effect, and relies on a barrier of steam that exists momentarily between a liquid and a much higher temperature object.

The effect is cool to watch, but I will never be trying this myself. I like my hands too much for that. Safety definitely outweighs “coolness” in this instance. For every one home scientist who successfully performs the experiment, I imagine there are five who end up in the emergency room.

Would you classify nitrogen here as medical, device or industrial product? Hmm.