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Posts Tagged ‘technology’

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.

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.

Dale Carnegie For The Digital Age

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Do traditional selling methods hold up in today’s technological world? I happened to catch yesterday’s episode of Sunday Morning, which revisited the teachings of one of the icons of selling, Dale Carnegie. Carnegie is famous for his “good guy” approach to sales—influencing people through kindness. One of the interesting questions raised by Sunday Morning is how Carnegie’s teachings translate to a technological age, where selling can be done through email.

How do you take one of Carnegie’s principles such as “Smile.” and use it in an email? Peter Handal, CEO of Dale Carnegie & Associates, answers, “You can choose words that communicate. It takes longer.” You might write in your email, for example, “I’m having a great day, I hope you are, too.”

Last week, I received a business email that said “Tx” instead of “Thanks” or “Thank you.” It’s such a simple thing—and on the surface, the meaning is the same—but I winced at the sight of “Tx.” I immediately felt as though I was an interruption. It can be hard—we are all busy. But Handal is right. It takes more time to write out a personal message, but it pays off. Consider it an investment.

When all is said and done, Carnegie’s message comes down to relationships. If you build a personal relationship and become genuinely interested in your customers, be it through email, over the phone or face to face, they will want to buy from you.

So do Carnegie’s principles hold up with today’s methods of communication? If anything, I’d say Carnegie’s ideas are more relevant today than they were in the 1930s. With email, texting and everything else, it’s easy to forget about developing personal relationships. (Interestingly, Carnegie’s book was recently re-released as How To Win Friends And Influence People In The Digital Age to address new technology—and was met with scathing reviews, so you may want to stick with the original.)

Sunday Morning also asks, why do so many people (8 million so far) pay so much (almost $2,000) for Carnegie’s popular course, only to learn such a simple lesson as the Golden Rule? Handal says, “It’s common sense. The difference is it’s not common practice.”

My question for you is this: In your experience, how can you create a personal connection online?

You can watch the Sunday Morning broadcast below or read the transcript here.

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?

iPad Meets Industry

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

iPad Meets IndustryTablets like the iPad have taken the world by storm over the past year, dominating the Consumer Electronics Show, and working their way into the business world. On first glance, the devices seem like something of a novelty—but the continued development of applications suggests some staying power and perhaps some real practicality. With all this in mind, I began to wonder—is there a place for the iPad in the gases and welding industry?

First and foremost, gases and welding distributors are businesses, so it’s important to look at the iPad from a business perspective. Bob Evans, of Information Week, explained why he believes tablets will catch on in the business world: “By the end of this year, there will be thousands of enterprise-level apps for the iPad that are not just dumbed-down versions of traditional enterprise apps. Many of them will enable the iPad to do things that no other device can do as quickly, as attractively, as productively, and as simply.”

Even within the industry itself, apps are starting to pop up. I spoke to a supplier last week who offers remote monitoring of fill plants via iPad. From anywhere, the distributor or supplier can log on to troubleshoot problems or even do things like change a mixed gas recipe. Minimizing downtime and boosting flexibility are two of the advantages of this. A tablet could also give an owner or operator the confidence to step away from the business to attend GAWDA events, knowing that he can access such things remotely.

Welding and cutting manufacturers have released several apps to help end-users pick the right tools for the application. Such tools can empower a salesperson who adapts and embraces the technology, or it can render him unnecessary if he dismisses it. Tablets could also give salespeople the power to bring up videos and demonstrations on the spot or refer to online resources like GAWDAwiki at a moment’s notice. Many of these uses are already available and require no app at all.

What do you think? Do tablets have a place in the gases and welding industry? To those who are already using an iPad or tablet for business, please share your experience.



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

Phone Apps for Gases and Welding Distributors

Monday, August 9th, 2010
What app would you like to see?
Photo: liewcf

A recent editorial in the New York Times compiled twitter responses to the question: what cell phone app doesn’t exist but should? With the number of apps, it’s a little hard even just to think of what cell phone apps don’t exist. There are even optimized routing apps to help figure out the quickest delivery route, but what about “an app that maps out my grocery list in the supermarket to give me an optimized shopping path?” (as suggested by one NYT reader).

I am extending the question to you, but with a focus: What phone app should exist that would help gases and welding distributors?

Maybe it’s something for inventory. Maybe it’s for salespeople (an app to find customers would be nice). How about a GAWDAwiki app to search industry terms quicker from your phone? Maybe an app could manage your cylinder tracking or CRM.

There are endless possibilities, and it’s completely up to you. Get your creative juices flowing and let me know what app could make your life easier, allow you to develop better customer relationships or improve your business in some way.

Also, what phone apps do exist that you use in your business? How do you use them?

Leave a comment and share your app ideas and examples. I look forward to hearing what you come up with.

Marketing lessons learned from a 104-year-old woman

Friday, July 30th, 2010

The world’s oldest Twitter user, Ivy Bean, passed away this week at the age of 104. According to MSNBC, she got turned onto Twitter when she reached her friend limit on Facebook. She had around 60,000 followers on Twitter.

I mention Mrs. Bean for two reasons. She shows us all that it’s never too late to learn something new. And maybe just as important, Bean shows us that marketing yourself doesn’t always have to take the form of selling yourself. While she probably had no interests in marketing herself, Bean developed a massive following from simple gestures. And perhaps it is the very fact that she did not seek to sell herself that drew people to Mrs. Bean.

For a company, a Twitter account can be a great way to market yourself but, as Bean shows, the best way to market yourself on Twitter is by not marketing yourself. On Twitter and off, by taking a simple interest in people, you can develop relationships. By caring about your followers, your followers will care about you.

Bean made headlines from her nursing home by doing a simple thing, a practice that millions of other people did. She attracted a following because she her true interest was in connecting with people. And even at the age of 104, she wasn’t afraid to try out new technology that could provide an efficient means to the often evasive end of getting people to care.