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Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

The Risk Of Being Innovative

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Counterfeit Products Affect Gases and Welding Industry

Innovation is a cornerstone of GAWDA members’ businesses, both distributors and suppliers. That’s one of the reasons last week’s article about counterfeiting on Welding & Gases Today Online is so startling. But counterfeiting, by its true definition—i.e., reproducing a product and marketing it under the manufacturer’s name—is only part of the problem. Along with actual counterfeiting, manufacturers have dealt with related issues like copyright infringement, including unauthorized use of company designs (e.g. welding helmet designs), company trademarks and more.

In talking with suppliers who have dealt with these issues, it’s evident that counterfeiters are rarely brought to justice. First, the manufacturers have to find the culprits (not an easy task), and then work within the legal systems of whatever country the issues occur in. If the manufacturer is lucky enough to a) spot the counterfeit, b) trace it back to its maker and c) get the justice system to take notice, the process can still take years, as Uniweld found out in winning its 10-year court battle with one importer.

With varying degrees of copying as noted above, where do we draw the line? What if instead of a product, another company steals an innovative idea—or even an entire business model? Inc. Magazine recently dealt with this issue in its article, “Lessons From the World’s Most Ruthless Competitor,” an article about business copycats. The article focuses on a group of businesses that specialize in copying successful Internet startups.

The copycats are unabashed, even proud of their own opportunistic moves. One of these businessman, Magnus Resch, managing partner at German company Springstar, told Inc. Magazine, “What we’re doing here is entrepreneurship lite.” He adds, “We are scared of doing something completely new. That’s why we are so good at copying.”

The companies targeted by copycats are often small startups who had a unique idea for a website. Once these businesses become successful or attract large investors, the copycats build their knock-off businesses in a fraction of the time that it took to build the original brands, and working with larger budgets, too.

In reality, the issues the startups face are similar to those facing manufacturers in the gases and welding industry. Many hours and hard-earned dollars are spent on developing and perfecting a product, only to have that product unceremoniously copied. ArcOne President Ed Martin asks, “How do you put a price on years of development?” In both instances, there is very often little recourse that can be taken against the copiers.

When I think of “entrepreneurs,” I think of the men and women of GAWDA who have worked hard to build strong companies. For Resch to suggest that copying another business is entrepreneurship (even if it is the “lite” version), is a little hard to digest.

As the title of this post suggests, it seems that being innovative comes with the risk of being ripped off. So what do you think? Is it worth the risk?

Cylinders Straight Out Of Science Fiction

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

See Through Gas CylinderChanges in gas cylinder technology often look to improve on external aspects: RFID tracking, automated filling, ultrasonic testing, and so forth. It’s more unusual to see major changes to the actual cylinders themselves. After all, what kinds of improvements can we make to something so durable and effective? When I came across this see-through cylinder, it struck me as really innovative. The idea behind it is that customers will always know how much gas is left, and they’ll never run out at an inopportune moment.

While this technology is currently limited to propane cylinders, maybe the potential is there for high pressure gas cylinders as well. The Lite Cylinder Co. says the composite fiberglass tank is as strong as steel, except 30 percent lighter, and its casing is non-corrosive. It certainly would be practical to have lighter-weight medical oxygen tanks, and I’m sure others could benefit from lighter cylinders too.

The see-through capability might not be useful for every gas, but it could be helpful for liquid gases to indicate when a tank is low. For a distributor, it could also help you identify if there are any foreign substances in the tank when a customer returns it (as mysteriously happens from time to time). I can think of a number of benefits, not the least of which is the fact that lighter, see-through tanks are a great selling point for choosing your gases over a competitor.

Although the thought of replacing tens of thousands of cylinders is enough to give anyone an aneurism, there’s no reason to worry just yet. So far, I haven’t seen any see-through high pressure cylinders. While the technology may not be developed to that point yet, we may be looking at the future of the industry.

What do you think? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of a composite cylinder?

Follow Devin O’Toole on twitter: @GasWeldEdge

The Future of Interactive Cylinder Tracking

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Gas cylinder bar code trackingWhen collaborating with colleagues or co-workers, have you ever had someone take the credit for your great idea? Or maybe it’s been a customer, a client or your boss who borrowed your innovative notion. We’ve all been there at some point. If only there was a way to track ideas like we can track gas cylinders.

Enter Creative Barcode, which does just that, using bar codes to track ideas. The service allows users to create a unique QR code for project files and embed ownership, date, usage and a variety of information. Unforunately, the service is a little pricey for the average thinker at just over $300 for an account with five bar codes to start.

At that cost, I’m not in a hurry to sign up, but it still got me thinking. A couple of years ago, something like this would not have been feasible. But with widespread access to smart phones and apps that are capable of reading those black and white lines, bar codes increasingly offer accessibility and interaction between company and customer.

Like cylinder tracking, idea tracking is about protecting your assets. But in addition to laying claim (a simple copyright can do that for ideas), it takes tracking to an interactive level. The Creative Barcode site notes the added capability of licensing and sharing ideas as added benefits of the bar codes.

What if bar codes could make tracking cylinders more interactive? Maybe the customer only need scan the bar code to let you know when to a refill is impending. You could impress them with a quick follow-up call. Or maybe a scan of the bar code could give the customer detailed product information, MSDS, maybe a GAWDAwiki definition. What ways could you see customers using barcodes? How could you use it to enhance your service?

Follow my twitter updates: @GasWeldEdge